The Man Who Knows Too Little
What Rudy Giuliani's greedy decision to quit the Iraq Study Group reveals about his candidacy.
If you don't read Newsday, you might not know (I didn't until this week) that Rudy Giuliani was an original member of the Iraq Study Group—the blue-ribbon commission co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton—but he was forced out after failing to show up for any of the panel's meetings.
The day after the Newsday story appeared, Giuliani explained that he'd started thinking about running for president, and his presence on the panel might give it a political spin. "It didn't seem that I'd really be able to keep the thing focused on a bipartisan, nonpolitical resolution," he said.
The more likely reason for Giuliani's no-shows is much plainer—money. Craig Gordon, the Newsday reporter who wrote the story in the Long Island paper's June 19 edition, discovered that on the three days of meetings that Giuliani missed (before quitting), he was out of town, delivering highly lucrative speeches.
On April 12, 2006, he was giving a keynote address at an economics conference in South Korea for a fee of $200,000. On May 18, he was giving a speech on leadership in Atlanta for $100,000.
At that point, Baker gave Giuliani an ultimatum: Start showing up for sessions, or quit. On May 24, he quit, noting in a letter (provided to Gordon) that prior commitments prevented him from giving the panel his "full and active participation." (He was replaced by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, a puzzling choice for the job; maybe he was the only public figure Baker could find on such short notice. According to someone I know who attended one session, the elderly Meese "was barely conscious.")
Meanwhile, Giuliani was raking in exorbitant speaking fees around this time—according to Gordon, $11.4 million in the course of 14 months, $1.7 million for 20 speeches during the monthlong period that coincided with the Baker-Hamilton sessions.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. I doubt that I would have forgone six figures of easy income for the privilege of yakking about Iraq with a roomful of graybeards all day long. Then again, I wasn't about to run for president—the highest office of publicservice—on a résumé bereft of a single foreign-policy credential.
Rudy's choice—to go for the money—speaks proverbial volumes about his priorities.
His explanation for dropping out—that his impending run for the presidency would tarnish the panel's apolitical character—is dubious, to say the least.
First, it's not as if he signed up for the panel, then decided to run for president. He'd been set to run for months, if not years. (He seriously considered the idea—even gave a couple of fund-raising speeches in New Hampshire—as far back as late 1999.)
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Rudy Giuliani by Dave Einsel/Getty Images.