Newt Gingrich sees major Mideast mistakes, rethinks his neocon views on intervention

Welcomes libertarian debate on U.S. military involvement

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a leading neoconservative hawk and staunch supporter of Israel, says the U.S. military interventions he has long supported to promote democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere have backfired and need to be re-evaluated.

“I am a neoconservative. But at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded,” the 2012 Republican presidential hopeful said in an interview.


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Mr. Gingrich supported the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he said he has increasingly doubted the strategy of attempting to export democracy by force to countries where the religion and culture are not hospitable to Western values.

“It may be that our capacity to export democracy is a lot more limited than we thought,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich at times has expressed doubts about the U.S. capacity for nation-building, but he said he now has formed his own conclusions about their failures in light of the experiences of the past decade.

“My worry about all this is not new,” Mr. Gingrich said. “But my willingness to reach a conclusion is new.”

Mr. Gingrich said it is time for Republicans to heed some of the anti-interventionist ideas offered by the libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, tea party favorite and foreign policy skeptic.

“I think it would be healthy to go back and war-game what alternative strategies would have been better, and I like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because they are talking about this,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Mr. Paul, a longtime critic of neoconservatives on foreign policy, argues that war must be a last resort and never should be used for nation-building.

In a June 24 column in The Washington Times, Mr. Paul wrote that Americans were told for many years that the radical Taliban would return to power quickly unless U.S. forces remained in Afghanistan.

“Well, guess what, after 12 years, trillions of dollars, more than 2,200 Americans killed, and perhaps more than 50,000 dead Afghan civilians and fighters, the Taliban is coming back anyway!” Mr. Paul wrote.

He noted a similar pattern of radical resurgence in Iraq after American forces withdrew.

As far back as December 2003, Mr. Gingrich was questioning the follow-up for the successful U.S. invasion.

“I am very proud of what [Operation Iraqi Freedom commander Gen.] Tommy Franks did — up to the moment of deciding how to transfer power to the Iraqis. Then we go off a cliff,” he told Newsweek magazine. He said the point should have been “not ‘How many enemy do I kill?’, [but] ‘How many allies do I grow?’”

He also noted his past wariness about U.S. military interventions, often telling audiences that “we could directly guarantee democracy in Iraq and not stay a day longer than needed in Korea.” “Korea has been a 63-year engagement,” he added with a laugh.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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