If Standing at Ground Zero Doesn't Make You a Foreign-Policy Expert, What Does?

Greg Sargent complains that CNN and MSNBC invited former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani onto their channels this week to discuss President Obama's new nuclear posture, writing:

Someone needs to tell the bookers at the networks that the fact that Rudy Giuliani happened to get photographed walking through the smoke and dust on 9/11 does not give him any authority or credibility on foreign policy and national security issues.

Sargent notes that Giuliani embarrassingly claims that Obama's pledge not to threaten countries in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with a first nuclear strike means that Obama is failing to keep the option on the table against Iran. Iran is not compliant with the NPT, so Obama is not reducing American leverage with Iran, and is arguably strengthening it by further isolating Iran and North Korea. Giuliani's interviewer, Wolf Blitzer, failed to point this out to Giuliani.

Sargent goes on to conclude:

Rudy has no basis whatsoever for being granted authority or credibility on these issues. Unlike, say, John McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rudy does not hold public office. His resume boasts no meaningful national security experience of any kind. His last foray into politics was two years ago, when he ran a comically inept presidential campaign. He last held public office nine years ago [emphasis in original] ... By all means, give a big platform to the GOP critique of Obama's national security policies. But how about choosing someone who knows what he's talking about?

But who, exactly would that be? Is Sargent arguing that only U.S. senators on relevant committees are appropriate guests on cable-television news? If so, he should say so. But that would be an unnecessarily stringent requirement. Also, be careful what you wish for. Does Sargent really mean to hold up McCain, who repeatedly (and falsely) claimed that Iran was supporting Al Qaeda, as the paragon of foreign-policy expertise? Being in the U.S. Senate, never mind the House of Representatives, does not guarantee that you have a firm grasp of policy facts, or that you never make intellectually dishonest arguments for political gain.

What cable talk shows are looking for when they invite Giuliani on is someone to criticize Obama from the right. They proceed from the assumption, which Sargent appears to share, that every major issue warrants representation of that viewpoint. That may be a premise worth questioning, but if you accept it, then why is a former federal prosecutor and two-term mayor of New York, such as Giuliani, an illegitimate choice? Would a one-term governor like Mitt Romney be a better choice? He could be our next president.

When choosing among potential guests, TV producers are always going to favor people with high name recognition. So, yes, Giuliani gets bumped ahead of more obscure politicians or, say, a writer for The Weekly Standard. But the views he expresses are virtually identical to those of partisan hacks like Michael Goldfarb, since those are the same people writing his speeches anyway. Are professional conservative commentators such as Fred Barnes or William Kristol any more legitimate than a washed-up politician like Giuliani? If so, why? And if all those people are illegitimate in Sargent's eyes, and only people who truly know the subjects in question—professors? former government bureaucrats?—are appropriate interview requests, then that's a recipe for a low-rated show on PBS, not a profitable one on a cable news network.

The factual errors to which Sargent commendably calls attention raise a legitimate question as to whether Giuliani deserves to be invited back to discuss foreign policy, but only because of the errors themselves, not because his presidential campaign fizzled or because he left City Hall too long ago.

If Standing at Ground Zero Doesn't Make You a Foreign-Policy Expert, What Does? | World