Discussing President Obama’s foreign policy approach on Meet The Press, host David Gregory asked Newt Gingrich whether “pragmatism” was appropriate in the face of threats faced by the United States. Gingrich responded “Pragmatism assumes you know what the facts are. To be pragmatic is to be in touch with reality.” Gingrich then went on to describe the president’s “two enormous challenges”:
GINGRICH: The president has two enormous challenges, and this goes back to self-deception. The first is Iran. It’s very clear the Iranians have been lying consistently, it’s very clear the Iranians want to get nuclear weapons, it’s pretty clear the Iranians — this current dictatorship — will use them. This is a much deeper crisis than anything that happened in the last decade.
The second is the very nature of the threat we have. We don’t even have a language that will allow — I would describe the irreconcilable wing of Islam, some of my friends would describe “Islamists.” In large parts of our political culture that’s politically incorrect. So if I said to you normally, “tell me what distinguishes the murderer at Fort Hood, the people we arrested in Denver and Detroit and New York, and the five people who were just picked up in Pakistan?” You could say “well, they weren’t Rotarians,” but it would be politically incorrect to describe the one common characteristic they have, which is they all belong to an irreconcilable wing of Islam which wants to destroy our civilization.
While it’s funny to hear one of the most prominent promoters of electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) alarmism talk about being “in touch with reality,” there’s nothing amusing about Gingrich passing off unsubstantiated assertions about Iranian nuclear intentions as “facts.” While it’s clear that the Iranians have misled the international community and concealed elements of their nuclear program, there is no conclusive evidence that the Iran regime is determined to obtain a nuclear weapon. And there is no evidence at all that, in the event that they did obtain such a weapon, that they would use one. Indeed, Iran’s past behavior points the other way. The embattled and divided Tehran regime is and has been concerned primarily with its own survival; it’s unclear how inviting the destruction that would almost certainly occur in the event of a Iranian nuclear attack serves that goal. That’s not to suggest that we should be sanguine about the prospect of deterring and containing a nuclear-capable Iran, just that there is no reason to think that the people who currently rule Iran have any intention of committing suicide.
As for Newt’s tiresome whining about “political correctness,” it’s not so much politically incorrect to say that we’re at “war” with Islamists who want to “destroy our civilization” as much as it is just incorrect. And strategically unwise. Positing the fight against Islamic extremism as a global war of civilizations, as Newt would apparently prefer, and as was done by the Bush-Cheney administration, proved to be an excellent way to reinforce the propaganda of Islamic extremists; they, too, believe that they are locked in an existential battle with the West, and they would like other Muslims to believe it as well.
One of the important lessons of the Iraq war (other than we shouldn’t have started the Iraq war) was that it’s not smart to lump all of the people fighting us at any given time — foreign extremists, anti-occupation insurgents, opportunistic criminals, guys looking to make some money to feed their families — together under one banner. The goal should be to find potential points of division among our enemies and exploit them, not bolster their numbers by affirming the pathetically grandiose claims of a tiny faction.
So I think Newt’s real problem is not that we aren’t able to have a conversation about our enemies. It’s that we’ve been having one, and Newt’s side is losing.