Newt Gingrich’s worst betrayal of his party and the conservative movement was not his stance on partial birth abortion or federal abortion funding. It was not his ad on the couch with Nancy Pelosi instructing us to buy into the global warming fanatics’ agenda. It was not his attack on Rep. Paul Ryan’s health care policy. No, it as his wartime condemnation of President George W. Bush, his undermining of the effort (nearly all on the conservative side) to refuse to accept defeat and instead back the surge in Iraq and the premium he placed on political expediency over national security. If that sounds like Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid it was.
A New York Sun piece by Josh Gerstein in 2006 reminds us of Gingrich’s open criticism of Bush’s handling of the war:
Mr. Gingrich, who led the House from 1995 to 1999, also took a swipe at Mr. Bush’s decision not to seek congressional approval before implementing a wiretapping program aimed at uncovering communications involving possible Al Qaeda operatives.
“Where I fault the administration is, sometimes it would be so easy to just be simple and straight,okay? All they had to do is go to the American people and say, we want to make sure that if the National Security Agency picks up a foreign terrorist calling someone in the U.S., that they can listen to the call,” Mr. Gingrich said in a video clip posted on the South Dakota newspaper’s Web site. He said more than 90% of Americans would have quickly endorsed such a program.
The barbs from Mr. Gingrich, the architect of the “Contract with America,” come as he is in the midst of a speaking tour that is taking him to states that could be pivotal to the presidential primary contest in 2008. . . .
During one of his appearances Monday, Mr. Gingrich went out of his way to emphasize the importance of the ideological center to the Republican Party.
“You can’t be on the two wings and win in America,” he said, according to a video posted on the University of South Dakota Web site. “I would argue the Republican Party ought to be a center-right coalition.”
In other words, the war was bad politics, and he saw an opening as the leader of the I-told-you-so Republicans. But that wasn’t all.
He actively tried to throw cold water on the surge and public support for it. A 2007 article in the American Prospect observed one such speech:
Amidst “movement building” visits to Iowa, the former speaker of the House touched down yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, D.C. His mission was to throw cold water on conservative excitement over General David Petraeus’ surge-enabling Iraq report. In the process, he cast himself as the lone (albeit rumored) GOP presidential hopeful deeply critical of the Bush administration’s anti-terror strategy, yet fully enthused about every potential confrontation with the so-called “Islamo-fascists.” . . . Gingrich even went so far as to suggest that had the proper investments been made in intelligence, homeland security, and diplomacy immediately following 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq would not have been necessary. “We never fully mobilized,” he lamented.
Gingrich was all over the map, ever with his finger in the wind. As the report noted:
When it comes to the Iraq War, Gingrich has a long history of flipping, flopping, and then flipping again. As Alex Koppelman reported in Salon last year, “As a close advisor to the administration over the past six years, and an intimate of both Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Gingrich was a powerful advocate both for the idea of invading Iraq and for the botched way in which it was done.” A member of the influential Defense Policy Board, Gingrich helped draw up war plans at the Central Command for the Middle East in Tampa, Fla. And his Oct. 16, 2002 USA Today column about Iraq was titled, “Strike Sooner Than Later.”
When the war soured, Newt changed his tune. As early as December 2003, Gingrich told Newsweek, “Americans can’t win in Iraq.” He later said it had been a mistake for the United States to occupy the country beyond June 2003. Last November, Gingrich, while testing the primary waters in New Hampshire, called democracy-building in Iraq a “failure.”
Understand that the president, members of Congress, General Petraeus and outside experts and advocates, including General Jack Keane, Fred Kagan and others, mightily defied popular opinion for the cause of national security. But not Gingrich: he was ready to turn tail and use the war’s failure for popular gain. He was, in short, the Obama of the GOP.
Perhaps the most egregious interview he ever gave was on June 3, 2007 on Fox News Sunday. Chris Wallace grilled Gingrich on his assertion that George W. Bush was akin to Jimmy Carter. This ensued:
WALLACE: . . . . White House spokesman Tony Snow pushed back at your comments this week.
WALLACE: And let’s take a look at them. Here they are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When it comes to presidential politics, you know that the first rule is if you’re running even in your own party, the first thing you do is you try to differentiate your product, and you always use the president as somebody that you’re sort of measuring yourself against.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: He says you’re trying to carve out a place in the Republican debate by knocking the president.
GINGRICH: Look, Tony Snow is a great friend, and I admire him a great deal, and it’s a nice try. In 1988, no one running for president on the Republican nomination tried to differentiate themselves from Ronald Reagan.
There’s a lesson there. Ronald Reagan was enormously popular. The fact is that -- forget presidential politics. We as a country over the next 1.5 years half have to do dramatically better.
You just had a report from Iraq that’s very sobering. You have a comment from General Sanchez that should alarm every American. You have the report today of the terrorists being picked up in New York who were trying to blow up the jet fuel.
And by the way, one of those terrorists was picked up on the way to Iran for a conference on Islamic behavior around the world.
In other words, no matter what the stakes, no matter what the consequences for the party or the country’s national security, Gingrich consistently had one goal: self-promotion. And to the extent conservatives (in this case, hawks trying to win a war) stood in his way, well, they’d get a swift kick under the Gignrich bus.
In June 2007 Bill Kristol wrote on the surge:
What if the Defeatists have overplayed their hand? What if they continue to sound the tocsin of defeat--and the president, and the commanders, and the soldiers, don’t snap to and obey? What if the surge continues to show better and better results, and the Bush administration does a more effective job of communicating them? If so, this past week could turn out to have been a pivotal moment in the Iraq war.
Over the last few months, the United States (finally) surged in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq has now surged against the surge. Iran is surging against the surge. We’re pushing them back. Now the Democrats in Congress, the mainstream media, and the foreign policy establishment have mounted their own surges against the surge. So far, Bush is beating them back. If Bush can hang tough, and General Petraeus can keep on surging, the Defeatists will fail. And the United States will have a good chance to succeed in Iraq.
But Gingrich was also surging against the surge. He failed, as did the other defeastists (primarily in the Democratic Party ranks). So why should the Republicans, the conservative movement and the country invest such a person with the powers of commander in chief?
Gingrich’s pitch in the 2012 presidential race has been that he’s a fearless conservative. But in fact whenever the going gets tough — on Ryan’s Medicare reform or the war in Iraq or in the budget showdown against Clinton — he is never on the side of the conservatives. In chasing elusive popularity, conservatives become his foes. And national security is simply an inconvenience. Perhaps it is time to top indulging this reckless character.