The Jack Bauer Candidate


Rudy unveiled his 2008 electoral identity yesterday. It's a very powerful one, and perfect for him to deploy. Here's the money quote:

"I listen a little to the Democrats and if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense. We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense... The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us."

It's worth unpacking the argument. What does going on defense mean? For Giuliani, it means first of all "the white flag on Iraq." But, again, what does that mean exactly? Who will we be surrendering to if we redeploy out of Baghdad and into the Kurdish areas, and let the Iraqis know we have no interest in permanently staying in their country? If Giuliani means we are surrendering to the Shiite majority in Iraq, or the Maliki government, then wasn't that the point of the entire war? Isn't that actually victory? If he means surrendering to al Qaeda, whose presence in Iraq was minimal before we invaded, then he must explain why Barack Obama's proposal for an "over-the-horizon" force that would still target al Qaeda is meaningless or insufficient? When you probe Giuliani's logic, it means that we should start invading every country that could or does harbor al Qaeda - and that we should stay in Iraq indefinitely, since our presence there manages to generate more terrorists than we can kill. In fact, there's strong evidence that we are effectively training the next generation of al Qaeda in Iraq by honing their skills against a superior enemy.

The logic of Giuliani's case is therefore an open-ended occupation of much of the Middle East - an idea that seems extremely September 12. Has he learned nothing from Iraq - except the need to create more Iraqs? The "offense" argument is so crude, in other words, as to be meaningless. The question is not about "offense" or "defense"; it's about smart offense and dumb offense. We've seen dumb offense. Look at what it has accomplished.

"Cut Back the Patriot Act". Again: can he be specific? What is he referring to and how would it impact the war? "Electronic surveillance". I know no leading Democrat who doesn't support such surveillance. The issue is simply whether there should be court warrants. "Interrogation." Here is a critical issue. What does he mean by interrogation? What does he mean by torture? Does Giuliani support the Bush-Cheney policy of detainee imprisonment without charges, rendition, abuse, and torture?

I think Giuliani will run as the Jack Bauer candidate. It's in his DNA. There isn't a civil liberty he wouldn't suspend if he felt it was necessary for "security." And there isn't a dissenter he wouldn't bully or silence in the interests of national security. There is a constituency for this - a big one. It has been primed by pop-culture to embrace torture and the suspension of habeas corpus. It is a constituency with scant respect for any civil liberties when a war on terror is being waged. If that's the path Giuliani wants us to take, we have to be very clear about what it means. We have to ask ourselves: after the next terror attack, what powers would a president Giuliani assume? And what would be left of the constitution after four years of the same? Give Rudy the office that Cheney has created - and America, already deeply altered, will become a new political entity altogether.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty.)