Chris Matthews had raised a plausible hypothetical: The prime minister of Israel calls the White House to alert the president that Israel is about to
May 4, 2007

Chris Matthews had raised a plausible hypothetical: The prime minister of Israel calls the White House to alert the president that Israel is about to strike Iran’s nuclear sites and he wants U.S. help. Giuliani responded:

“It really depends on what our intelligence says. I mean, the reality is, the use of military force against Iran would be very dangerous. It would be very provocative. The only thing worse would be Iran being a nuclear power. It’s the worst nightmare of the Cold War, isn’t it, the nuclear weapons in hands of an irrational person, an irrational force. Ahmadinejad is clearly irrational. He has to understand it’s not an option. He cannot have nuclear weapons. And he has to look at an American president, and he has to see Ronald Reagan.”

At first blush, this sounds like more misplaced hero worship, which leads Giuliani to believe the solution to every scenario is to be more Reaganesque.

But the recent history is a little more complicated than that. As Matthew Ygelesias asked, “Is that the version of Ronald Reagan who sold the Iranians weapons, or it is the version that sought to check Iranian power by sending Don Rumsfeld to Baghdad to assure Saddam Hussein that the United States didn’t really mind if he used poison gas to attack the Kurdish civilian population?”

I’d only add that Giuliani’s use of Reagan as a model for standing up to terrorist regimes is not only wrong, it’s inconsistent with the conservative worldview post-9/11.

Indeed, it usually goes unmentioned, but the Bush White House has effectively blamed Reagan for emboldening terrorists and creating the conditions that contributed to 9/11. Consider this speech from 2005:

“[Terrorists] believe that democracies are inherently weak and corrupt and can be brought to their knees. They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy.”

Bush’s line doesn’t attack Reagan by name, of course, but the implication is about as subtle as a sledgehammer: “My predecessors didn’t appreciate the threat; I do.”

For that matter, this wasn’t just a random comment in a presidential speech — over the last few years, Reagan’s weakness in the face of a terrorist threat has become the standard conservative line. Here’s Dick Cheney less than a year ago:

“If we follow Congressman Murtha’s advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983…we will simply validate the al Qaeda strategy and guarantee more terrorist attacks in the future.”

Again, neither Bush nor Cheney would be so bold as to attack Reagan directly, but they’re clearly arguing that the Reagan model was ineffective and dangerous. And no one on the right has stepped up in recent years to say otherwise.

So, when Giuliani insists that the Iranians need to see another Reagan in the White House, maybe the appropriate follow-up is, “Why?”

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