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July 16, 2006

A different tone from Gingrich on World War III

Posted by David Postman at 11:33 AM

When Newt Gingrich told me yesterday that he thinks we are in the midst of World War III he mentioned that he'd be on Meet the Press this morning. I was getting something of a preview of his take on global conflicts and the current Middle East crisis:

"The Israelis left Gaza and they left South Lebanon and the result was the terrorists moved missiles into Gaza and South Lebanon. Now I'm going to be on Meet the Press tomorrow morning and I'm going to say 'Anybody on the left, explain to me the lesson you think Israel should learn from having pulled back from Lebanon and Gaza and how having missiles ferret into their cities from the very places they abandoned, OK? This is a core argument for America."

I just watched Meet the Press, and read the transcript, which I use for quotes from the program in this post, and there's something missing. When Gingrich was talking to a national audience today he dropped the overt political references and the attacks on the left, the Democratic Party and its chairman, Howard Dean, that were a part of our interview yesterday.

On TV the most pointed criticism seemed to be aimed at the Bush administration. He described America as weak in the face of threatening dictators.

Gingrich told me, in drawing what he said was a metaphor for Israel's response to attacks from inside Lebanon:

"If we had missiles being fired into Miami from Cuba would people from the left really get up and say, 'We should have reasonable retaliation' or would they say, 'Clean it out. Are you nuts?'

In telling the story to Tim Russert "the left" was replaced with "Americans."

"Imagine we woke up this morning and 500 Americans were dead in Miami from missiles fired from Cuba. Do you think any American would say, 'Now, we should have proportionate response? We shouldn't overreact?' No. We would say, 'Get rid of the missiles.'

In both interviews he praised John F. Kennedy, though in Bellevue it came with a clear shot at the current leadership of the Democratic Party:

"The old Democratic Party was led by John F. Kennedy who threatened nuclear war over missiles in Cuba; because the old Democratic Party was a very patriotic, hawkish party. It had fought the Second World War, the First World War and the Korean War. It was a tough party.

"The current Democratic Party would say, 'Well, if only if we had abandoned Miami then Cuba wouldn't have any grievances' — the Howard Dean vision."

On TV Gingrich said only:

"And John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who understood the importance of power in the world, was prepared to go to nuclear war to stop missiles from being in Cuba."

Why the two messages from Gingrich? I think that in looking at his appearance with Sen. Joe Biden on Meet the Press Gingrich was playing more to the senior statesman role than the campaign strategist and GOP tough guy role. Hard shots at the Democratic Party and the suggestion that Howard Dean would abandon Miami to appease Fidel Castro wouldn't play on the blue chip Sunday morning political talk show.

Gingrich is well aware of his audience. He told me that the mid-term congressional elections would be nationalized no matter what the political parties did.

"It is impossible in America not to have an election that is nationalized because the media is only national. People tune to the Today Show, they tune into Fox and Friends, they tune to Good Morning America."

On Meet the Press Gingrich did repeat his assertion that World War III has begun. He said the current fighting in the Middle East:

"is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it's also a question of what is really a world war. ... I mean, we, we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war, and frankly, our bureaucracies aren't responding fast enough, we don't have the right attitude about this, and this is the 58th year of the war to destroy Israel.

"MR. RUSSERT: This is World War III?

"MR. GINGRICH: I, I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you've been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you'd have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III."

On Meet the Press Gingrich seemed to be drawing a distinction between two visions of foreign policy and how to deal with dictators and terrorism. But it came out sounding like he was comparing his view to that of the Bush administration — which he advises as a member of the Defense Policy Board — rather than what I heard as the contrasting views of Democrats and Republicans.

He told Russert:

"My point is — and this is a core difference in how, in how I think we think about foreign policy — when in doubt, I want the United States to be very strong and I want us to be very clear with dictatorships. We're sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk.

"MR. RUSSERT: You're talking about the Bush administration.

"MR. GINGRICH: I'm talking about the policies of the United States today.

"MR. RUSSERT: But that is such a condemnation of George W. Bush.

"MR. GINGRICH: Well, it's not a condemnation of George W. Bush. It's a statement that — look what we've done in the last six weeks. I mean, I think we are in a very serious crisis in this country."

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