Don’t expect prospective Secretary of State Giuliani to keep to the diplomatic niceties

Unlike the President-elect, Rudy Giuliani favours a generally more muscular US approach to the world, including Russia, despite the talk of a Trumpian ‘reset’ with Moscow

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As putative secretaries of state go, Rudy Giuliani doesn’t lack qualifications. But he’s one of the most controversial and undiplomatic individuals to be in the running to become America’s top diplomat – one whose business dealings alone, some say, are enough to bar him from the job.

True, he’s never directly focussed on foreign affairs during his career. But his CV is not exactly lightweight. Mr Giuliani was a high level Justice Department official in Washington during the Reagan administration, before becoming the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008, when he was one of the early favourites for the nomination.

What made him a world figure however was his eight years as Mayor of New York, and above all his leadership of the city after the September 11 attacks, which made him Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2001, and earned him the unofficial title of “America’s Mayor”. Nor did he let anyone forget. As Vice-President Joe Biden once quipped, every sentence uttered by White House candidate Giuliani consisted of “a noun, a verb and 9/11”.

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After the election of his friend Donald Trump, whom he has stridently supported from day one of the campaign, that fixation dovetails with the priorities of the incoming administration. For both Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani, the destruction of Isis, and of “radical Islamic terrorism” in general, is top of the list.

In other ways too however the foreign policy views of the two are similar. Mr Giuliani is a vociferous opponent of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has called a disaster, and the former Mayor is a steadfast supporter of Israel.

Like Mr Trump, he’s no supporter of automatic American intervention in foreign crises (though he was an unequivocal backer of the 2003 Iraq war). Unlike the President-elect though, Mr Giuliani favours a generally more muscular US approach to the world, including Russia, and despite the talk of a Trumpian “reset” with Moscow. “Russia thinks it’s a military competitor. It really isn’t,” he told The Wall Street Journal this week. “It’s our unwillingness under Obama to even threaten the use of our military that makes Russia so powerful.”

Those words send another message too. Don’t expect a Secretary of State Giuliani to keep to the diplomatic niceties. Pugnacious by nature, he revels in sending shockwaves – as when in 1995 he had Palestinian leader Yasseer Arafat kicked out of a New York concert, or threatened to throw the United Nations out of the city because of unpaid parking tickets. Or, as in the recent campaign, when he outdid Trump in calling for criminal charges against Hillary Clinton in the emails affair.

But Giuliani has skeletons in his own cupboard: above all his work as a lobbyist/consultant. Since 2001, he’s made a fortune from speeches. He’s worked for clients like the oil company Citgo, run by Venezuela, for Qatar, and the company building the Keystone XL oil pipeline as well as a host of US corporations. His paid speech customers have included the Iranian opposition group MEK that was on the State Department’s terrorist list.

All of which gives rise to endless potential conflict of interest controversies should he be named Secretary of State. “Instead of fighting for American interests, he’s spent the past 15 years making money off deadly dictators and sworn enemies of this country,” says Correct the Record, a political action committee that supported Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times meanwhile ran an editorial yesterday entitled “Mr Giuliani shouldn’t Lead State Dept”. Given how the newspaper is a symbol of the despised liberal mainstream media, that tirade may in Trump’s eyes only strengthen the case for the former Mayor.  

In Washington, however, there are already signs these concerns could cause big problems. Kentucky’s Rand Paul, briefly a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, and member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that would handle the nomination, has hinted he will oppose Giuliani. Other Republicans could follow.