Norman Podhoretz believes that America needs to go to war soon with Iran. As far as he knows, Rudy Giuliani thinks the same thing.
“I was asked to come in and give him a briefing on the war, World War IV,” said Mr. Podhoretz, a founding father of neoconservatism and leading foreign policy adviser to Mr. Giuliani. “As far as I can tell there is very little difference in how he sees the war and how I see it.”
During a long interview this week in his bookcase-lined East 81st Street home, Mr. Podhoretz, 77, explained the very straightforward proposition he has been proposing to Mr. Giuliani from the start of the campaign: “The choice before us is either bomb those nuclear facilities or let them get the bomb.”
In the apartment, a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Bush was displayed next to records of Bach and Beethoven, tin African sculptures and Japanese furniture. A picture of his son, John Podhoretz, the new editor of Commentary, which he himself edited for decades, was stuck to the refrigerator. Two of his grown Israeli grandchildren, one in a tank top, the other in an Atari T-shirt, watched television in John’s old room.
In July, Mr. Giuliani named Mr. Podhoretz a senior adviser on a foreign policy team subsequently stockpiled with more neoconservatives, including Middle East historian Daniel Pipes and Paul Wolfowitz acolyte Michael Rubin.
To Mr. Podhoretz’s obvious admiration, the Giuliani campaign seems to have become something of a lifeboat for neoconservatives shipwrecked after the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq.
“Well, I’m not finished,” said Mr. Podhoretz, who has just come out with a new book titled World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism.
“I think it is interesting that he doesn’t think that this is a liability,” he continued. “He is certainly aware of the fact that some people see it as a liability or use it against him.”
Not, Mr. Podhoretz believes, that all voters will see things that way.
“It’s certainly not hurt him in the South,” he said. “It may be that he thinks having a preponderance of hawks among his advisers, forget about neoconservatives, is good for his campaign. And from what I can gather, this has proved to be the case in South Carolina—you have a lot of military families.”
In addition, while his foreign policy ideas may be in bad odor with voters, they most certainly seem to remain the prevailing sentiment in the White House, with President Bush talking about “WWIII” in relation to Iran and Vice President Dick Cheney this week promising “serious consequences” if Tehran does not abandon its nuclear program.
And just as he has helped encourage Mr. Giuliani’s muscular international posture, Mr. Podhoretz can take some credit for the Bush administration’s articulated worldview.
In late spring, he met with President Bush at the Waldorf Astoria to share his views about what to do with Iran. As Karl Rove took notes, Mr. Podhoretz stressed that anything short of military action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear capabilities would fail, and that America needs to strike to prevent another Holocaust. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove, Mr. Podhoretz recalled, laughed when he indirectly referred to the futility of the current American policy of pressuring Iran with sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
“I thought if they had believed in what they were doing there, they would get their backs up and say, ‘No, it’s not futile,’” Mr. Podhoretz said.
Other than that, the president didn’t tip his hand. But, turning the conversation back to the former mayor, Mr. Podhoretz said, “Rudy is another matter.”
MR. PODHORETZ SAID he has seen ample evidence that Mr. Giuliani supports the idea of military strikes. He referred to a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition earlier this month in which Mr. Giuliani said, “If I’m president of the United States, I guarantee you we will never find out what they will do if they get nuclear weapons, because they’re not going to get nuclear weapons.”
Although Mr. Giuliani’s closest competitors, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, have also tried to project a tough line, Mr. Podhoretz said he doubted their nerve.
“Do I think that Giuliani would take that action? I personally think he would,” said Mr. Podhoretz. “I don’t know who Romney is. I have no sense of him. I don’t know who Fred Thompson is. He talks the talk. My guess has been all along is that he has been so popular, even if he is less popular now, because people think they are voting for Arthur Branch of Law and Order.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Podhoretz was even more scathing in his assessment of the position of leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who advocates vigorous diplomacy and has rejected the “false choice” between imminent war and a nuclear Iran. He was particularly derisive about Mrs. Clinton for voting to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization and then proposing legislation to block Mr. Bush from attacking Iran without Congressional approval.
“It’s the Kerry—she voted for it before she voted against it,” he said. “It’s a tactic, and it didn’t work for him and it isn’t going to work for her. If Rudy does get the nomination, I think that will be one of the vulnerabilities he will be able to hit her on.”
Nor is Mr. Podhoretz’s opprobrium reserved for blowhard politicians. While Mr. Giuliani has been reluctant to criticize military officials openly, Mr. Podhoretz plainly disdains those of them who have been skeptical about launching a war with Iran.
He thinks John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed Central Command for nearly four years and who recently said, “There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran,” reflects a growing sense of defeatism in the foreign policy firmament as diplomacy fails. As for Admiral William Fallon, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, who recently said the “constant drumbeat of war is not helpful,” Mr. Podhoretz prefers to cite his analysis that the United States has the military capability necessary to attack Iran. “He says we have the capability,” Mr. Podhoretz said. “That is all he is required to say.”
Asked to comment for this story, Giuliani campaign spokesperson Maria Comella said, “Mayor Giuliani has a range of advisors to provide him information on foreign policy issues and at the end of the day Mayor Giuliani’s viewpoints regarding foreign policy are his own.”
ONE CRITICISM OF Mr. Podhoretz’s latest book is that it is more preoccupied with his enemies in America than the Islamofascists he says we are at war with. In it, Mr. Podhoretz takes aim at the realists, the liberal internationalists and the isolationists.
He explained in the interview that he has felt victimized by antiwar bloggers who call him “pathological scum” or demand that he return to Israel. (“Where I’m from is Brownsville in Brooklyn,” he said.) The protesters who recently forced him and his wife to get a police escort after a reading of his book at Barnes and Noble were proof of what he says are uniquely venomous times.
To Mr. Podhoretz, his critics are myopic to the point of blindness.
“My view has been, and I very much doubt that Giuliani would disagree with what I am about to say, what we are doing is to try and clear the ground that has been covered over at least since WWI,” he said. “Draining the swamps is the beginning of the process of clearing the ground, and planting the seeds from which institutions can grow the foundations of a free society.”
In the context of a broader, longer war that he expects will take at least three decades to win, the casualties that the United States has so far endured are “miniscule.” He says that fretting about whether to attack Iran sends only a message of weakness to the combined Shiite and Sunni enemies in the Middle East. And, like Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Podhoretz thinks that the creation of an independent Palestinian state would now only create another terrorist state.
Instead, America should be working to overthrow governments in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt and “every one of the despotic regimes in that region, by force if necessary and by nonmilitary means if possible,” he said. “They are fronts of the war. You can’t do everything at once. And to have toppled two of those regimes in five years or six years is I think a major achievement. And maybe George Bush won’t be able to carry it further, but I think he will. It may have just been given to him to start act one of the five-act play.”