This is what I am denied, or spared, by being trapped in Chinese factories or hospitals and getting only intermittent glimpses of real-time Campaign 2008 rhetoric:

Rudy Giuliani’s answer to the first substantive question of the debate. Knowing everything we know now, good idea or bad idea to have invaded Iraq?

Absolutely the right thing to do. It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror. And the problem is that we see Iraq in a vacuum. Iraq should not be seen in a vacuum. Iraq is part of the overall terrorist war against the United States.

Huh????

You can understand why President Bush has to argue this case. To do otherwise would be to concede that his foreign policy has been a failure not just of execution but of fundamental concept.

You can understand why a lot of people argue that now, largely because of the disastrous U.S. occupation, Iraq has indeed become a center of world terrorist organization against the United States – and that this fact makes all the worse America’s bad-enough-to-begin-with predicament in figuring out when and how it can leave. (My view remains: It’s only getting worse the longer we stay, so while it would be terrible to start leaving now, it will be more terrible the longer we wait.)

You can understand how tempting it would be for the Democrats to change just a little part of this statement: “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Osama bin Laden in charge of al Qaeda and be able to fight the war on terror.” Which would kick off a discussion of all the ways in which the switch to Iraq let bin Laden and his cronies wriggle away.

What you can’t understand, or at least what I have a hard time with, is why somebody who is not lumbered with responsibility for the Iraq war — didn’t help plan or execute it, didn’t even have to vote for it in Congress — would voluntarily link himself to the war in this way. And without even relying on the most respectable explanation. (”Everyone thought he had weapons of mass destruction. We did, the Brits did, even the French did. And if I’m going to be wrong, I’d rather be wrong on the side of defending America from madmen with bombs!” etc.) It’s not simply that the judgment of the military, intelligence, and academic worlds now stacks up so overwhelmingly against the “fight them there so we don’t fight them here” delusion. The public has turned against it too.

I flatly do not believe that Giuliani knows something the rest of us don’t know about the dynamics of Iraq, al Qaeda, or Islamic extremism in general that justifies his view. So he must think he knows something about the long-term political dynamics in the United States. Or just short- term ones. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I think I’ll view my enforced distance from much of this stuff as another plus of being in China, not a minus.

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