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Gingrich: War on Terror is Phony


It’s reassuring, isn’t it, to learn that at an insiders’ conference of young conservative activists, former House Speaker and G.O.P. presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich is spreading the word that the Bush Administration’s war on terror is a sham, and that the current struggle is all really just about oil.

Here’s Bob Dean’s report in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday the Bush administration is waging a “phony war” on terrorism, warning that the country is losing ground against the kind of Islamic radicals who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. A more effective approach, said Gingrich, would begin with a national energy strategy aimed at weaning the country from its reliance on imported oil and some of the regimes that petro-dollars support.

“None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war,” the ex-Georgian told a group of about 300 students attending a conference for collegiate conservatives. Gingrich, who led the so-called Republican Revolution that won the GOP control of both houses of Congress in 1994 midterm elections, said more must be done to marshal national resources to combat Islamic militants at home and abroad and to prepare the country for future attack. He was unstinting in his criticism of his fellow Republicans, in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

“We were in charge for six years,” he said, referring to the period between 2001 and early 2007, when the GOP controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. “I don’t think you can look and say that was a great success.”

Newt always struck me as a fascinating creature. A multilingual former college professor and the author of a fascinating study of the cruelty of the making of King Leopold’s Congo, he’s the smartest of the G.O.P. contenders by a mile. But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from his public rhetoric, which is often geared to the lowest common denominator (and when we’re talking about the Republican “base,” that’s pretty low). Put him in a room with bright young college kids, however, and he expresses himself well, offering some real insights and the sort of honesty that has been remarkably absent from conservative corners of late. (The exceptions to that sweeping generalization: George Will and Andrew Sullivan.) I give Newt strong points for candor and daring in these remarks.

But then–can one be too harsh in condemning a leadership team that takes the nation to war based on false premises? That manipulates the nation’s fear and hate senses in such an extreme way for such dubious purposes? The correct response to such misconduct should be political exile. Why should the public even listen to people who have engaged in such reprehensible conduct? Why should they fill our television screens? Newt was on the periphery of this team–but he was there, egging them along.

Reading these remarks brought two scenes into my mind. The first was from a recent conference I attended in Italy with a group of European and American counterterrorism experts. A large team of U.S. Department of Justice officials, drawn from its uppermost echelons, was there, including three of the principal architects of the legal policies for the war on terror. In not-for-attribution comments, one openly acknowledged that the war on terror was cast in the first instance as a political ploy and that it was a conceptual failure. It was now essential for the Americans to move on to something else, he argued. None of the others challenged that view; indeed, two of them said that they agreed with it. So even inside of the Bush Administration, the war on terror has been written off as a scam that served its limited political purpose and is finished. However, this intellectual refuse continues to be the policy of the U.S. government: people suffer in prison and are tortured and abused because of it. That’s intellectual bankruptcy.

The second incident is from the winter of 2003, in the lead-up to the war. I remember walking to class across the quadrangle at Columbia University and coming across some students protesting with a “no blood for oil” banner.

“Isn’t that just a bit cynical?” I asked them. “Do you honestly believe that the country is going to war over oil, and not for the reasons that the government has cited?”

“Yes,” they replied.

These young leftists turn out to have been right on the money. In the last couple of weeks, Gingrich, Cheney, and several other major architects have “revealed” that the war was always just about oil. And you thought it was weapons of mass destruction . . .

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