Tag: Newt Gingrich

Tweets of the Week #3

Twitter HQ: Logo artwork

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.

By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading

On Security Dilemmas and The Absurdity of Newt Gingrich

When he isn’t comparing himself to Ronald Reagan (whose withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, arms control negotiations with Gorbachev, nuclear abolitionist visions and moderation on immigration, and general sunny persona suggest they aren’t politically identical), Newt Gingrich says things like this:

I would say that the most dangerous thing — which, by the way, Barack Obama just did — the Iranians are practicing closing the Strait of Hormuz, actively taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative?

“Dictatorships respond to strength, they don’t respond to weakness,” Gingrich continued, “and I think there’s very grave danger that the Iranians think this president is so weak that they could close the Strait of Hormuz and not suffer substantial consequences.

Its already pointed out that his claim about the cancelled exercise is factually false.

More deeply, its simply untrue to claim that dictatorships (or any regime type, actually) only respond to ‘strength’, which is Gingrich’s shorthand for bellicose escalation.


It shouldn’t take a degree in political science (or indeed, in Gingrich’s case, a Phd in History), to ponder why this might be ever so slightly misleading. For a start, talk of ‘being strong’ because its the only way to change your enemy’s behaviour is exactly how Iran’s Supreme Leader is reported to talk about America. How would a President Gingrich react to equivalent Iranian posturing?

Surprisingly enough, history suggests that regimes which are highly motivated to survive might respond badly to threats, sabre rattling, and confrontation.

A really important case of this happened between 1937-1941, which despite the obsession with that era amongst Gingrich and his fans, is often neglected. President Franklin Roosevelt imposed economic sanctions on Imperial Japan (including oil, tin and rubber) which would virtually destroy its ability to operate. He did so to pressure Japan to abandon its brutal expansionism in China. He was confident that the presence of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would act as a deterrent against retaliation.

Seeking to avoid a war in the Pacific, Roosevelt’s twin approach of coercion and deterrence had perverse results. Given the choice between abandoning its imperial ambitions in continental Asia, and challenging the US directly, Japan’s rulers chose Door Number 2.This unleashed a Pacific war of unimaginable suffering that neither country actually wanted.

Had Gingrich been advising President John Kennedy in 1962, would he, like the Joint Chiefs, have been muttering about Munich and warning the President to look strong by escalating against an opponent, we now know, armed with nuclear-tipped ground-to-ground missiles and authorised to use them?

Kennedy, fortunately, was mindful of other Western strategic history, when escalation resulted not in bloodless climbdowns but in the war of 1914-1918, with the horrors it bequethed to the twentieth century.

Most important of all, Gingrich falls prey to the false binaries of what passes for foreign policy ‘debate’ amongst those who call themselves Reaganites (and who conveniently forget how disappointed they were by the actual Reagan in the mid-1980’s). He characterises strategic choices as a matter of strength versus weakness.

For Gingrich, there is no middle ground of prudence and restraint. Reagan sometimes escalated, and sometimes backed off. We can debate how well or badly he did so, and whether it was part of a conscious design or an erratic indecision. But there was a sense that diplomatic behaviour, and the mix of deterrence and talks, could be calibrated and measured.

Not so with Newt, who simply won’t recognise that his own talk of threats, sanctions, regime change and military strikes might make Tehran want a deterrent (or even just a latent capability) even more, thereby making Newt a potential co-creator of the very monster that he warns against.

I yearn for his political implosion, and return to the outer darkness of the political fringe.   

Cross-posted at The Offshore Balancer

Gingrinch

I never, ever, ever thought I would write a blog post about Newt Gingrich’s chances as Republican nominee for President, except perhaps to laugh at him. Yet here I am.

The Republican establishment is lining up against Gingrich, claiming that he is not conservative enough. This is laughable and a red herring. As opposed to Mitt Romney? Instead we should listen to those who were swept into office and/or positions of power with him in the revolution of 1994, like Joe Scarborough. They know him well. Gingrich’s problem is hardly being conservative enough. Rather the real objections center on two other faults. First, he is a blowhard pseud0-intellectual in love with his own ideas and himself. Second, he is an asshole, and I mean that in the most rigorous, social scientific way possible. These are not unrelated, but the latter is I think what explains his rise in this particular climate. Allow me to explain.

If Gingrich gets the nomination, the media is going to make a huge deal of the egghead vs. egghead presidential race. That is silly. Gingrich’s intellectualism is the intellectualism of a precocious 16 year old who just read the Fountainhead — shallow, capricious and grandiose. Next year he/she will have gone goth, or something else. So it is with Gingrich, although though he probably won’t go goth. I think people overstate Barack Obama’s intelligence too. He is smart but not brilliant. Rather what seems him look so smart is his ‘cognitive complexity,’ as I wrote about in one of my first posts here, and is so rare in politicians these days. He can see multiple sides of an argument. But be warned — this will be the narrative if he wins the nomination.

But his ‘intellectualism’ is not why Gingrich is so popular today. I think Gingrich is picking up the votes of the real Tea Party people — those who resent what they imagine to be enormous sums of their tax dollars going to finance what they imagine to be the profligate lifestyles of those on Aid to Families of Dependent Children or Medicaid or both. We call this ‘economic conservatism’ but it is not a belief in the free market. It is a belief that we owe nothing to anyone else. In political psychology we know it has a strong association with a particular personality trait — disagreeableness. In short, Tea Parties are meanies before they are anything else.

Social conservatives score much higher on other personality traits like conscientiousness. They are not nearly so uncaring. They might deny family planning services to unwed mothers, but this is because they think they are doing the right thing by not putting ideas into impressionable girls heads — that it is OK to have sex. Of course this makes them likelier to get pregnant and have abortions. But it comes from a genuinely good if misguided intention. They are mean by accident, indirectly.

Newt’s rise has to be attributed to his performance in debates, since, as was the case with Cain, there is nothing else to explain it — no money, no organization, and only negative name recognition. What has he done at these debates? He has no gimmick, no 9/9/9 plan. He flips around all the time. But every time he shows up on camera, we see the same thing — contempt, scorn, meanness. For everything. Newt is tapping into how nasty these nasty people feel. To others, and at previous times, this would have seemed unpresidential. But these are the times we live in. Newt Gingrich is an asshole, and many Republicans love him for it.

Bolt down your Christmas trees everyone. And for all the Muslims out there, get an alarm system.

Comprehending Gingrich

Newt Gingrich

Born Newton Leroy McPherson, the man now simply known as “Newt Gingrich” has been surging in the latest opinion polls asking Republican voters to identify their preferred presidential candidate. He also recently won the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader, which 538’s Nate Silver finds to be important in the early New Hampshire primary:

This analysis finds that The Union Leader’s endorsement has been highly statistically significant in helping to explain the voting results. Consistent with the simpler averaging method that we used before, it pegs the endorsement as having roughly an 11-percentage-point impact.

Academic readers of this blog may well know that Gingrich, as one scholar described him, is “a card-carrying member of the overeducated elite….Gingrich holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans.” He had a tenure-track job at West Georgia College in the 1970s, though he was denied tenure and took up politics full-time.

Today, someone put Gingrich’s dissertation on the internet. Feel free to bookmark and read later the former House Speaker’s lengthy take on “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960.” Since I don’t have time in the near-term to read this tome myself, I’m dependent upon the prior work of Laura Seay, a young scholar now at Morehouse College, who actually reviewed this work in 2009:

I finally sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich’s dissertation. (When I say “read” here, I mean, of course, that I skimmed through until I found something interesting.)

Seay reports quite a bit of detail about Gingrich’s dissertation on her blog post. I won’t spoil too much of her review (read it yourself), but the take home point is relatively important:

The whole thing is kind of a glorified white man’s burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970’s.

I mention this point because I’m reminded of something ridiculous candidate Gingrich said about Barack Obama in September 2010 to National Review Online:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Now that we know about Gingrich’s early work as an historian, I ask the following questions:

What if Gingrich is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Belgian, pro-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? What if that is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior?

For related discussion, see this on Libya, this on Iran, and this on the latest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.

Ire of Newt

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has declared war on current speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Why? Well, Gingrich says Pelosi lied when she claimed that the CIA withheld information from her about waterboarding in 2002 briefings.

Here’s Gingrich on Fox News, May 17:

I was really surprised and even stunned by her comments yesterday, where she alleged that the American intelligence agencies routinely lied to the Congress. I know it’s false. I know that it demeans every person who’s working to defend this country….

I think Speaker Pelosi’s in enormous trouble. I think that lying to the country on national security matters and lying to the House is a very, very dangerous thing to have done.

The next day, on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Gingrich called for Pelosi to resign, arguing that “She really disqualified herself to be the speaker.”

“She has a unique responsibility for national security. … She made this allegation that smears everyone who’s trying to defend her.”

Leaving her in her place would be “very dangerous for the country,” Gingrich added.

Other Republicans have piled on as well, including House Minority leader John Boehner who has called for Pelosi to apologize to the CIA. Democrats have defended Pelosi. It all looks fairly partisan.

What’s interesting here is the nature of Gingrich’s attack. He’s saying that the speaker of the House cannot accuse a U.S. foreign policy agency of misdeeds during wartime because that is a threat to national security.

Did he forget his own past? Does anyone else recall Gingrich’s war-time broadside against the State Department? In a July/August 2003 piece for Foreign Policy (read the full article here) entitled “Rogue State Department,” Gingrich argued that “the president should demand a complete overhaul of the State Department.”

In a right-wing on-line publication, Gingrich also wrote in 2003 that State was engaged in “a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the President’s policies.” That one almost implies treason.

Gingrich added more in yet another interview with Fox News, in April 2003:

“The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success. The first days after military victory indicate the pattern of diplomatic failure is beginning once again and threatens to undo the effects of military victory,” Gingrich told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Much of Gingrich’s rhetoric was aimed at the Near East Bureau of the State Department. Among the complaints, Gingrich blasted [Secretary of State Colin] Powell for planning a trip to Syria, working with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations on a Middle East peace road map, and focusing on prewar weapons inspections rather than regime change.

How embarassing for Gingrich on so many levels. At the time, incidentally, Bush officials said Gingrich had “stepped in it” and his comments were “out of line.”

In 2005, Gingrich accused Joseph Wilson of lying about his visit to Niger in the so-called Valerie Plame affair. Wilson, of course, went to Africa for the CIA.

In 2007, Gingrich called the National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, produced by the intelligence community (including CIA) — “fundamentally dishonest.” In Gingrich’s defense, he seems to think NIEs are produced by the State Department (which is apparently OK to attack at will).

And finally, when did Republicans start to stifle their critique of government? Or, do they only trust national security agencies?

Why do they trust them absolutely?

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