Newt Gingrich serves the nation well. Most recently, he called for a much needed civil dialogue and debate to help cleanse the poisonous partisanship that is ruining the nation. In responding to an earlier commentary by former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke in Washington’s other newspaper, former House Speaker Gingrich set the stage for part of this debate regarding what America should and should not do about a world in crisis.
Newt welcomed debate over what he believed was a central danger: an “Iran armed with nuclear weapons is a mortal threat to American, Israeli and European cities.” He concluded that our top security priority therefore must be “defeating terrorists and thwarting efforts by Iran and North Korea to gain nuclear and biological weapons.” And, he wrote, “If violence is necessary to defeat the terrorists, the Iranians and the North Koreans, then it is regrettably necessary.” First, a disclosure — Newt did me the honor of writing the foreword to one of my books, “Finishing Business.” I am a keen admirer and supporter of his. We both agree that the United States faces what could be the gravest danger since World War II and possibly the Civil War in what he calls “an emerging third world war.” But we have some differences regarding the nature of the threats to America and its friends and the degree to which violence may be required.
Where debate is most critical concerns the aim of “defeating terrorists.” Of course, we want to see an end to terror. But can terror ever be defeated if its causes are not addressed? In my view, the principal dangers arise not from “terrorists” per se but from twin revolutions, potentially as powerful as the French Revolution of 1789, sweeping through the Arab and Muslim worlds. These revolutions pit “old” vs. “new” and fundamentalism vs. modernism, and have created an explosive arc of violence and extremism extending from Indonesia to both sides of the Atlantic. As the crisis in Lebanon underscored, these revolutions have become largely intertwined. By focusing on the symptoms — terror — and not the causes of the underlying violence, victory becomes illusive and even unobtainable.
Second, how irreconcilable and dangerous are the threats from Iran and North Korea? This is another crucial question, especially given unconfirmed reports that Pyongyang may test a nuclear device. At face value, the actions of the current leaderships of Iran and North Korea easily lead many to agree with Mr. Gingrich’s assessments. However, earlier judgments about seemingly intractable enemies proved fallible.
Libya was a junior member of the “axis of evil.” Yet, it foreswore its weapons of mass destruction. Recall the Bush administration’s certainty that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. These and other examples are cautions for collecting more comprehensive and conclusive proof of the extent of hostile ambitions.
Finally, can nonviolent solutions be successful or is the use of military might and other coercive means the only way to disarm our enemies? As Iraq and Lebanon demonstrate, violence begets violence.
Solutions in both states are inherently political and force has its limits. But does the same logic apply to Iran and North Korea? Consider how Tehran may view this world in crisis. Surrounded by threats that are real and imagined, Afghanistan and Pakistan loom to the east. The latter is a Sunni state with strong radical tendencies and nuclear weapons. To the south are Iraq and the United States occupiers.
Media reports of heated American debate over pre-empting Iranian nuclear facilities are not lost on Tehran. And, of course, to the west is a hostile, nuclear Israel.
Given these perceptions, one conclusion could be Iran’s inevitable pursuit of nuclear weapons. Another could be that by reducing these threat perceptions and providing inducements for Iran to follow policies more conducive to American interests, nuclear proliferation could be prevented. Indeed, suppose Pakistan fell to Sunni fundamentalist rule.
Would that change American thinking toward Shia Iran? North Korea is also interesting. Its “dear leader,” Kim Jung Il, managed, by his July 4th rocket display, to unite the world against his belligerency. He craves recognition, and he has two choices: Rejoin the international community and reject nuclear weapons; or remain isolated. In either case, if we are clever, the United States can cope with Kim Jung Il provided international support is maintained.
Ways to contain and deter Iran and North Korea have been presented in this column using direct negotiations to determine whether intransigence can be replaced with some measure of cooperation. Hence, dialogue may prove strategically vital before concluding these adversarial relationships are indeed irreversible.
Newt is wise and correct in many areas. We are engaged in a long, daunting fight. We also must recognize that many of our current policies are not working. The former speaker is absolutely right in calling for a civil and objective dialogue. Bravo Gingrich.