VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday accused former President Clinton of not responding forcefully enough to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing or later terrorist attacks.
The former New York mayor criticized Democrats, accusing them of weakness and naivete in dealing with terrorism. Giuliani made the comments to about 650 business, corporate and political leaders at Regent University, the conservative Christian college founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.
"Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993," said the former New York mayor.
Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it "a big mistake" that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.
"The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond," Giuliani said. "(Usama) bin Laden declared war on us. We didn't hear it."
In hindsight, Giuliani said, maybe it's all clearer now, "but now is now, and there is no reason to go back into denial, and that is essentially what the Democratic candidates for president want to do: they want to go back, to put the country in reverse to the 1990s.
"I'm not blaming anybody back then," Giuliani said later in the day at a campaign stop at a Jewish temple in Rockville, Md. "What I am saying is, I do blame people after Sept. 11. Now you have to get it."
Last September, Giuliani defended Clinton's record amid political bickering over which president — Clinton or George W. Bush — missed more opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it," Giuliani said during a stop in Florida. "I don't think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists — the Islamic fanatics — who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it."
In his comments Tuesday, Giuliani said Democrats would abandon Iraq while giving terrorists the U.S. "timetable for retreat."
Giuliani remained aligned with President Bush in keeping U.S. forces in Iraq even as two more senior Senate Republicans — Indiana's Richard Lugar and Ohio's George Voinovich — in the past two days suggested the president's policy is failing and said he should begin bringing troops home.
In his Rockville appearance, Giuliani compared the war in Iraq to the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
"What happened in Gaza is a microcosm of what's going to happen in Baghdad" if the United States withdraws. "It will become something that inflames the entire region."
Democrats were quick to criticize Giuliani.
"Rudy's arrogance has gotten the best of him," the Democratic National Committee said in a one-paragraph response. "How can a man who failed to prepare New York City for a second attack after the first one, who sent firefighters and emergency workers into Ground Zero without respirators and quit the Iraq Study Group to raise money keep America safe?"
Speaking at Regent, Giuliani avoided any mention of two issues that put him at odds with conservatives — his support for gay rights and abortion rights.
But he acknowledged the differences indirectly, drawing warm applause from the conservative audience for doing so.
"Don't expect to agree with me on everything because that would be unrealistic. I don't even agree with me on everything," he said.
Giuliani acknowledged there is little difference between his position and the positions of those of other Republican candidates on terrorism and the Middle East, but said his experience as mayor of New York has prepared him to be better at handling presidential responsibilities.