After blasting the Obama administration’s “weakness” in an interview with the Jerusalem Post earlier, Newt Gingrich spoke last evening to the 2009 American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, predictably sounding the alarm on the threat posed by nuclear Iran. Interestingly, he also revealed the extent to which his views on national security policy are substantially derived from espionage thillers:
What I’m about to say to you is from my heart, and from everything I’ve learned in almost fifty-one years, we are on the edge of catastrophic problems. If you get a chance, read my friend Bill Forstchen’s novel, One Second After, which describes the fate of a small town, after an electromagnetic pulse attack. This book was inspired by a report that Congressman Roscoe Bartlett got seven nuclear physicists of enormous experience in our nuclear weapons industry to jointly produce. It’s based on fact, it is accurate, and it’s horrifying, and we have zero national strategy to respond to it today. Actually, three small nuclear weapons at the right altitude would eliminate all electricity production in the United States. Which is why I have said publicly that I favor taking out Iranian and North Korean missiles on their sites. [...]
The second great threat is one or more nuclear weapons going off in an American city, or an Israeli city, or a European city, or a Japanese city. Wherever they went off, they would have horrifying consequences. And I strongly recommend Alex Berenson, a New York Times reporter, who recently wrote a novel called The Silent Man, which is about an effort set off a Hiroshima-sized weapon in the Washington DC area at the time of a State of the Union. And recognize that a a Hiroshima-sized weapon has a radius of one mile. There are over a hundred thousand people in that zone. The idea that you could stop them driving it in in a truck is a fantasy. This is an enormous threat to our very survival. [...]
But I’m not telling you these things to frighten you! I’m telling you for the same reason you tell your children to put on their seatbelts. We as a country need to develop some national security seatbelts. And then we need to recognize that there are some regimes you will never be able to cut a deal with because they are in fact evil.
He’s not telling you these things to frighten you: He just wants you to know that there are enormous threats to our survival and the idea that we can stop them is a fantasy. He read it in a book!
For some context, let’s remember that, in addition to being one of the foremost supporters of the Iraq invasion — which he advocated with precisely the same sort of tired ersatz Churchillism that he’s now deploying against Iran — Gingrich was also intimately involved in its planning. He later distanced himself from the Bush administration over the war, declaring it “a failure,” but eventually switched back, accusing Democrats of being “deeply opposed to American victory and deeply committed to American defeat” in Iraq.
All of which is to say that, apart from the sanctity of marriage, it’s hard to think of an issue on which Newt Gingrich has less credibility than national security.
It’s worth noting as well that the argumentum ad Chamberlinum that Gingrich predictably deploys throughout the speech always involves a sin of omission: Free nations failed to act in the face of a rising threat, resulting in disastrous consequences. I would suggest that, in the wake of the Iraq war, there now exists an effective counter to this heavily overworked rhetorical device. Rather than failing to act, the Bush administration acted — unwisely and incompetently, in response to a largely imaginary threat — resulting in disastrous consequences. Call it argumentum ad neoconservatum. We’ve just come off of eight years wherein a conservative administration used force and “showed strength” all over the place — yet, according to Newt Gingrich, “our very survival” is under threat. Why he believes that this argues for giving conservatives even more opportunities to make America less safe is unknown to me at this time.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t expect to see a lot more of this. As the conservative movement continues to melt down, conservatives will return to same issue that conservatives have exploited since before fire: Abject fear of our barbaric, unreasoning enemies, and the imputation of faithlessness on the part of those who don’t perceive the threat in the same way.