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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Newt Gingrich on North Korea

by | December 13th, 2011 | 06:24 am
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In an earlier post, we looked at Mitt Romney’s foreign policy document, which was polished, thorough and a little stale. With Gingrich surging in the polls, we thought it would be interesting to check up on the Newt. Style is revealing: rather than a wonkish policy document, the foreign policy corner of Newt’s website offers up a few bullets, some Fox News interviews and C-Span speeches. But the general direction is pretty clear: US foreign policy runs through terrorism and Israel, Asia gets no mention, and the penchant to say novel but ultimately dumb things is on full display.

Foreign Policy Point #1? We are engaged in a long war against radical Islamism, and lack a grand strategy to defeat it. Foreign Policy Point #2. Israel, Israel, Israel. Four of the five posted videos on the foreign policy portion of Newt’s website deal with the Middle East (the fifth is on border security). In one speech, he offers nine policy prescriptions on the Middle East. Number one is moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. That will address the core problems in the region, for sure.

In one of the presidential debates posted on the website, Gingrich argues that we should probably worry about the US industrial base and the competitive challenge posed by China. Hear, hear.

But we also found several Fox News clips in which Newt says he would have pre-empted the 2009 Korean missile launch (both before the launch and after. ) What is interesting about the clips is both the reasons why we should have acted and the means of doing so. As a result of his collaboration with Bill Fortschen, the author of the novel One Second After, Newt has convinced himself that the North Koreans are developing a nuclear and missile capability so they can detonate a device over the US that would generate a destructive electro-magnetic pulse (EMP). All of this is delivered with patronizing, dead-pan seriousness (“people don’t understand the risks we face…”).

How to intervene? Newt makes reference to a small team of unconventional forces or “stand-off capabilities,” but also notes that we could have used lasers. Well, in principle perhaps. Wired’s Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman have a field day with this comment in a recent post, offering a brief overview of the ill-fated Airborne Laser project. As to be expected, it had all of the characteristics of earlier Star Wars boondoggles, with the requisite GAO and Congressional Research Service reports noting the cost overruns and failure to actually deliver a lethal punch. According to Shactman and Ackerman, “Not long after Gingrich’s suggestion to use the laser, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates radically scaled back the Airborne Laser effort and repeatedly pointed to it as an example of everything that was dumb and wrong about the Pentagon’s weapon-development process.”

Do we need to lay out why this is worrisome? Novel ideas are important, and Gingrich has our grudging respect for thinking outside the box on occasion. But the commander-in-chief needs to be anchored in reality; this little bit of evidence is not particularly comforting on that score.