That’s a grandiose way of describing a guest-lecturing gig, which is what Gingrich used to do twice a year for the Joint Flag Officer Warfighting Course, a seminar for promising young generals and admirals at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
“He has typically lectured from 2-4 hours on the topic of military/political affairs,” military spokesman Phil Berube explained in an e-mail. “Available records show he has lectured 20 times going back to 1996, more than any other non-government employed civilian invited to speak.”
There is no disputing Gingrich’s enthusiasm for the subject, or how much effort he has put into styling himself as a commander-in-chief-in-waiting.
Although Gingrich is mostly known for political warfare, few people in the world of politics have understood that war itself has long been a preoccupation for this former history professor and Army brat.
Mostly behind the scenes, Gingrich has found a place in an inner circle of military leaders, acting as teacher, consultant and thinker. This has allowed him to exercise a part of his character that even his critics say is appealing — his ability to come up with big ideas.
Several former officials said the nature of daily life at the Pentagon — the firehose of decisions, information and duties — created an appetite for Gingrich’s longer-term, high-altitude perspective. It was a great fit for the former House speaker, who was trained as a historian and has seen himself simultaneously as a futurist.
Even after he left Capitol Hill in 1999, Gingrich’s ideas were welcome, Pentagon officials said, even if they weren’t often implemented.
“We took him seriously, because he had a kind of multifaceted claim on people’s attention,” recalled Douglas J. Feith, who was undersecretary of defense for policy from 2001 to 2005. “He had his practical government experience as speaker, which is a rare credential, and he had a lot of historical knowledge. He also had a lot of interest in executive matters.”
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in the difficult early years of the Iraq war, “he was willing to help. And at that point, we were looking for all the good ideas we could get,” added Lawrence Di Rita, who was Pentagon spokesman at the time.
Gingrich’s name appears on 19 declassified memos written by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, often passing along Gingrich’s thoughts to fellow George W. Bush administration officials or top military officers.
At the time, Gingrich was serving on a prestigious panel known as the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, an assignment that gave him an avenue to weigh in on a wide variety of topics. It also was a role in which he could be a font of ideas, which has always been his strength, without actually having to execute them, a process at which he is not so skilled.