Newt Gingrich’s Titanic Lie

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and current Trumpworld mouthpiece, had an op-ed in the Washington Post this week citing a giant shift in U.S. foreign policy in the president’s speech to Muslim and Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia. Naturally, he also said the media “…largely missed the real drama of the moment: a titanic shift in U.S. foreign policy occurring right before their eyes.” It was one so significant, according to Mr. Gingrich who also holds a PhD in History from Tulane University, that its only equal antecedent is a speech by Reagan—who else?—in London thirty-five years ago which was meant to rally the West against the tyranny of the Soviet empire. In diagramming this alleged massive change in U.S. foreign policy, Professor Gingrich says this:

“Trump stood before an unprecedented gathering of leaders to do something far             more significant than utter a single phrase or undermine his predecessor’s record.           He was there to rally the Muslim world, in his words, “to meet history’s great test”           — defeating the forces of terrorism and extremism. He did so in a way that no                 American president ever had before. While extending a hand of friendship to                   Muslim nations, he also issued them a clear challenge: to take the lead in solving                 the crisis that has engulfed their region and spread across the planet.”

The meeting was “unprecedented” in that it has been a while since the Arab League gathered perhaps, and if he could undermine his predecessor’s record on his first international trip, well, that would certainly fire up his base who cared not a whit for foreign policy when they stood alone in the voting booth and somehow found a way to vote for a man who incited violence at his rallies, ran on heretofore latent bigotry, and claimed to be a serial sexual assaulter. In the speech, President Trump said,

“America is prepared to stand with you…But the nations of the Middle East cannot             wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle             East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their                   countries, and for their children.”

It is a compelling statement as written, though much is lost when such lines are delivered by our president. It is not however a titanic shift in U.S. policy. It is not a shift at all. Mr. Gingrich’s rousing cheer for the man who just appointed his wife to an ambassadorship (#Ithoughtweweregoingtodraintheswamp), had the line “…never before has an American president so plainly put the ultimate responsibility for eradicating terrorism on the nations of the region.” That statement is patently false.

Perhaps the history professor could not be bothered to recall that the National Security Strategy of United States for 2006, signed by President George W. Bush, stated:

“The strategy to counter the lies behind the terrorists’ ideology is to empower the             very people the terrorists most want to exploit: the faithful followers of Islam…The         most vital work will be done within the Islamic world itself…Responsible Islamic             leaders need to denounce an ideology that distorts and exploits Islam for                           destructive ends and defiles a proud religion.” (p 11)

Perhaps Mr. Gingrich elected to forget President Obama’s famed Cairo Speech—one that was unequivocal in “extending a hand of friendship to Muslim nations”—when he said,

“So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule           of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also           threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim                       communities, the sooner we will all be safer.” (emphasis added)

It seems pretty clear to anyone who can read where the responsibility for eradicating this false-ideological form of terrorism lies. As the statement of a president in a widely reported speech on the future of U.S. foreign policy, it was in and of itself a policy statement. That policy was only parroted by the current president, thereby cementing a long-held objective of U.S. policy going back multiple administrations. But then, it was not really Mr. Gingrich’s intent to assess this speech among the pantheon of presidential pronouncements on U.S. foreign policy with any degree of academic rigor. That’s a shame, for the man was once known as part of the Republican, if not really the conservative, intelligentsia.

Ironically the former speaker and current Trumptown Cryer disparages the media for failing in its duty to write the “first draft of history,” a phrase credited to the former Washington Post publisher Phillip Graham, while he intentionally attempts to subvert history for political (and no doubt personal) gain. In speaking so highly of the $110B weapons deal the president announced during the trip, Mr. Gingrich seems unaware that as recently as September of 2016 the Obama administration was inking a larger deal only to cancel small parts of it (for precision ordnance and other munitions) based on human rights abuses and lack of care for the lives of innocent civilians in Saudi’s continuing war in Yemen. In fact, according to figures from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an official DoD institution responsible for security assistance to partner nations, and the non-profit Security Assistance Monitor, a program of the advocacy group Center for International Policy, arms sales to Saudi Arabia under President Obama topped $115B. This included the sale in 2010 of $30B in front-line fighter aircraft and options on $30B more in naval weaponry among other things, constituting the largest arms deal of its kind in history at the time.

In speaking of President Trump’s deal, Mr. Gingrich said it “…will bolster the kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism operations across the region. This will reduce the burden on the U.S. military and send a clear message that this administration takes the threat of Iran seriously.” First, this comes from the former speaker of the party who just last year, against the advice of President Obama, made it legal for Americans to sue the Saudi government for its complicity in supporting that very terrorism. Secondly, if Mr. Gingrich’s statement is true, the American taxpayer ought to be asking why the $115B in arms already sent to the Kingdom under the previous administration has not offered that return on investment or had the same effect of communicating the seriousness of the Iranian threat. The fact that it has not in the former and clearly did in the latter, certainly calls into question the credibility of Mr. Gingrich’s statement and makes his closing line absolutely laughable. He says, “Foreign leaders and the American people alike can see in this trip the core of a new, reality-based foreign policy.” There is scant evidence of anything “reality-based” at all in the Trump administration, save for the good and decent public servants and career bureaucrats toiling on for the good of the nation or those like Mr. Mattis whose distinguished career and reputation as a deep thinker is the only light in this blackening hole of anti-knowledge.

There was a titanic shift in policy in two tiers during this speech, and the media covered it in detail. First, there was a complete absence of any implied American leadership in human rights, particularly the plight of women in Islamic theocracies. Second, there was no mention of the desire for every citizen of the earth to experience self-determination and the natural state of humankind. If this is what Mr. Gingrich is referring to, they are consequences of a perspective called realism, not reality-based foreign policy. It is something a man of his considerable education should understand. Additionally, if that is the shift he is referring to, not only did he not state as such, but it is anathema to the core of U.S. foreign policy for seventy-two years, with a few perturbations, and not at all true to the principles that gave rise to the nation’s Founding.

A Trumpist Realism gives maneuver space to authoritarians around the globe including competitors in charge in Russia and China, but particularly to those in the U.S. sphere of influence including Turkey, the Philippines, and Gulf State monarchies and theocracies as well as those across the Levant and deep into Africa. To forgo American leadership in these two vital tiers will certainly make the world a far darker and more dangerous place for those in need of our example the most. Even Ronald Reagan and both Bushes understood that. President George W. Bush’s NSS from 2006 also contained this passage, “The United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. These nonnegotiable demands of human dignity are protected most securely in democracies.” It was on page 2.

Mr. Gingrich’s piece in the Post is a titanic lie. In truth, it has long been the policy of the United States to bolster partner nations’ capabilities to fight violent extremism. It has long been known that change can never be imposed from outside. It must come from within. It has been stated in speeches and official policy statements going back thirty-five years and four administrations. Yes, back to that Reagan speech. Mr. Trump is no great change agent, and while he can be dismissed for not knowing the history of the policy he trumpeted—he told us he never reads—Mr. Gingrich cannot be forgiven for this blatant attempt at subversion of the truth. Dealing in the currency of his once-respected intellectualism to erase over thirty years of steady policy in order to attribute it to an imbecile is beneath us. It is apparently not beneath Mr. Gingrich. That knowledge ought to grant you the power to disregard all you may ever hear again from the former speaker.

There is a simple maxim to the human experience. It is this: Those who read, know. Those who do not are doomed to an ignorance the likes of which Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Trump (such that he has the capacity to do so from the historic depths of his own ignorance) are only too keen to reinforce. Inoculate yourself against this affliction. Research the source documents; it has never been easier. Read, assess, and draw your own conclusions. Then hold the purveyors of falsehoods to account. Despite what you will hear from @realdonaldtrump while he watches “the shows,” from whence all his knowledge flows, they almost exclusively emanate from his own sphere. The current leader of that most unseemly pack is Dr. Newt Gingrich, PhD, former Speaker of the House, and affront to thinking people wherever they may exercise their intellect.


The Unknown

I was going to walk by. I nodded in that way you do when you don’t want to seem impolite, but you don’t want to engage either. He said, “hello, brother,” and for some reason, I knew I needed to talk to him. He was in his mid-sixties—not that much older than I—with eyes clouded by cataracts and a head of gray dreadlocks. I reached out, shook his hand, and asked him how he was. He said he was old. And tired. I asked him what he was doing. He told me his life story. How he raised three daughters with his German wife. Her journey to Peoria is a mystery, though I asked how he came to be married to a German girl. He met her in school. “Married my high school sweetheart,” he said. He talked about how he’d lost a job, maybe several, some years ago. How he’d started riding trains even though it made his mother worry. “She told me not to,” he said. But what else could he do? He told me he was hoping to catch a train to Phoenix…or maybe get a ride from his brother who drives a truck coast to coast. It would be hard, since his cell phone had been stolen. Maybe find a library and email him, I said. He liked to be able to talk and find out the right time. It made sense.

He told me about showing up at his sister’s house unannounced. They hadn’t seen him for years. He talked about seeing his father again, the first time since he’d “lost him.” How he’d gone missing was left to the imagination. The story was somewhere there in the clouds of his eyes. He told me how his father had always called him “boy,” even then in later life, but that his sister called him by name. It was Todd. “I hadn’t heard anyone say my name in years,” he said. People walked past beside the river along a touristy path in a major southern city. He was there and in other places like it, but we never call his name. He is a part of the unknown.

I cannot comprehend the pain of it. It is the simplest thing to be addressed as though you are real. It is the cruelest thing to deny someone such basic acknowledgement of their being. The thought of his joy at hearing it from his sister nearly struck me down in sadness that a man could know bliss from that kind of a place. There is such profound inequity all around us that it renders judgment meaningless.

I wished him the best and shook his hand again, this time the kind that flowed from the business-like, to the grip around thumbs, to the interlocked hook of bent fingers not quite curled into a fist. We had gone beyond a nod or even a simple handshake. Hello, brother, he’d said, after all. But there was something else he wanted me to know. He told me, in a rambling way, the one thing his father had left imprinted on his younger mind. “Boy, if there’s one thing you better always do, it’s hear a man out,” his father had told him. “And you did that,” he said. “You did that…” We shook one more time, and I again offered my farewell.

I hope he gets that train. Or finds his brother. I hope he makes peace with whatever demons he’s been chasing along the rails that crisscross a country. I hope our time meant more to him than the few dollars I gave him. It did for me.

Godspeed, Todd. I know your name.

Rod Rosenstein: Player, not Played

Author’s note: I wrote this the weekend of the 12th of May, 2017. I sent it to the New York Times and waited the obligatory three days to “publish” it. Having heard nothing from my esteemed “Gray Lady,” I offer it to you. It appears my faith in Mr. Rosenstein was well-founded.

We know it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo that led the president to fire the director of the FBI. The Vice President said so. We also know it wasn’t Mr. Rosenstein’s memo that led to that firing. The president said so in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt this week. Of course, only one of these narratives can be correct. Mr. Rosenstein already knew exactly which it was by the time he was ordered to provide a substantive cause for the president to act against the man leading an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with a foreign power to influence the election. For the last few days, the press has dragged the deputy attorney general, who just won confirmation by a 94-6, through the ringer of innuendo and credibility assassination. They have it all wrong.

Mr. Rosenstein knew he was being used for the respect he meticulously cultivated over decades in the snake pit that is Washington. He was ordered by the president and his direct boss, who though recused in the Russian matter for his own false statements was still somehow to be a part of the decision, to provide a rationale to fire Director Comey. He did it with indisputable facts and the knowledgeable opinions of others who had served in his capacity. It’s just that he did it for a previous president. And he did that knowing that president never entertained the notion seriously and neither the new president nor the attorney general were savvy enough to catch the nuance. It was the masterstroke of a highly intelligent, extremely self-aware public servant who played his superiors in a manner both were far too dim to understand.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo is three pages long. It accurately details Mr. Comey’s missteps and his breaks with precedent involving his public statements about Mrs. Clinton’s emails. These are well argued and indisputable. But the deputy attorney general also leaned into the president’s well observed weaknesses. He states he cannot understand the director’s “refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.” He is detailing the consensus on one matter and subtly projecting it to another before lining up former attorneys general and deputies appointed by presidents of both parties who have all concluded Director Comey made grave errors and endangered the reputation and nonpartisan nature of the FBI. He provided Mr. Trump with the possibility of using a familiar refrain from the campaign when he would say, “people are saying” and “I’ve heard this from many people” in attempts to add voracity to largely baseless claims, allegations against opponents, or his own boasts.

Mr. Rosenstein then turned his attention to Mr. Trump’s most glaring weakness, his knowledge of his own inferiority. Mr. Rosenstein tacitly reflected on Mr. Comey’s ability to provide devastating narrative by highlight what “an articulate and persuasive speaker about leadership and the immutable principles of the Department of Justice” he was. Mr. Trump had demanded Mr. Comey’s loyalty at a dinner, the circumstances of which are now in doubt, and was rebuffed. For all his faults, the director maintained the integrity to hold himself apart from our president’s royal tendencies. He would later confirm the FBI’s investigation of the campaign and destroy the credibility of the president’s claims of illegal surveillance by his predecessor. Articulate and persuasive were qualities Mr. Trump could not abide in a subordinate who would never kiss the ring. Mr. Rosenstein knew exactly what he was doing.

The end of the letter is telling. The deputy attorney general never unequivocally recommends removal. Most ominously, Mr. Rosenstein opens that last paragraph with, “Although the President has the power to remove the FBI Director, the decision should not be taken lightly.” He offered the president a life-line, but he knew the president’s mind was already made up. He knew Comey’s firing had nothing to do with whatever he would write. He also knew the president and his staff would initially claim it was his recommendation that drove the action, so Mr. Rosenstein crafted an entirely accurate rationale that was so preposterous any thinking human would never believe it. And so it passed that the president of the United States, who led the chants of “Lock her up!” on the campaign trail and cheered Comey’s actions just days before the election, supposedly fired the Director of the FBI for the way he publicly mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Mr. Rosenstein could not foresee his great fortune that the president would leg sweep his entire staff, including the Vice President, and claim the decision was his alone. That the president would also admit “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia” was on his mind when he decided to take that action? Well that was something he could never have dreamed.

Mr. Rosenstein’s reputation did not just shrink. His credibility can hardly be questioned when what he wrote is absolute truth. The deputy attorney general just proved himself to be a formidable player with a ruthless intellect. Those with lesser capabilities should take note. What he does next with that intellect may very well make him a historical figure in the defense of democracy. It will certainly determine how history takes the ultimate measure of the man. I hope he chooses wisely. I suspect he will.