Rudy Giuliani’s Uninformed Nuclear Weapons Spin

Also published here.

One thing that I have discovered while reading and writing about nuclear weapons issues is that there is a lot of middle ground when it comes to political views. I’ll utter the dreaded “B Word” and say that nukes are a truly bipartisan issue; it’s possible to have a reasonable discussion without getting political.

So, one of my biggest pet peeves is when pundits, politicians, and bloggers try to politicize nukes.

It’s even more irritating when the person politicizing nukes is not an expert on national security issues, yet is quoted across the internet and in the media as a legitimate source.

I’m talking about Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, when the Obama administration released the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), Giuliani had a response within a very short period of time. (He must read fast, and take in details well, because the report is 72 pages long and somewhat complex.)

Giuliani’s response was:

“A nuclear-free world has been a 60-year dream of the Left, just like socialized health-care. This new policy, like Obama’s government-run health program, is a big step in that direction.”


“Leverage means the other guy has to be afraid of you,” says Giuliani, a former associate attorney general. “I worked for a president, Ronald Reagan, who understood that brilliantly, and that’s how he won the Cold War…”

Several people have already pointed this out (see Sam Stein at the Huffington Post, for example), but I’m going to emphasize it again: Rudy Giuliani doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to Cold War history.

I’ve interviewed two prominent Cold War nuclear historians: Richard Rhodes, and David Hoffman. Both of them brought up the fact that Reagan wanted to abolish nuclear weapons. For example, Hoffman described one conversation:

… Gorbachev proposed the liquidation of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The Americans immediately had the proposal translated, and George Shultz got the translation, and he got in his car, and he raced over to the White House to talk to Reagan. Of course the White House had it translated, and Shultz went into the Oval Office, and there’s the President, and Shultz says, “Mr. President, what do you think? Gorbachev has proposed liquidating all nuclear weapons by the year 2000!” And Reagan just looks up and he says, “Well, why wait until the year 2000?”

There are many other accounts of Reagan’s desire to abolish nuclear weapons; it’s really hard for me to believe that Giuliani hasn’t read any of them, especially Reagan’s famous “Star Wars” (SDI) speech from 1983:

I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Greg Sargent points out that the media needs to get a clue too. Wolf Blitzer had Giuliani on his show last night, and it’s clear that Giuliani still hadn’t read the NPR:

Last night, Wolf Blitzer wanted a guest to come on the air to critique Obama’s new nukes policy, which will have far reaching consequences for our national security and the world. He chose Rudy, who, per the transcript, slammed Obama’s new policy for emboldening Iran:

I was quite confused about it, really. It seems to me he’s got his eye off the ball. The ball is trying to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power…

What he has failed to do is to create in their minds the real sense that there could be a military option. Because I think the only thing that will work with Iran is they’re thinking that there is a military consequence that could be faced if they become nuclear. And the further he moves away from that, the more difficult his role with Iran is going to be.

Wolf, perhaps unprepared for this interview, didn’t bother challenging Rudy by pointing out that the new nukes policy exempts Iran, which seems like a relevant fact. But put that aside. The real question is, Why is Rudy on CNN discussing this to begin with?

Giuliani was also on MSNBC this morning, spouting the same inaccuracies.

If the traditional media outlets want commentary from someone on the right side of the political fence, I can think of so many better people to interview than Rudy Giuliani. There are many conservative nuclear weapons wonks, and even politicians, with whom you can have a reasonable, informed, productive discussion, even if you disagree with them.

Rudy Giuliani is not one of those people. He is not an expert, he has no sense of history, and he is trying to politicize an issue that is too important to be politicized.

Unfortunately, we’re going to see a lot of that in the coming months.

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