Uncut Newt

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I blogged on Monday about Newt Gingrich's "alternate history" speech and mentioned that he refused to say whether or not we needed to invade Iraq to change the Middle East. As Petraeus returns to the battlefield and everyone goes back to campaigning it seems fair to post his whole response to my question. It's long.

reason: You quoted Thomas Friedman, who has said it was necessary to go into Iraq in order to "burst the bubble" of the Middle East: the isolationism, the idea that America didn't really care about freedom and democracy. It seems like you left it a little murky whether, in this alternative history, whether we would have burst that bubble and gone into Iraq. Can you answer his point and address whether the Iraq War was necessary?

Gingrich: Let me say, first of all, I like the Friedman who wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem a lot more than the later books because I think it's a much more realistic book. And if you look at his description at the end of that book about Hama rules, which were the rules he said Father Assad used in massacring the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama and destroying square blocks, bombarding them with artillery. At that point Friedman understood the sheer ruthlessness that is often a part of power in the Middle East.

I believe the United States should have been prepared to use whatever resources were necessary to fundamentally change the region. You ask Reagan in 1979, "Do we have to use troops to make Poland a free country and collapse the Berlin Wall? I think he would have said "Probably not." And we didn't.

So you can't go back. I mean, we never fully mobilized. We never brought to bear all of our assets. We were never serious about this. What we've done is a series of reasonable management steps. We can manage the 23-day campaign to Baghdad. And then Bremer can manage the American administration of Iraq. But we never took seriously, backing up as the big step and saying "Wait a second, this is about a whole region." So pressuring the Syrians from day one, which was frankly easier than pressuring the Iraqis, if we were willing to do it.

Now, as I said in a speech in this very place in 2003, the State Department has had a deep passion for cutting a deal with the sultan, to a level that is frankly pathetic, where we've had American secretaries of state sitting on the runway in Damascus, refused permission to get off the plane, because they were so eager to meet with Father Assad in the 1990s. So there's been this underlying thing of "Well, you can't really pressure the Syrians." That's nonsense. Syria is run by an Allawite minority of 15 percent of the population. It's a relatively weak economy.

Similarly, the Iranians get 60 percent of their gasoline from one refinery. Tom Reid, the secretary of the air force under Reagan, wrote a memior in which he points out that in 1981 under Reagan and Casey, we decided we would indirectly sell the Soviets natural gas pipeline equipment guaranteed to malfunction. And a year later there was an explosion in Siberia so large that it looked like a nuclear explosion to the sensors on satellites. The first reaction was "Oh my God, what just happened?" It was literally the pipeline blowing up, which was a major impediment to Soviet hard currency.

Now, we have known for the last 20 years that the Abadan refinery is the only refinery in Iran. That Iran only produces 60 percent of its gas. That we have an entire Navy not occupied in Iraq. People say to me: "We're overstretched." Not in the Navy. So I start by saying countries that are serious, that have the most powerful economy on the planet, that have the most powerful military on the planet, that have the most cutting edge technology on the planet, could do lots of things. Tell me about the cell phones in Iran. Tell me about the computers in Iran. How much effort have we made to make sure the right software is there? How much effort have we made to give every student in Iran a free cell phone? To help organize the resistance? To do the things we did in Poland?

So I don't want to start and say "Yes, would invade" or "No, we wouldn't invade." I want to suggest to you that a grand strategy would have said "We're going to change the region." Now everybody who wants to change the region, I say, fine: You're on our team. Remember at one point Bush said "You're either with us or against us?" Well, what did that mean? With us for what?

I would suggest a grand strategy, if you work out this alternative history, of thinking creatively. Bring back the Reagan team, among other things. Bring back the pre-Stansfield Turner retirees from the CIA. People who had actually done this stuff. People the entire team that had done Afghanistan. There were lots of assets available in 2001 if we wanted to use them.

The frustrating thing is that Gingrich can't say the Iraq War has made all of this stuff more difficult—alienated America-friendly types in Iran, tied up resources, taken away our appetite for conflict. And I'm not sure that "fully mobilizing" for Iraq would have brought all this in line.

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  1. I do not see the point, to put it mildly, to giving space to an utter and complete windbag like Newt Gingrich (that’s presuming he has an equal, which is dubious). Newt thinks he should have been the American Charles De Gaulle. Sadly, his moment passed. We were, in fact, unworthy of Newt, unworthy of his greatness. So he should just shut the f**k up. Please.

  2. Aw, do we have to read the whole thing?

  3. “””The frustrating thing is that Gingrich can’t say the Iraq War has made all of this stuff more difficult-alienated America-friendly types in Iran, tied up resources, taken away our appetite for conflict.”””

    Nor did he answer the question. Was it necessary is a yes or no question. But when has a politician ever passed up on opprotunity to be a windbag without answers?

  4. Mostly they come at night. Mostly.

  5. My eyes hurt now.

    Damn you Dave!!!

  6. Begin circumcision flamewar. Go!

  7. This is the most unvarnished Trotskyite statement I’ve seen in some time.

    “The revolution would become complete if only Country A was invaded, too!” Followed by country B, country C, country D…

  8. So to be clear, Newt is saying that we didn’t threaten the middle east enough?

    Wow

  9. So to be clear, Newt is saying that we didn’t threaten the middle east enough?

    No what Newt is really saying is:

    My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are.

  10. Outside of who he is, try listening to what he is saying. A yes or no gets you nowhere except to say ok Bush sucks… We are still in Iraq.
    Did he say tactics were bad? Yes! Did he point out other ways the situation should have been pursued? Yes! Did he outline a variety of options that could point to tough solutions to tough problems? Yes he did – and no one else is.

  11. Did I read correctly? Did he say that the Reagan Admin intentionally sold the Soviets faulty equipment with the result that “a year later there was an explosion in Siberia so large that it looked like a nuclear explosion to the sensors on satellites”.

    No one else troubled by a Unites States that would engage in that kind of dirty-handed, base, and downright “terrorist” act?

  12. de stijl,

    That was Newt’s greatest role. I loved his ear-shattering and frequent screams.

    He was also good when people were turned into him in that movie by some British gits.

  13. Hama rules ?

    So what the Middle-East needs is a strong daddy
    the will beat them when they are naughty, all the while knowing that we do this because we love them. Thus they will do whatever we tell them to do.

    Hey, it worked on the US press

  14. Garth:

    It’s a little bit more complicated than that, though I still don’t agree with some of what they did.

    Article about it

  15. And we should have invaded Poland also! Reagan was such a wuss.

    Come on, every other nation has.

  16. Newt? You questioned a salamander? Who is this talking amphibian? And how did he become so opinionated on US foreign policy?

  17. CoveAxe,

    Thanks for that: really switches thing around when you discover that it was all Spy v Spy. The Newt comment does it little justice and implies the worst.

    I am still troubled by it. What would have happened if the explosion hit Western Europe instead of the Siberian Steppe?

  18. It sounds like more of “we haven’t been brutal enough, time to take off the gloves” BS to me.

    The Romans, the Soviets, the Nazis, the British, the Klingons didn’t build & sustain their empires by saying please and thank you. What better role models can you ask for.

  19. Garth:

    I wouldn’t have trouble with these kinds of things if we, say, declared war on them or something along those lines. It diminishes our moral high ground.

    BTW, I’m NOT saying that the Soviets didn’t do the same shit, just that sabotage without any declaration of hostilities is a dangerous foreign policy.

  20. Did I read correctly? Did he say that the Reagan Admin intentionally sold the Soviets faulty equipment with the result that “a year later there was an explosion in Siberia so large that it looked like a nuclear explosion to the sensors on satellites”.

    I believe the Soviets aquired the equipment through underhanded means.

    The U.S. assumed the Soviets would aquire the equipment through underhanded means.

    It sounds like a wash to me.

  21. I think he is right. Either be prepaired to do the unplesant things or get out. And for the record, the Klongons failed because they blew up their own moon.

  22. How much effort have we made to make sure the right software is there? How much effort have we made to give every student in Iran a free cell phone?

    Fug it. Let’s go whole hog and deploy the spiders.

  23. Anyone notice that the Chinese may be using this tactic against us?

    I doubt we have a government capable of using such advanced tactics against anyone except its own citizens any longer. But China seems to be getting it even as we lose it.

  24. I think he is right. Either be prepaired to do the unplesant things or get out.

    That’s all well and good, but he’s talking up this idea of a “grand strategy” for the Middle East. The only way to accomplish that would be a level of ultra-violence that would make even the ancient Romans seem like pacifists.

  25. ChrisO

    Then we should get out.

  26. I have a cunning plan.

  27. “”””That’s all well and good, but he’s talking up this idea of a “grand strategy” for the Middle East. The only way to accomplish that would be a level of ultra-violence that would make even the ancient Romans seem like pacifists.”””

    The fallacy is that you can’t impose democracy against the will of the citizens.

  28. I believe what he was saying was simply to take a proactive approach to toppling authoritarian regimes. Whether helping revolutionary organizations coordinate with each other, destabilizing economies, or using our own military force to push for change in certain problem areas.

    Whether you agree with him or not on any points, it really isn’t that different from the approach taken in the cold war. It’s just a matter of costs that we can bear vs. the desired results.

  29. Pro Lib,

    Yes…?

  30. By the way, I just wasted the whole of my afternoon reading that Spiders comic.

    Where the hell did that come from?!?

  31. Newt’s Grand Strategery for the Middle East :

    You’re going to be free and democratic even if we have to kill each and every last one of you.

  32. Taktix?,

    We should buy a country to act as our proxy and let it fight all of our wars. Like, say, Tunisia. But only if they start calling themselves Carthage.

    Part of the deal will be us bitching and moaning in the U.N. about all of the militaristic actions of the Carthaginians. All while we secretly supply the military and pretend to return to isolationism.

  33. Pro Lib,

    I don’t know man, I’m kinda broke until my next paycheck…

  34. How is this not terrorism?

    We need to be willing to slaughter civilians to show we’re serious. We should target their economic assets so their country can’t function, in order to bend them to our will.

    Newt Gingrich, terrorist.

  35. Why is everyone talking about slaughtering civilians, I was thinking Re-education camps.

  36. In these camps we could “explain” to them that that the root of all their problems is actually a severe allergy to having oil in the ground, but out of the goodness of our hearts we will help them. In fact were so nice we wont even charge them for removing their oil.

  37. Taktix?,

    You’re right, the two of us couldn’t fund a globally dominant military operation on our own. What was I thinking?

    Maybe the U.S. government could do it? They’ve got half of my money, anyway.

  38. OK kids (that’s what you all sound like) any real solutions??? You’ve got groups that want us dead (or converted). You’ve got a leader that wants to remove Isreal. Do you want to just send them a fruit basket with a card that says please like us, we’re sorry about not letting you smash Isreal, go ahead, just please be nice to us.
    Thats what I heard from you! At least Newt is saying we are not bending… at all and he has the guts to put himself out there and communicate possible real solutions.

  39. I must not see ugly. Ugly is the taste-killer. Ugly is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face away from your ugly. I will permit it to pass over there and away from me. And when it has gone past I will turn a squinting eye to see its path. Where the ugly has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

    Gods below, you ugly.

  40. Aside from the usual Newtian “give everyone a free computer!” silliness (which makes him a deep, creative thinker, you see), it’s the standard neocon line; Richard Perle would approve. In short: all the problems in the world will be solved once Israel’s enemies have been smited. How can any honest and sincere person take that view after the last 4 years?

  41. How is this not terrorism?

    We need to be willing to slaughter civilians to show we’re serious. We should target their economic assets so their country can’t function, in order to bend them to our will.

    Newt Gingrich, terrorist.

    You are guilty of Terrorism abuse joe. Hitler was an evil mass-murderer, but not a terrorist. Al Capone was a vicious criminal, but not a terrorist.

    In the past, terrorism meant a very specific type of act, like hijacking, bombing… usually an unlawful covert act commited by an individual or a small group without (overt) government support, directed at non-military targets.

    Newt might be suggesting some evil things that you don’t like, but most likely he supports the U.S. quite overtly dropping a bomb on countries and quite overtly intimidating nations, which wouldn’t be terrorism.

    I suppose it is a lost cause, in this day and age when people can be charged with “terrorism” for snorting crystal meth… but please, enough with the NewSpeak OK, Newt Gingrich is not a terrorist. He is just an asshole.

  42. Heh.

    The guy who thinks that opposition to eternal war means sending fruit baskets to terrorist says we sound like children.

    Why don’t you go finish your homework, son.

  43. Rex,

    I hear you, and Lord knows the term is overused, but state terrorism has always been recognized as such. Stalin committed acts of terror. The V2 attacks on London were called terror bombings.

  44. To chime in, I remember seeing in the Wright-Patterson AFB museum(which kicks the shit out of the Smithsonian Air&Space museum, by the way), some old Nazi propaganda leaflets which talked about how well the captured “terrorist bomber crews” were being treated in their prison camps.

  45. mistaB,

    I daresay that the scale of the threat posed by bin Laden and his ilk is not being adequately taken into consideration by Gingrich and similarly minded people. Can we be hit again by another terrorist attack? Sure. But do Islamic terrorists have the capacity to really hurt us? No way. And they can want Israel to go away and us, too, all they want. If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets.

    I think we’re spending too much time, energy, resources, and lives on the Middle East, especially considering how little real interest the United States has in the region anymore. We get as much oil from Mexico as from the entire Middle East. Ditto our imports from Canada. Bah.

  46. We should invade Mexico, Pro? No blood for jerbs!

  47. We stumbled into Middle East intervention. Britain lost control, we stepped in, and we were afraid to stop stepping in because of the U.S.S.R. We adopted the interesting idea of allowing proxies to act for us for awhile, which is how we got so close to Israel and Iran.

    Mexico, on the other hand, we should intervene in regularly, just to protect our vital tequila resource. No stumbling in–just direct, total, hegemony.

  48. Pro Lib – I do like your last post.

    Warty – LOL!

  49. Quit acting as if the people in these countries have a any choice in their governments. All governments are imposed on people, democratic or authoritarian. There’s is no where on earth this isn’t the case. As such I think most people would prefer to have democracy imposed on them, becuase the alternative is to have authoritarianism (in some form or another)imposed on them.

    I for one am quite happy that France decided to interfere with Britain’s influence over the American colonies. So there’s obviously some cases where interventionism has very positive outcomes.

  50. That might have been a plausible thing to argue four years ago.

    At this point, speculating on the eagerness of Iraqis to have us impose things on them doesn’t make a whole lotta sense.

    I guess you haven’t seen Red Dawn. “What makes us any different from them?”

    “Because…we live here!”

  51. Sorry joe but I don’t think I have any idea what your trying to get across.

    We removed their old government and we put in place a system where they could elect their leaders. Those that are not happy with that result are trying to impose their will through extra constitutional methods (violence, intimidation, and such). I don’t think you are advocating rolling over for those factions that engage in that behavior, so that they can get their way, just becuase they happen to live in that region?

  52. I agree with Garth’s 1:57 post. Intentionally doing something that would hurt innocent people for no crime other than being subjects of the Soviet Union is despicable.

    I realize it happens constantly in wartime, but during wartime, you wouldn’t be selling any equipment to the enemy.

  53. Pain,

    I am advocating for removing ourselves from the equation altogether.

    In case you haven’t noticed, the humanitarian wonderfulness of the system we imposed hasn’t caused the country to become humanitarian or wonderful. Heck, the democracy itself hasn’t even taken root.

    And that’s not because there’s anything wrong with the system we imposed. I’m sure the Iraqis will get around to developing a democracy someday, all by themselves.

    No, it’s the imposing that the problem. Democracy requires citizens to become active directors of their own political lives. Treating them as passive recipients of a political system undermines this effort.

    Look at our own democracy – the centuries of developing, growing democratic governance that preceded the War of Independence, the role oridinary citizens played in the war itself (and in the politics surrounding the Patriot movement), and the comrades-in-arms overcoming their disagreements after the war in order to design and implement a democratic system that worked for us.

    A democracy needs to have a democratic culture to succeed, and the actions necessary to overthrow the tyrant and formulate a pluralistic government to take his place have to happen, in order for that democratic culture to come into existence.

  54. I am advocating for removing ourselves from the equation altogether.

    This sounds very much like the Star Trek Prime Directive theory of diplomacy. Don’t involve ourselves in the goings on of the uncivilized peoples because we might mess something up.

    It sounds nice on the surface and it allows you to theoretically wash off any blood from your hands since you can’t do any wrong. But that also means you can’t do any right. You are in effect leaving people mired in a system that may consume generations to “figure things out.” Most of human history is defined by autocrats imposing their will on others. It has only been by certain lucky circumstances and immense amounts of bloodshed over generations has some of the world managed to escape from that cycle. It seems crazy to me to just sitback and do nothing and not attempt to help others shorten or eliminate that process.

    You can certainly make an argument that what we are doing in Iraq is counterproductive or not worth it. But that is matter of method and cost, not a matter of the morality of intervention.

  55. We get as much oil from Mexico as from the entire Middle East. Ditto our imports from Canada. Bah.

  56. Crap. Once more, only right this time…

    True enough, but Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Kuwait account for about 25% of our total imports, which is about 14% of our total demand.

    Were oil an elastic good, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. But the need to maintain a certain level of supply in the short to mid term means that losing 14% of our oil would create headaches and price increases way out of proportion to the percentage of supply it represents. Which is why some people (I’m not one of them) still view the mideast as an area where we have ‘vital interests’ to maintain, blah blah.

  57. Double crap, did I broke the internets?

  58. “””but please, enough with the NewSpeak OK, Newt Gingrich is not a terrorist. He is just an asshole.”””

    Yeah, Newt wasn’t involved with the pipeline action, so he wouldn’t be a terrorist. However supporting may make him a moral support of terrorism.

    Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “…the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85)
    http://www.fbi.gov/publications/terror/terror2000_2001.htm

  59. Of course, my problem with the FBI’s definition is that it would convict our founding fathers and imply that this nation was born out of terrorism. Freedom fighters could not exist.

  60. Pain,

    This sounds very much like the Star Trek Prime Directive theory of diplomacy. Don’t involve ourselves in the goings on of the uncivilized peoples because we might mess something up.

    No, you misunderstand. We absolutely should have diplomatic relations with the Iraqis. We should even flaunt our conspicuous freedom and give “Berlin Wall” speeches. Maybe even back up local democratic movements, if it should do some good. What we should not do is try to govern them, because it doesn’t work, and just sets back their eventual self-liberation by driving them to “rally round the flag” of whichever tyrant or guerilla groups opposes us.

    You are remarkably dismissive of the idea that people in other parts of the world can be agents of their own political development. I don’t think they need an American Big Daddy to come save them; I don’t think that does any good at all.

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