Newt Gingrich’s Foreign Policy Judgment, Or Lack Thereof
Newt Gingrich's foreign policy vision leaves much to be desired.
Daniel Larison isn’t at all enamored with the idea of Newt Gingrich being in charge of American foreign policy:
Like many of his rivals, Gingrich is reliably hawkish on foreign policy, but he has the habit of framing issues in stark, apocalyptic terms that inevitably exaggerate the scale of contemporary threats. There is every reason to expect that U.S. foreign policy would become even more militarized and confrontational under a President Gingrich, and America’s relations with much of the world would deteriorate quickly.
Many Republicans flatter Gingrich by treating him as one of the party’s intellectuals, but Gingrich frequently shows that he is unable or unwilling to make crucial distinctions in his treatment of international problems. He complains on his campaign website that “we currently view Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other danger spots of the globe as if they are isolated, independent situations,” and that America “lacks a unified grand strategy for defeating radical Islamism.” But these conflicts are largely separate from one another, and there is no such thing as a monolithic, global, radical Islamism that can be addressed by one strategy. No conflicts around the world can be properly understood except by focusing on local circumstances, but for Gingrich, the ideological emphasis on a unified global threat takes priority over proper analysis.
Larison goes on to note that Gingrich makes no distinctions when it comes to Islam as a religion and radical Islam as a motivating force for terrorism, a fact amply demonstrated by his statements last summer about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” and his apocalyptic view of the regime in Iran which seems to lead to the conclusion that the only acceptable way to “deal” with Iran is to engage in the kind of war that has the potential destroy the regime. The truth, of course, is that Gingrich is hardly alone in these views inside the Republican Party. With the exception of Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and, for the most part, Jon Hunstman, there isn’t a single Republican candidate for President that disagrees with the substance of what Gingrich says when it comes to issues like the War On Terror, Russia, China, military spending, torture, or the civil liberties implications of the War on Terror. The biggest difference seems to be that Gingrich just sounds smarter when he talks about them, largely because, as Larison notes, he is filled with a disturbingly strong sense that he, and only he, is right:
Perhaps worst of all is Gingrich’s supreme confidence in his own intellectual superiority. This means he will not be easily dissuaded from making policy on the basis of his numerous misjudgments about foreign threats and U.S. interests. A Gingrich administration promises to give America many of the misguided and harmful policies of the Bush years, but the errors will be compounded by Gingrich’s presumption that he understands the world far better than anyone else.
This seems to be even more the case once you look into who might actually make up a Gingrich Administration in the unlikely event it ever existed. Earlier this week during an appearance before the Republican Jewish Conference, for example, Gingrich said that he would ask former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be his Secretary of State. While this announcement is likely to only enhance Gingrich’s reputation among the GOP’s conservative base, where Bolton has something of an inexplicable cult following, it should be of concern to anyone who would hope for sound judgment at Foggy Bottom to counterbalance Gingrich’s own erratic judgment. Bolton, of course, is the Dick Cheney protege who ended up having to be given a recess appointment to his Ambassadorial post because he proved to be so controversial when first named. Bolton is also the guy famous for such quotes as this:
“While treaties may well be politically or even morally binding, they are not legally obligatory. They are just not ‘law’ as we apprehend the term. And what happens to countries when they do not adhere to international law on some matter? Usually nothing. Why, then, do we continue to talk about international ‘law’? Because the word has a strong emotive appeal.”
More recently, Bolton has made his name as a commentator on foreign policy for Fox News Channel where he seems to be viewed as the unquestioned kind of neo-conservative foreign policy. During that time, and even while he was still an Ambassador, Bolton has distinguished himself most prominently by predicting, on at least four different occasions over the course of four years, that Iran was “only weeks” away from having a nuclear program capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material. On each occasion, of course, he has been wrong, but he’s never gotten called on it by the unquestioning anchors who sit across from him in the Fox News studios. And this is the guy that Gingrich would put in charge of American diplomacy, or so he tells the GOP base. Finally, as Andrew Sullivan notes, naming Bolton as an ideal Secretary of States essentially sends the rest of the world a message of open hostility and the message that military force is the ideal solution to most problems.
Another point to remember about Gingrich’s foreign policy is that, like his domestic policy, is the extent to which he seems willing to use to advance his own cynical evaluation of what the politically opportune position happens to be at the time. Back in March, for example, Gingrich managed to completely change his position on a No-Fly Zone over Libya over a period of only fifteen days. The only thing that changed in that time was that, in the beginning the Obama Administration was reluctant to involve American forces in what was looking like an increasingly violent civil war, only to go along with a United Nations backed plan that came into being seemingly out of nowhere. It’s fairly apparent that Gingrich was merely using Libya as an opportunity to bash the Obama Administration. He wasn’t concerned with what might actually be in the nation’s best interests, or admitting that the President had essentially done what he had called on him to do just a few weeks earlier. Someone that opportunistic is bound to do anything.