If only Newt Gingrich were president

It's hard to predict how many wars would start within the first couple of months of the right's real favorite.


Glenn Greenwald
April 4, 2007 10:35PM (UTC)

(updated below)

After Iran announced today that it was releasing the 15 British sailors unharmed -- without the need for any bombing campaigns, invasions, or new wars -- this is what Tony Blair said, according to the BBC:

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain's approach to the crisis had been "firm but calm - not negotiating but not confronting either".

He did not thank or address the Iranian president, but said to the Iranian people: "We bear you no ill will. On the contrary, we respect Iran as an ancient civilisation, as a nation with a proud and dignified history.

"The disagreements we have with your government we wish to resolve peacefully through dialogue. I hope - as I've always hoped - that in the future we are able to do so."

There is still no definitive evidence, one way or the other, as to whether the British had really entered Iranian waters (or whether they were in the disputed waterways between Iran and Iraq), though the British Marines apparently repeated their acknowledgements as they were leaving that they had entered Iranian waters (a fact that is not dispositive for obvious reasons; it remains to be seen whether they continue to maintain that, or if we hear from them at all, once they are back in Britain).

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Right-wing warmongers were, of course, furious that Britain did not take this opportunity finally to start the Glorious and Inevitable War against Iran (which, as the right-wing warmonger mythology maintains, has already been raging as a one-sided massacre for 28 years).

But last week, Newt Gingrich -- the true dream candidate of Bush-supporting "conservatives" (impeded only by the small, unfortunate fact that he is one of America's most deeply unpopular figures -- an odd result given that we hear that (a) Gingrich is the only "real conservative" and (b) the 2006 elections proved that America is clamoring for a "real conservative") -- visited with Hugh Hewitt and shared his plans for what he would have done about this Britain-Iran situation had he been president. This is the course of action Gingrich outlined:

HH: Now let's get to the first major issue of the day, which is Iran. Mr. Speaker, if the United Kingdom feels obliged to use force, if diplomacy fails to get their people back, will you applaud?

NG: I think there are two very simple steps that should be taken. The first is to use a covert operation, or a special forces operation to knock out the only gasoline producing refinery in Iran. There's only one. And the second is to simply intercede by Naval force, and block any tankers from bringing gasoline to Iran --

HH: Would you do, would you urge them --

NG: And say to the Iranians, you know, you can keep the sailors as long as you want, but in about 30 days, everybody in your country will be walking.

HH: So how long would you give them, to give them that ultimatum, the Iranians?

NG: I would literally do that. I would say to them, I would right now say to them privately, within the next week, your refinery will no longer work. And within the following week, there will be no tankers arriving. Now if you would like to avoid being humiliated publicly, we recommend you calmly and quietly give them back now. But frankly, if you'd prefer to show the planet that you're tiny and we're not, we're prepared to simply cut off your economy, and allow you to go back to walking and using oxen to pull carts, because you will have no gasoline left.

HH: I agree with that 100%.

Yes, Newt's plan -- threatening Iran with war, naval blockades, destroying their gas refinery and their economy, forcing their citizens to "use oxen to pull carts" -- would have been so much better than Blair's wimpy, appeasing approach. After all, what it's all about -- everything -- is, as Newt put it: we must "show the planet that you're tiny and we're not."

Showing the planet that they're "tiny and we're not" really does sum up, almost completely, the entire neoconservative compulsion, which is the same thing as neoconservatism itself. As I've noted before, they talk about every foreign policy issue with themes of dominance, submission and humiliation as the centerpiece. It's the Abu Grahib Theory of Foreign Affairs, and it actually is quite uncomfortable even to read.

As but just a small sampling of literally countless examples, just regarding the Iranian situation over the last week: National Review's Mario Loyola ("Iran's humiliating abuse of the sailors provoked outrage in Britain . . . the outrage has manifested mostly in a despondent impotence. . . How sad and humiliating for the British"); Mark Steyn ("Would 'deploring' persuade Tehran to release the sailors while 'grave concern' lets them humiliate them for another few weeks?"); Victor Davis Hanson ("The British apparently are both speaking softly and carrying a small stick").

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Back in 2001, when China refused to release the American air crew the minute we demanded it, the same Humiliation Theorists -- led by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan (headline: "We Lost") -- made the same point:

The United States has apologized. And the fact of our apology is all the more humiliating because the United States was in no way to blame for the incident. . . They held our troops hostage until we said, "Uncle."

They always want war not for any ideological or geopolitical reason, but because war (or at least compelling submission through the threat of war) is the only real hard-core way to -- as Newt put it -- "show the planet that you're tiny and we're not." If you review any of their foreign policy arguments about war and terrorism, this is the sentiment animating all of it.

None of this is an attempt to infer their motives or to pscyhoanalyze them. This is what they are explicitly saying, themselves, about what they think and what motivates them. This is why they not only lack an aversion to war, but urgently crave it as their first resort. Diplomacy and consensual resolutions do not end with humiliations or conclusive evidence of who is powerful and who is tiny. Only war, shock and awe, naked prisoners on dog leashes, and orange-clad, shackled detainees with bowed heads in cages enable that.

The minute another country does not completely submit to our will, we must threaten them with war and then wage one if they do not comply. Otherwise, we are humiliated and exposed as weak.

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The neoconservative psyche is the same as the neoconservative approach to the world. Their only real criticism of George Bush is that he has not been sufficiently militaristic and forceful. What they are really searching for is the candidate who will do what Newt outlined above while chatting with Hugh Hewitt, who continuously interjected with "amens" such as "That makes compelling, compelling sense," outcries which become palpably more excited the more Newt talked about all the things he would block and bomb.

UPDATE: Even with today's outcome, The Editors of National Review are still deeply dissatisfied with Britain's conduct because now everyone will think they don't have a big stick:

But it would have required telling Iran's rulers that, unless they released the hostages immediately, they would pay an unbearable cost. The threat need not have been spelled out specifically, but could have included, among other things, an economic embargo, a naval blockade, or eventual military strikes. That message should have been delivered in public and in private. (If Britain did threaten Iran privately, it should tell the world so now.) With respect to Theodore Roosevelt, this occasion called for walking loudly and carrying a big stick.

And then there is this reasoning about why this whole episode ended so terribly -- the "Osama-will-think-we-are-weak" cliche, the favorite of every budding anti-humiliation warmonger:

The way the crisis played out will have serious consequences in the Middle East. Iran proved that it is the region's dominant power. . . .

Britain, meanwhile, reinforced Iran's view of the West as a decadent society that does not respond effectively to provocations and need not be feared. Perceptions matter: Recall the conclusions Osama bin Laden drew after the American retreat from Somalia. What we can expect now is greater aggression, from both Iran in particular and Islamists in general.

So the reason Iran believe they could detain these sailors, and will do so in the future, is because -- just like Osama bin Laden said -- we do "not respond effectively to provocations and need not be feared."

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And who could argue with Osama and the Iranians when they think we're weak? After all, so far we've only invaded and are occupying merely two of Iran's neighboring countries. What kind of Strong, Powerful Dominant Superpower limits itself to two measly invasions and occupations? No wonder Osama thinks we're a "paper tiger," and is it really a surprise that Iran took these sailors and will continue to exploit our pathetic, impotent weakness? Does it ever occur to National Review Editors that, to the extent Iran perceives we are weak and vulnerable, it is precisely because of the disaster in Iraq and the Leader's virtually full-scale destruction of America's credibility in the world?

Finally, the morally upstanding, First World, Civilized, Freedom Warriors at National Review urge this: "The U.S., for its part, must hold the five Iranian agents it captured in Iraq for a long time, lest it appear that there has been a swap." Those Evil Nazi Islamic Fascists took 15 sailors for a week and then released them unharmed. Therefore, we should keep the Iranians we already had detained in Iraq (which, by the way, is not actually our country), and keep them imprisoned "for a long time." Why? Because Iran did it, and because if we ever release them, they will think we're weak.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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