Monday, January 3, 2011

The Newt who would be King--and his foreign policy

In May of last year, when asked whether waterboarding was torture, Newt Gingrich, widely considered to be mulling over a presidential bid in 2012, said “No. As a British court noted, waterboarding is not torture”. Oh, that settles it. Perhaps this was the same justice system that was a party to extraordinary rendition, the forced removal of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago to make way for the U.S. military, and the jettisoning of an inquiry into corruption in the British arms industry on receiving blackmail orders from the Saudis.
This sudden respect for a foreign court is the height of hypocrisy coming from the author of the Contract for America, which was notable for its insular, xenophobic view of the world. In the same interview, Gingrich averred that “in the larger and longer war with the irreconciliable wing of Islam, it is clear we are not yet winning”. One of the slimiest specimens to ever grace Capitol Hill is back in political business, ready to run for the White House. Not that he was ever really out of it, as evinced by his active website, NEWT.org.
Much more recently, Newt “Obama has a Kenyan an anti-colonial worldview” Gingrich has announced today that he is “much more inclined to run [for President in 2012] than not to run”. And with every ridiculous pronouncement that comes out of Gingrich’s mouth, I’m much more inclined to dismiss [Gingrich as a blow-hard, foreign policy neocon, ] than not to dismiss.
Characterising the Obama administration’s foreign policy as “chaotic” is hypocrisy of the most unsavoury kind coming from Newt Gingrich. I think that it is fair to say that Obama doesn’t have much of a foreign policy agenda. But that’s largely because he’s been left so many messes by George W Bush, some of which, in turn, originated farther back in time, and many of which stem from a particular kind of militant exceptionalism that has long infused American foreign policymaking.
You can bet that Gingrich’s own foreign policy prescriptions, as they begin to emerge in the coming year, will be nothing if not carefully plotted and calculated. But as usual, the care with which his pronouncements are constructed will have precious little to do with what is best for our country, and a great deal to do with what Gingrich thinks will endear him to his electorate.
What is very interesting is the extent to which Gingrich, someone ostensibly always more interested in domestic than in foreign policy, is actually in large measure responsible for many of our current ills. His breathtakingly ill-informed and incredibly un-thoughtful National Security Restoration Act, bereft of even the most basic understanding of cause-and-effect in the world, lies at the heart of the strand of militant exceptionalism that gets the U.S. into so many messes around the world. It is a mode of thinking which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
The National Security Restoration Act sought to de-internationalise U.S. foreign policy and created an ideological environment within the Republican Party in which, when in ascendance in the Presidency and Congress, the shoot-from-the-hip, go-it-alone, with-us-or-against-us mentality of the Bush administration flourished. It has not only led to us ramping up unilateral military intervention, but to the U.S. bearing the economic costs of those interventions, and to the overwhelming majority of the coffins coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq being draped in the Stars and Stripes.
It encourages contempt for empathy, and a pathological unwillingness to see reason in the actions of other people, to express curiosity in common human motivations, or to question national security orthodoxy. It fetishises ignorance, makes a virtue of chest-thumping jingoism, and leads all too easily to the demonising or scapegoating of what we don’t make time to understand.
For someone who has supposedly steeped himself in history, Gingrich displays an astonishing thoughtlessness about the characteristics that contribute to a free, liberal society. To begin all foreign policy endeavours from the standpoint that the U.S. is somehow always inherently right is to abandon the critically-minded free-thinking which characterises the most thoughtfully-made and beneficial decisions.
Gingrich will have to do one of two things when pressed by the less-supine media outlets and his competitors in the GOP primary. Either he will try to be more blatantly militant than the competition (and with Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, both of whom pedal neoconservative, ‘clash of civilisations’, Islamofascist tripe, he might have rough going). This will mean attacking Obama for being soft on terrorism, advocating more brutal torture tactics, and further expanding the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all the dangerous implications of such an action.
One sign that Gingrich might be moving in this direction is his use of the term, ‘the Irreconciliable wing of Islam’, which he characterises as promoting “an uncivilised and barbaric world” and as being incapable of “peacefully coexist[ing] with the civilised world”. To combat this “wing”, Gingrich has called for a “Long War”. In theory, he writes, “the Long War might only last 50-70 years. Yet, it will probably last much longer”. The “Long War” is a “war of survival”.
On the other hand, he could turn to the ‘Fortress America’ model. Quite frankly this would not surprise me. Sixty-three percent of the public declares itself opposed to the war in Afghanistan, and it would undoubtedly come as a surprise to many people that the President, with the connivance of both parties in Congress, has expanded the war to Pakistan. Gingrich’s political calculations might prompt him to jump on the anti-war cause. It might seem unlikely that a hawkish author of a document that ideologically underwrote Bush’s wars would declare himself an anti-war candidate. And undoubtedly Gingrich would never present himself as the anti-war candidate.
But he could call for a draw-down of troop levels in Afghanistan without critiquing the underlying premises of the war, winning the votes of the growing number of Republicans who are dissatisfied with their Party’s warmongering. His national security agenda would, presumably, then rely on turning the mainland U.S. into a fortress guarded by border security, intelligence agencies and ever-more draconian immigration policies (which are already separating families, undermining the competitiveness of American universities, and hurting many employers).
This would further isolate the United States, and further de-internationalise our foreign policy, all but ensuring that we present ourselves as a militant (because his policies would almost certainly not withdraw U.S. troops entirely from Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan), isolated, self-interested power, by turns hegemonic and disinterested, sometimes withdrawing and later lashing out at all perceived adversaries.
The triumph of such a fear-mongering ideology would likely have tragic consequences for our country. There is something bordering on the nihilist in the paranoia-wracked, exceptionalist-promoting, violence-prone worldview of Republican politicians of Gingrich’s ilk. We would do well to think hard about whether his dark and violent future, forever plagued by wars of our own choosing, is one into which we would like to descend.

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