Foreign Policy

Keeping Newt Undercover

America doesn't need Dr. Strangelove dealing with Iran's mad mullahs


It takes hard work to evoke sympathy for Iran's odious regime. But Newt Gingrich and his fellow GOP presidential maybes proved up to the task during their recent South Carolina debate. The cheerful casualness with which they talked about deploying covert operations against Iran will make it much harder for America to win friends and influence people to achieve its foreign policy objectives.

Mitt Romney got the ball rolling by declaring that, if all else failed, he would resort to military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But such generic bromides were not good enough for Newt Gingrich. After accusing the Obama administration of being dumb about Iran, the former House speaker proceeded to say just about the dumbest thing of the night—and arguably the entire debate season. (Yes, even dumber than Rick Perry's now-immortal "Oops"). "We need maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems," this alleged brainiac opined. "All of it covertly, all of it deniable."

Gingrich obviously doesn't believe he'll become president, his post-debate poll bump notwithstanding. If he did, he wouldn't put himself in the position of having to deny in office something that he had already admitted he'd do if elected. In any event, everything he listed (all of which Rick Santorum enthusiastically echoed) has already been done. So what exactly is his beef with the Obama administration? The only clear difference is that it is better at maintaining plausible deniability than loudmouth Gingrich.

The reality, of course, is that Gingrich has as much chance of becoming president as Dick Cheney has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But that doesn't mean he can't do Cheney-worthy damage to America's interests and standing in the world.

Having grown up in the heyday of the Cold War in the economic basket case that was India, I know firsthand just how useful America's allegedly satanic ways are for failing regimes looking for scapegoats. Indeed, there was literally no problem too big or too small that India's rulers at the time wouldn't blame on the "foreign hand"—code for CIA. Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims? Foreign hand. Rising oil prices and inflation? Foreign hand.

The foreign hand, as Salman Rushdie once put it in a Reason interview, was the Pynchonesque conspiracy that explained almost every ill in the non-Western world. But the power of this trope was dying, thanks to overuse. However, Gingrich & Co.'s loose advocacy of covert operations will make the world even more paranoid about America's intentions. And many regimes fighting for their survival—whether the new ones in the Middle East or the old ones in Pakistan—will be tempted to pull out the foreign hand from the dustbin of history. Even before Gingrich gave them ammunition, Pakistan's major newspaper, the Islamabad Times, was fretting about many of its NGOs really being spying operations for the United States. "These agents became active in gathering intelligence, creating instability, anarchy and terrorism in Pakistan and China," it editorialized in October.

The Republican debates might be targeted at a domestic audience, but the rest of the world doesn't shut its ears. They offer other countries a window on the American psyche. And the picture that Gingrich et al. are painting would only confirm the stereotype of an ugly American willing to achieve his ends by any means necessary, long-term consequences be damned.

And America's inglorious history of covert operations shows just how nasty these consequences can be. Nothing demonstrates this better than Iran itself. America had a hand in creating this monster by first helping the Shah oust—through covert means—Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, and then arming him as he erected a pro-U.S. police state that brutalized his own people. All of this paved the way for an even more oppressive Islamist regime that Republicans now want to destabilize by using even more covert operations. But is there any guarantee that this time we'll get a nuclear-free, U.S.-friendly, Western-style democracy?

Few would deny that covert operations can sometimes offer an alternative short of all-out war to deal with nettlesome situations that can't be resolved diplomatically. But precisely because they involve morally ambiguous means and, often, serious trespasses on another nation's sovereignty, they have to be deployed sparingly and responsibly—i.e., only when they offer the least bloody way of advancing a just cause.

Gingrich, however, sounds like a sociopath when he talks about them. He makes it seem like covert operations are just another tool in America's foreign policy kit, to be pulled out whenever expedient. That makes America, not Iran, seem like the bigger threat to global stability.

The negative repercussions of this for America's foreign policy objectives cannot be overstated. It takes the moral high ground out from under pro-American voices advocating closer ties between their countries and the U.S. Without them, America can't conduct effective diplomacy, leaving brute force as its main option when major disputes arise.

Newt Gingrich is not presidential material. However, he could be a candidate for some prominent foreign policy-related Cabinet position in the event of a Republican victory next November. But America doesn't need a Dr. Strangelove to deal with Iran's mad mullahs.

Gingrich has a habit of self-destructing. Let's hope he does so before he destroys any more of America's credibility.

Reason Foundation Senior Analyst is a columnist at The Daily where this column originally appeared.


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  1. It depends on what sort of covert operations he would mount. Poisoned chocolate milk that’s too frozen to drink? Exploding cigars? Underpants gnomes? C’mon Newcular T, you’re an ideas man!

    1. …to the markets has been done.

      Looks like being a KronyKoch pays-off. *wink* *wink*

      To: James W. Giddens, Trustee, SIPA Liquidation of MF Global, Inc. and Martin Glenn, United States Bankruptcy Judge

      From: Cathy Cuthbert

      RE: MF Global Heist

      I am a lucky, former MF Global client. Unfortunately, I’m not a multi-billionaire who got the memo. I had a modest account that was supplying me with a modest livelihood, when suddenly one Monday afternoon, my account was frozen, my livelihood was essentially gone and four years worth of trading profits vanished into cyber space….

      What could destroy the market (and the religioeconomic dogma of “free” markets) more than a KronyKoch who got the memo just before the heist?

  2. Whatever I do, I can always smooth things over with my Great American Award.

  3. Caption:

    “Wait until they hear I did lobbying for the farting in jars industry.”

    1. Did you hear about the old woman who farted in a jar? If you were in it you would have.

  4. My friends on the Left are asking me lately what I think of Gingrich. I tell them I try not to.

    Why do they always act surprised I don’t gush over him? He rode the train in on the Contract with America (I’ll conveniently forget the The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act and The Taking Back Our Streets Act so I can call the contract good)… and I’m having trouble remembering a positive since.

    1. given all the legislation you ascribe to Newt, shouldn’t your friends on the left be attracted to him? Maybe they’re pissed about welfare reform; liberals tend to be against that sort of thing.

  5. If the GOP are actually dumb enough to give this nutcase the nomination I’m packing up a and hiding in the mountains somewhere to sit out the apocalypse. If Obama and Gingrich are the choices for 2012, the end is near…..

    1. Hah — with that matchup, the end has come and gone.

      no hugs for thugs,
      Shirley Knott

      1. Seinfeld strikes again.

  6. He makes it seem like covert operations are just another tool in America’s foreign policy kit, to be pulled out whenever expedient.

    Why does Reason excoriate Gingrich for speaking the truth?

    1. Thank you. Furthermore, as well they should be. What, are we supposed to be stupid? Oh, our covert operations are not always successful? What a shocker. Does someone here know the percentages on that and know that those are unsatisfactory or something?

      Also, let’s just stipulate Gingrich’s dickiness and get that out of the way – then I can go ahead and say that the notion that US (and every other significant country) conducts covert operations is implicit; Newt didn’t inform Iran of anything.

  7. “Badges? We don’ need no steenkeen badges!”

  8. Remind me, aside from talking a lot of anti-jew smack, and laughing at us when we failed to rescue hostages in 1979, what kind of threat Iran really represents?

    Iran largely serves as a boogeyman for american politicians, to trot out as a major regional bad-actor that *must be dealt with*…. even though when elected, no one really ever does shit about them except hem and haw from time to time.

    Yes, they pursue nuclear capabilities. Yes, they sponsor anti-israeli terrorism. Color me unimpressed. We still puff them up to be 10X the threat they really are. And its largely to the point of getting voters all heated up about teh evil islams so they can pretend to be St George and slay some imaginary dragon.

    Iran is a half assed theocracy that will inevitably implode on its own. Pakistan? They are some serious cocksuckers. But of course, policy with pakistan is *complicated*…. which is why they far prefer talking about Iran. Iran, they’ll do meaningless shit about, in order to prevent actually having to make hard choices about more significant regional problems.

    1. Iran is where it is thanks to that lib “genius” Carter.

      1. So, Jimmy Carter was president in 1953 when the US sponsored a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in favor of the Shah who instituted nearly totalitarian rule., huh?

        I’ve seen some history challenged Americans before but I’ve never expect one to be called “Realist”.

        What the Iranians did in 1979 was just payback for 1953.

        1. The fact that Carter was ever President is a travesty.
          The little chickenshit fucked the Shah.
          It wouldn’t be a theocracy now if not for the Georgia dickhead.
          Is it a democratically elected government now???

    2. America, Iran, and Israel, are all half-assed theocracies that will inevitably implode on its own.

      “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.
      U.S. Representative Christopher Shays, R-CT, (New York Times 3/23/05)

    3. Thank you! This is something that I try to explain to my friends, and they just write me off as some crazy pro-Islamist or anti-Israelite.

      I mean, earth to the USA, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. We act like Pakistan is our bestest friend when we secretly go into their sovereign country and conduct a raid, with an attitude of, “ohh, they’ll get over it, huh, huh??”

  9. But we’re already pursuing covert operations against Iran, assassinating their scientists, blowing up their installations, hacking their computers, and funding antigovernment activists. (I don’t have any problem with that last one, by the way.)

    I certainly understand opposing these policies (other than the last one). And I also understand how pursuing these policies can damage our international standing.

    What I can’t understand is why Shikha thinks that Newt talking about the policies makes it any worse. It’s not like everybody doesn’t already know we’re doing this. So what reputation are we trying to protect, exactly?

    1. The love that dare not speak its name.

  10. In reading these comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the posters here are as dumb as Dalmia.

    Newt knows more about politics than anyone in the WH or on this site.

    1. …for hiring out their political customer useful-idiot support to India.

    2. John D,

      Your Great American Award is in the mail; you don’t own a strip club do ya?

      Oh, and I need 5K

    3. “Newt knows more about politics than anyone in the WH or on this site.”
      How would you know that?

      1. @ JohnD
        “Newt knows more about politics than anyone in the WH or on this site.”

        Is that a compliment? He’s been a BELTWAY INSIDER for 30+ FUCKING YEARS!!!??!! It would be an awe-inspiring achievment if he DIDN’T know more about politics than the EDITORS of this site. But that backhanded “compliment” aside, what does he DO or KNOW besides his OBAMAesque self-promotional medicine show and incessant attempts at pawning himself off as an intellectual?

    4. He’s “brilliant”, and he’s just about the most corrupt Republican candidate possible. Might as well go for the real deal and just nominate Jack Abramoff. Democrats are literally begging the Republicans to nominate Newt.

    5. I know your a fucking idiot. Does that count for anything?

  11. Newt is a warmongering asshole. He does McCain proud!

    1. Officer, am I free to gambol about plain and forest?

  12. The Irrelevance of the Republican Party…

  13. Let’s not do anything they don’t like is the author’s prescription for US foreign affairs. In other words, do not defend the interests of the US. If you do that, the world will hate you.

    The world does not hate China for what it is doing in Tibet. The world does not say a church is burning in Egypt, so Egyptians are bad or their religion is bad. Even the Tibetans don’t protest, they just burn themselves sometimes. Aggression does not produce hatred. It is trying to be nice and excusing one’s aggression, as in I am supporting democracy and getting rid of tyrants. Once you say something like that, the world will hate you for saying it and immediately point out what a hypocrite you are. All people who profess to believe in liberal politics of any degree are of course giant hypocrites.

    The US should act in its own interests. It will garner respect and support that way, not from half baked apologies and nonsense about rights.

    The problem is what are US interests? The more diverse the nation gets, the more our interests diverge. Non western peoples concept of their interest may include support Iran.

  14. “Newt Gingrich is not presidential material. However, he could be a candidate for some prominent foreign policy-related Cabinet position in the event of a Republican victory next November.”

    I suggest the U.S. reestablish their embassy in Tehran and nominate Newt to be the new ambassador.

    1. I endorse this idea.

  15. Couldn’t disagree more with the author. To effectively deny the Iranian mullahs atomic weapons, thus eliminating a preventable and dangerous nuclear arms race in the Middle East, everything should be on the table, inclusive of covert opns and/or overt military action. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks. My security is more important than how they feel.

    1. We should also go liquidate the inner city ghettos to prevent crime spillover into our neighborhoods, right Jim?

    2. Stop stealing my money and trying to recruit my son to do that you fucking coward.

  16. @nanda………if you think Dalmia’s attitude of disinterest in the US’s interests can be found in this article, read her opinions of US immigration. Pure lunacy.

  17. “That makes America, not Iran, seem like the bigger threat to global stability.”

    Why would anyone say that? How many countries has Iran invaded in the last 30 years? How many has the U.S. invaded? Uh-oh. Zero vesus I can’t count that high. Never mind.

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  19. Have you seen my Socratic interviews at youtube/janhelfeld ? What if there were more journalists like me? RON PAUL WOULD WIN. We need to spread the word to friends and media contacts, ,,,,,,,,

    Tell them they can use the videos to reveal the contradictions and nonsense that leads to mistakes in government policy.

  20. The Newt’s a consigliare in the CFR

    The Irrelevance of the Republican Party…

    The Real Newt Gingrich Part 1…

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