HH: I begin this hour with the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. You can read all about Newt’s possible presidential campaign at www.newtexplore2012.com. Mr. Speaker, always a pleasure, welcome back.
NG: Well, it’s great to be with you, and to have a chance to talk about some of the major challenges we face as a country.
HH: I’ve got to begin by asking you about the Libya excursion. What do you understand is President Obama’s rationale, and do you agree with it?
NG: Well, no one can understand the administration’s rationale, because it’s internally self-contradictory. So it’s hard to agree with, pick the one you like best. The President, on March 3rd, said Gaddafi has to go. Now when a president of the United States says something that definitive, they should have a plan, they should know how they’re going to execute it, and they should understand that it’s doable. We’re now told that well, maybe he’s going to go, maybe he’s not going to go, we have a humanitarian mission, we’re not targeting Gaddafi. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said he has no idea how long we’ll be there. We and the French apparently disagree about the campaign itself, and they’re following one strategy, we’re following another. This is opportunistic amateurism, and it is very, very dangerous in national security and foreign policy. This is not a game. This is life and death. And we are risking our men and women in uniform, we are risking the prestige of the United States. And the fact is, people are dying in the conflict over there. And it ought to be approached by somebody who’s serious, sensible, knows what they’re going to do, talks less and executes more. And that’s almost the opposite of the current Obama policies.
HH: If you were the president, Mr. Speaker, what would be your general rule for the employment of American military force?
NG: Well first of all, we ought to have a grand strategy for the entire region, and recognize that Pakistan is in trouble, Afghanistan is in trouble, Bahrain is in a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Yemen is in trouble, Egypt is unsettled, Syria has demonstrations, Lebanon has been taken over by Hezbollah, a terrorist group financed by Iran. I mean, you look around the whole region, the whole region’s a mess. So to talk about Libya in isolation misses the first job of a president, which is to have a larger strategy within which they make decisions. Second, our ground rule should be to use American troops are rarely as possible, as briefly as possible, with maximum effectiveness and minimum risk to our own troops. Getting us involved again and again and again, we have a battalion sitting in Kosovo for the 12th year. We have people scattered around the planet who have sort of been left behind. We have all these humanitarian peacekeeping missions that are endless and cost an amazing amount of money. And I think we have to recognize that we are going to have to think much more carefully about how we do things. You know, Ronald Reagan didn’t send troops to Poland or Hungary or Czechoslovakia, or East Germany. But he liberated them with a strategy that made sense. I think we need to have a much more careful thought. President Eisenhower, who’d been, of course, a great military commander in World War II, understood how to be effective in a number of countries with no use of American troops, with very careful, thoughtful use of the CIA, and very careful, thoughtful use of allies. And you look at those kind of patterns of competent, effective, professional behavior, and you know that, for example, in a place like Libya, we should have been able to go in very quietly, not make a lot of noise publicly, and undermine the support of the Libyan military for Gaddafi, finance the opposition, do the whole thing with no American visible presence, and without Arabs around the world watching Americans and French and British bombing Arabs. I mean, so for a president who went to Cairo to give a great speech to find common ground with the Muslim world, to be volitionally bombing Arabs, doesn’t strike me as having any sense in terms of what Barack Obama said his original goals were.
HH: Mr. Speaker, in the Cairo speech, the President declared that Iraq was a war of choice as opposed to Afghanistan, with some implicit and indeed explicit criticism of the invasion of Iraq. Is there, in your mind, a difference between the war of choice in Iraq and the war of choice in Libya?
NG: Well, yeah, there’s a lot of differences. Iraq was a dictatorship which had been violating United Nations rules. Iraq was a dictatorship which every major intelligence community thought was trying to get weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was a country which we had spent a great deal of time and money under Bill Clinton, as well as George H.W. Bush, containing. Iraq was a totally different situation. Libya, you know, there’s no Obama principle engaged here. If it’s because the government’s killing civilians, explain Sudan. Explain Zimbabwe. Explain North Korea. Explain Iran. I mean, you know, I can’t tell you, and I’m not sure anybody can tell you, how this president thinks about serious problems. They got engaged. I sometimes think they respond to news conferences, and to the New York Times editorial page. They got engaged, they decided it mattered, they said things they couldn’t support, they drifted into it, they stopped paying attention. They ended up with President Sarkozy of France providing leadership in the U.N. in a way we have never seen before. I mean, here’s the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, basically you have a spectator-in-chief who’s turned the United States into a spectator nation. And we sit to one side and watch the French do the leading? I mean, it made no sense. And then, of course, it turns out the French have a totally different strategy from ours, so we invented a no-fly zone. Remember, this was the big deal, no-fly zone, which the French initiated by bombing and killing tanks. Now in my study of military history, I have never seen a flying tank. So I’m not sure what the rationale was for tank killing in a no-fly zone campaign. But this is the kind of muddle that we’re in the middle of with this president.
HH: Now Mr. Speaker, you mentioned Kosovo. I visited Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo in the summer of ’09 as a guest of the California National Guard. I’m curious, would you withdraw American troops from Kosovo?
NG: I would have to look at it, but the odds are very high that I would withdraw. I would want to know what the circumstances were, and I’d want to know why is it an American
Mission? Why is it not a European mission? I don’t think we have to run around the planet. When country like Holland says they won’t go to Afghanistan, my first question would be fine, will you go to Kosovo? That would save us 800 troops who are rotating in and out of there right now. And I would do that in a lot of places. I don’t think, I think we have gotten into a sloppy habit of spreading people around the planet, in very small packages, where they’re sort of symbols. But I would rather have a Belgian or Austrian or Dutch symbol in Kosovo than an American symbol.
HH: I want to switch to domestic politics. It’s the anniversary of Obamacare’s passage, Mr. Speaker. We are pushing www.healthcarecompact.org as one way for the states to strike back. Are you familiar with Health Care Compact?
NG: I’m aware of it, and I think it’s a good idea. I personally favor passing the repeal of Obamacare, putting it on the debt ceiling, going to the country. The House Republicans have the votes to put it in the debt ceiling. They should do it very early. And then they should go to the country and focus attention on the Democrats in the Senate. There are 23 Democratic seats up in 2012. And we ought to try to bring enough pressure to bear on individual Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Bill Nelson of Florida, that we are able to actually get the repeal of Obamacare through the Senate, and then say to the President, if you want to meet your Constitutional obligations and avoid a crisis on the debt ceiling, you either have to sign the repeal of Obamacare, or you have to provide a comparable $2 trillion dollars in savings.
HH: Now let me ask you…
NG: Yeah, I don’t think we should be bluffed into believing that we should only get the level of change that President Obama wants to give us.
HH: Well, that takes us back to the House majority, which you once captained into a showdown and a shutdown. They seem very afraid of replaying 1995. Are they fighting the last war, Speaker Gingrich, in the House leadership? And are they making a massive mistake by telling everyone they’ll never shut down the government?
NG: Yeah, I don’t understand the fear that’s involved. We were elected in 1994 under the Contract With America. Part of the Contract was to balance the federal budget. We set out to balance the federal budget. The Clinton White House did not want to initially, and fought us over it. There was a government shutdown. We negotiated, I negotiated face to face with the President for 35 days while I was Speaker. When we got to the election of 1996, no Republican House had been reelected as a majority since 1928. And after the shutdown, we were reelected as a majority. We lost a net of two seats from what we had won in 1994. And so I wonder, when people say to me boy, that was really politically expensive, my question is to who? Our base wanted somebody who was serious, and this is part of what’s going on in the country right now. People are serious about controlling spending. They are serious about repealing Obamacare. They are serious about returning power to the states through the 10th Amendment.
HH: Is the House GOP leadership failing, Mr. Speaker?
NG: They’re not failing, but I think they need to recognize that the country wants them to be more willing to take risks, and more willing to push change.
HH: www.newtexplore2012.com, thank you, Mr. Speaker.
End of interview.