"AMERICA IS BACK AND STRONGER THAN EVER.”
This stirring expression of optimism hails from Rudy Giuliani, whose unwavering leadership as mayor of New York City helped guide the nation through its darkest hours after the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ten years later, the man who was celebrated as “America’s Mayor,” wants the country to know that despite our economic challenges and global upheavals, the United States today stands stronger than ever before.
In the days following the attack, Giuliani famously stood by the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and issued this defiant declaration: “We’re going to rebuild. We’re going to be stronger than we were before . . . terrorism can’t stop us.”
Now, in a exclusive interview with Newsmax magazine to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Giuliani says that thanks to better security and the American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the wave of major follow-on attacks that experts considered all but inevitable have yet to materialize.
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“There’s no question that both New York and America are stronger than ever,” says Giuliani. “New York City, which was the focal point of the most devastating attack, is now a bigger city, a richer city, a more diverse city, a spiritually stronger city. In every way you can measure a city, New York City is bigger and stronger than it was even on Sept. 10, 2001. The country is stronger because it has faced the unthinkable and come through it. Even though we have scars — and tremendous scars that will be with us forever — the country responded to Sept. 11 better than anyone ever thought we would.
“There wasn’t panic. There wasn’t devastation in the sense of people not being able to go back to work and being able to carry on their lives. There was a tremendous amount of mourning; there still is. But there was this real sense that America can withstand something like this.”
In the interview, Giuliani, an oft-mentioned GOP contender for 2012, also pegs President Barack Obama as the weakest leader in his lifetime — “weaker than Jimmy Carter.” He shares his innermost feelings at the moment he learned Osama bin Laden was dead, and he asks Americans to give Transportation Security Administration agents at airports a break: “They’re just doing their job.’’
Newsmax: How did the 9/11 attacks change our nation?
Giuliani: They have changed the country immeasurably. It’s one of the defining events of the last 40 or 50 years, and probably, the defining event of the 21st century. It’s one of those events like the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, where everyone remembers where they were or when they heard about it — either at the scene, on the television, on the radio or from a friend. And it has shaped a great deal of, not just America, but the world since then. Although it was the most devastating attack in the history of our country, it has had a very big impact on the rest of the world.
Conservatives increasingly ask if the wars in the Middle East were worth it. Were they?
I’m one of those who believes very strongly that the only reason we remained safe in this 10-year period is because of our military engagements and the work of our military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, but particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Sept. 11, and the days following Sept. 11, I was told by every reliable intelligence source that was briefing me that we would be attacked again; and not just once, but a number of times. They had several different examples of how we would be attacked: suicide bombings, possibly another air attack, chemical-biological attack.
That’s why when anthrax happened a month later everyone was certain, at least at first, that it was terrorist attack.
So the attacks haven’t happened in the multitudes and the frequency with which we thought they would happen. Part of the reason for that is the sacrifice that our military men and women have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without that, Islamic-extremists who wanted to continue to devastate us would have had the freedom and mobility to do so. But tying them up in Iraq and Afghanistan helped to prevent that attack.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told Newsmax he still fears a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack on a major U.S. city. How likely is that nightmare scenario?
I don’t think anyone can really assess with any degree of certitude the likelihood of it . . . All we can say is it’s possible, and therefore we have to be ready for it.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that there could be a WMD attack or some biological attack of massive proportions. And of course, there have been attempts to do it. We can’t be ignorant of the fact that there were attempts in the last 10 years to attack us that were foiled either by good intelligence or by luck: Like the attempted attack on Christmas Day two years ago, like the attempted attack in Times Square about a year-and-a-half ago.
At the 2004 GOP convention, you said that shortly after the attacks, you spontaneously remarked, “Thank God George Bush is president.” Do you feel the same way now under President Obama?
I feel totally differently. The reason I said, “Thank God George Bush is the president,” in the middle of Sept. 11 is that . . . we needed a president who would respond quickly and strongly to this attack, because I had thought that America was responding too weakly to the terrorist attacks we had seen in the early ’90s.
I thought our response to the [USS] Cole was pathetic. I thought our response to the bombings in Africa was extremely tepid compared to what should’ve been done. So I had an instinct that President Bush . . . would change the dynamic where we had been sitting ducks. And he did.
I mean, it’s no secret that I opposed Obama and supported John McCain. I saw John a few months ago, and I would be a lot happier and feel a lot safer if he were president of the United States, both with regard to the security of the United States and the economy of the United States.
I do give Obama credit for some things that he accomplished that I’m very happy about, that is, capturing and bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. I think that displayed the very best of President Obama. I also think his failure to lead in many areas displays the weakness of Obama.
What’s your evaluation of President Obama’s leadership?
I would say in my lifetime he is the weakest leader we’ve had in the White House. The only one who would challenge that is Jimmy Carter, and he’s weaker than Jimmy Carter.
Even Jimmy Carter presented financial plans and took his own proposals to Congress. He didn’t wait for Congress to endlessly debate before took a position. The president sees himself more as a referee than a leader. But the Republicans are on one gridiron, the Democrats are on another gridiron, so you can’t referee the darn thing.
Where were you when you heard of bin Laden’s demise, and what was your reaction?
I was watching Geraldo Rivera on Fox . . . I saw a little blurb on the screen saying that the president was going to hold a press conference at 10:30 p.m. . . . and I became alarmed. I was wondering, What could it be on a Sunday night? I never remember any president addressing the nation on a Sunday evening at 10:30.
So once we actually revealed that we had captured him, that he had been killed during the capture, I was very relieved that [bin Laden] was caught because that was something that was hanging out there, that I think disturbed all of us who were involved in Sept. 11, because you want to see this man brought to justice for the horrible crimes he committed.
I thought that everything about how the president went about it was correct . . . that’s something you have to be really proud [of], how America handled it, the way the SEALs handled it, and the way the Bush administration handled it in helping to develop the information that finally led to the capture of bin Laden.
You’ve taken a special interest in the 9/11 families. How are they healing?
Yes, I just finished talking to one of the family members who lost his brother on Sept. 11. They’re dealing with it in different ways. I’ve learned this as part of Sept. 11: People deal with grief very differently. Some people are able to move on very quickly. Some people aren’t; they need more time. You have to be flexible enough to be able to handle all of that; you can’t tell everyone to move on because some people can’t.
The human misery this caused is incalculable. Consider all the children who have grown up without fathers or mothers, some of whom I’ve known intimately, the parents who have to live with the greatest nightmare of any parent: losing their child. You can’t calculate the kind of pain that this continues to cause.
There is so much partisan bickering. Did we fail to learn the lesson of unity that 9/11 taught us?
I believe that America learned the lesson of unity. And I believe that if, God forbid, we had another attack, we would be just as united. But the reality is, that attack was beyond any of our imaginations, the worst attack in our history.
When this country faces crisis, it comes together. The kinds of things we see being debated now, although they are very important, are not of the dimension of Sept. 11.
Our country has always been divided by people who want a very strong central government and people who want much more diverse states’ rights and individual rights.
It’s always been divided between people who believe in very heavy government spending, and people who believe that heavy government spending is very damaging, and spending should be done in the private sector to be really effective. These are deep philosophical, ideological differences that are real. And I get very annoyed when people demean others who have strong views.
That’s what America is about. We’re about some people who believe taxes should be raised and some people who believe raising taxes would devastate our economy.
Then we’ve got to debate it very carefully and come to some kind of an accommodation. Maybe that’s the part that we’re missing — the art of compromise. And that is not a bad word. You can be true to your principles and still be able to compromise.
I worked for a man who was able to do that — Ronald Reagan. Everybody invokes Ronald Reagan. He and Tip O’Neill would have settled this months ago. Ronald Reagan, unlike President Obama, knew how to be a leader and knew how to really forge bipartisan compromise.
President Obama, unfortunately, is a highly partisan president. So that makes everybody else very partisan.
Is there anything that can be done to make searches by security agents at airports less intrusive?
I am more tolerant of it, because I saw what happens if you don’t do it correctly. And, believe it or not, I get screened just like anyone else. If I fit whatever their protocols are, then I get screened. Some people say, “Oh, gee, you don’t have to go through it.” Well, you don’t know TSA!
There’s no exception for anybody who might be a government official . . . But then I say to myself, “It’s worth it. It’s worth it because we didn’t do that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, at that level.” And if we had, all these people would have gotten to live out their lives and all these children that are growing up without fathers and mothers, things would be very different for them.
The TSA’s job is very important . . . it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. You’re going to search millions of people, but if you don’t, that one could get through.
Look at what happened in Detroit a year-and-a-half ago, when [underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] got through [Amsterdam security]. And he got through the screenings that presently exist, and he was landing in Detroit and the bomb didn’t go off — thank God.
So this is absolutely necessary. The TSA is not perfect, but we don’t want them to let down their guard.
Editor’s Note: Never Forget 9/11. Ten years later, Newsmax remembers with a Special, Limited-Edition 9/11 Anniversary Commemorative Set. A portion of the proceeds go to The Bravest Fund benefitting 9/11 heroes and their families. Get yours now and never forget.
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