Newt Gingrich interview with Jewish Channel (Transcript)


Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a town hall rally in Bluffton, S.C. (Stephen Morton/AP)
December 9, 2011

Courtesy of the Jewish Channel

Steven - Welcome to this special Jewish Channel interview. I’m here with former

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich, thank you for joining us.

Newt - Good to be with you.

Steven - So I think most Americans over the age of 18 are very familiar with a lot of your

domestic policy statements, but your foreign policy is somewhat unknown. So, what do you think would surprise American voters?

Newt - I think probably the degree to which I’m willing to tell the truth and to follow

American interests, and to follow American values. And if that makes some of our intellectual elite uncomfortable, or if that makes some foreign countries uncomfortable, I’m actually not very concerned. I think we’ve had a period of being kidded about what’s going on in the world. We’ve had a period of using American resources to prop up peoplewho hate us, and we’ve had a period of pretty ineffective foreign policy. And this is much deeper than just Barack Obama. I think the State Department, the agency for the national development, the way our intelligence community has been run, all these things need to be fundamentally rethought.

Steven - Well, let’s get into that, because its only been 4 years since 8 years of the

George W. Bush administration. So, we’re all very familiar and remember very well what happened. And so, what is a different Republican direction that you expect to take in those areas?

Newt – Well, I think first of all, I would like to see us dramatically overhaul the State Department, move it towards a much more effective, much more pro-freedom and pro- American institution. I’ve talked about people like John Bolton playing a leading role, because I think the State Department is pretty dysfunctional at the present time. Second, I think Congress has to repeal a lot of the restrictions on our intelligence community.

We need a better ability to do covert operations. We need a better ability to gather intelligence. Today, our intelligence agencies are muscle bound by congressional rules and regulations. And the result is we rely on people who may be our enemies, we rely onPakistanis and Egyptians and others to get information, when in fact they may have very different interests and they may be feeding us very distorted information.

Steven – Now, you mentioned John Bolton. On Israel, who do you see as some of your ideological fellow travelers?

Newt - Well I’m not quite sure how to answer that. I see myself as in many ways being pretty close to Bibi Netanyahu in thinking about the dangers of the world. I believe in a tough-minded realism. I believe that if somebody is firing rockets at you, they are probably not engaged in the peace process. I believe if somebody goes around and says you don’t have a right to exist, they’re probably not prepared to negotiate for peace. I think if someone says they wanna wipe you out, you should believe them. So I see a much more tougher-minded, and much more honest approach to the Middle East in a Gingrich administration.

Steven - Can you tell me more about how you identify with Netanyahu?

Newt - Yeah, Bibi is a very tough guy, and he’s a guy who really puts Israel’s security first. He also happens to be a very free market guy, and somebody who helped create the entrepreneurial boom that has made Israel so successful. And I think he’s always been willing to cut through the red tape, but he’s never for a minute wavered in his commitment to Israeli security. I think we need an American President who starts by focusing on American security, recognizes Israel is an ally, it’s an important country. We are natural friends and allies, but let’s start with what is in America’s interest and let’s do it. I wear a pin.

This is actually the command flag of General Washington at Valley Forge And it is a reminder that we created the American presidency out of our experience of fighting the Revolutionary War. Washington was the commander in chief for 8 years. He only spent 1 week of that 8 years at Mount Vernon. We need a commander in chief who gets up every morning and understands protecting America, defeating America’s enemies is a very key part of their assignment.

Steven - So going with the Valley Forge theme, the “Arab Spring” versus the long winter of Valley Forge.

Newt - Yeah, look I think we’re much more likely to see an Arab winter, than we are to see an Arab Spring. The fact is that when people point out that of the 1,200,000 Christians who were in Iraq when we arrived, 700,000 have fled the country. That doesn’t strike me as a success. When you know that Coptic Christians who have been in Egypt for 2,100 years are now being persecuted and having their churches burned, that doesn’t strike me as a success. I think the Israeli Defense Minister said the other day that he’s very concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in this recent election.

Remember, I think 15% of the seats went to people who are more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood.

Steven - Right

Newt - So, I think there’s a lot to be concerned about, and whether or not the Arab world is going to evolve now in a very negative, probably very destructive, way.

Steven - On that note, there was a quote that came from a recent release from you, criticizing the Obama administration’s policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. One of the quotes you had was that “Palestinian leadership continues to stonewall the peace process.” And you didn’t say the same of Israel. So do you think there’ s…

Newt - No, I mean look, you have Abbas who says in the United Nations, “We do not necessarily concede Israel’s right to exist.” You’ve had four PLA ambassadors around the world say flatly, “Israel does not have a right to exist.” In late November in India, the PLA ambassador said “Anybody who thinks there is a big gap between Hamas and Fatah is kidding themselves.” You know, and so you have to start with this question “Who are you making peace with?”

Steven - And at the same time the Obama administration has spoken very often about even-handedness.

Newt - Right, but if I’m even-handed between a civilian democracy that obeys the rule of law, and a group of terrorists who are firing missiles everyday, that’s not even-handed. That’s favoring the terrorists. And the Obama administration has consistently... I think they actually lie to themselves. I don’t think they lie to American people. I think they believe the stuff they say. But it is so out of touch with reality, that it would be like taking your child to the zoo and explaining that a lion is a bunny rabbit, and was really OK to get in the cage and play with the bunny rabbit, and then you were shocked that the lion ate the..your.. I mean, that’s how far out of touch with reality the Obama administration is.

Steven - Now on Israel, do you consider yourself a Zionist?

Newt - Well, I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believethat the commitments that were made at a time…remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940’s, and I think it’s tragic.

Steven - You were instrumental in the Oslo peace process in applying a number of restrictions relating to the embassy, funding and so on. It’s now been 17 years since that process started, how do you think it’s going?

Newt - Well, I think it’s delusional to call it a peace process. I mean, we have an armed truce with a Palestinian Authority that’s relatively weak. And on its flank is a Hamas authority which may become relatively weak, because it can’t deliver anything. But both of which represent an enormous desire to destroy Israel. And I think unless you start with…and frankly, given their school system and the hatred they teach in their schools, often with money that comes from us through the United Nations, I mean I think there’s a lot to think about in terms of how fundamentally you want to change the terms of debate in the region.

Steven - Now, for a lot of Pro-Israel voters in America, one of the most controversial policies to come out of the Republican primary so far has been the foreign aid funding starting at zero. Where do you feel that Israel falls into that?

Newt - Well, first of all, we have a 10-year commitment that we have to live out. So I think because we’ve made this long-term commitment, you wouldn’t be able to go back to zero.

Steven – Do you renew that commitment?

Newt – Well, it runs for another seven years, I think. You know, I don’t think you need to renew it right now. But I think the intellectual principal that we should rethink from the ground up every commitment we have is a good one. The world is changing very dramatically. There is no Soviet Empire. We were in the habit of throwing money away everywhere. And very often, we’re giving money to a dictatorship that votes against us in the UN, and despises us. Well, why are we doing that? So I think the idea of rethinking it all is a totally reasonable idea. I think, as Governor Perry himself said, you know it’s very, very likely that Israel’d be fine. But there’s nothing wrong with saying, “let’s critically think about everything we’re doing,” when you’re talking about two, or three or four billion dollars a year.

Steven – And right now, we saw with the Super Committee’s failure, that $250 million might get cut.

Newt – Well, see I just think the whole sequester idea is a very bad idea. I think it’s a very destructive way to try to run the government. And I think in defense it’s absolutely impossible as a solution.

Steven - We saw Majority Leader Cantor last year suggest that he would work to cut all foreign aid, and then roll Israel into the defense budget. Is that something you think is wise?

Newt – Well, I’m not sure I’d cut all foreign aid. There’s humanitarian need that saves millions of lives. I would probably reshape economic aid very dramatically into a probusiness tax credit to encourage American companies to invest overseas to both create wealth for America and wealth for foreign countries. And there’s some places where frankly what you really do is paying rent. It’s not exactly aid. It’s a way of giving your money to a country which is allowing you to use an airfield, or to do other things in that country’s territory.

Steven – Now, one of the members of your foreign policy team is James Woolsey, the former CIA director. He’s actually made some pretty explicit calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard. Does that mean that there actually would be a release of Jonathan Pollard?

Newt – Well, I have a bias in favor of clemency. He has served a very long time. I have a working group studying it right now. What I would promise is that as President I would appoint a very small panel that would be very willing to look at the facts. If in fact he has served as long or longer than most people who have the same sentence, then I’d be willing to consider clemency. I’d want to listen to the Secretaries of Defense and intelligence chiefs who have deeply opposed it, and find out why have they deeply opposed it. You know, President Clinton considered doing it, and then-Director of Intelligence Tenet I think threatened to resign. So there’s something there that I don’t know as a non-President, and I’d want to be thoroughly briefed. My bias would be infavor of clemency. He served I think 25 years. And I think you’d have some conditional clemency. He couldn’t publish. He couldn’t make money out of it. You know, he’d have to think through the conditions. But if we can get to a point where I’m satisfied that there’s no national security threat, and if he’s in fact served within the range of people who have had a similar problem, then I’d be inclined to consider clemency.

Steven - Now for the electorate, for the American Jewish community, we’ve seen massive amounts of voting for the Democratic party. We’ve seen 75%, 78%. And it’s been a long time that we’ve heard for every few years, that oh, this is the year that Republicans are going to swing a lot of Jewish voters. Do you think you can swing a lot of Jewish voters?

Newt – I think we’ll swing some. I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Reagan I think got as high as 40% at one point. And I think George W. Bush’s reelection may have been close to that. So, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us do better. I think economically people who are worried about jobs and free enterprise and investments realize that Obama is really bad for them. In National Security, people who care about the survival of Israel know that Obama is not very good for that. So I think there’s probably a larger number of Jewish voters today than there would have been three years ago who are available to vote.

Steven – Why do you think the Jews vote in such numbers for the Democrats right now?

Newt – I think it’s a combination of historic patterns, that you had an entire wave of Jews who migrated here in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was where they imprinted as Democrats, and he did a lot of things they believed in. I think second, there’s a deep strain of social Liberalism in the Jewish community that really blocks a lot of people from considering the Republican Party on non-national security grounds.

Steven – Alright, well, Newt Gingrich thank you very much for joining us.

Newt – Thank you, good to be with you.

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