WASHINGTON – Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, all but counted out last summer when his frustrated campaign team abandoned him, has come back from the political dead to pull ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls.
Whether Gingrich has been up or down in the polls, one area in which he has been assailing the president’s record is foreign policy, specifically the Middle East.
In a June 12 speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Gingrich said he would bring to foreign policy “moral clarity” the Obama administration has lacked.
“Today the greatest obstacle toward achieving a real and lasting peace is not the strength of the enemy or the unwillingness of Israel to make great sacrifices for the sake of peace,” he said. “It is the inability on the part of the Obama administration and certain other world leaders to tell the truth about terrorism, be honest about the publicly stated goals of our common enemies and devise policies appropriate to an honest accounting of reality.”
The speech reflected the fact that one of Gingrich’s most stubborn redoubts of support has been among Jewish conservatives, many of whom were still appreciative of the checks he put on the Oslo peace process in the mid-1990s when he was House speaker. Chief among the checks was a law that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Gingrich has said that his first act as president would be to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Some major Republican Jewish donors committed to other candidates only after it seemed Gingrich was not really in the running. But Gingrich is not counted out any longer. According to polls, he leads Romney in early caucus and primary states such as Florida, Iowa and South Carolina, as well as nationally among Republicans.
Gingrich’s surge has resulted in a new focus on his past statements and actions. A veteran of decades in public life, Gingrich has a long record that his opponents are now trawling through for ammunition to use against him.
His foreign policy views have not been immune from such examinations. While Gingrich says that as president he would bring moral clarity to American foreign policy, critics say he often sends mixed signals on the Middle East.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Washington Post columnist who backs Romney, dedicated a recent blog post to picking through what she depicted as Gingrich’s flip-flopping on the Iraq War. Rubin quoted reports showing Gingrich, as a member of the Defense Policy Board, helping to plan the war in 2002, and then pronouncing Iraq a no-win proposition in December 2003, when support for the war was still high.
Rubin said this, as well as Gingrich’s equivocation in 2006 on the American military surge that eventually drew Iraq back from chaos, was his “worst betrayal” of Republicans and demonstrated his willingness to place a premium “on political expediency over national security.”
More recently, Gingrich has faced criticism over apparent inconsistencies on Libya. On March 7 he accused Obama of waffling, saying that as president he would immediately and unilaterally impose a no-fly zone. When Obama did just that later in the month, Gingrich said intervention was a mistake.
In a Facebook post, Gingrich attempted to explain: He wrote that by the time of his earlier remark, Obama had already put American prestige on the line by saying that it was time for Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to go. And therefore at that point, Gingrich wrote, “anything short of a successful, public campaign for regime change would have been seen as a defeat for the United States.” But he suggested that prior to the president’s statement, there were preferable alternatives to American military intervention.
Commentators attribute Gingrich’s surge to his strong performance in debates. The former history professor and a best-selling nonfiction writer appears to command a wealth of knowledge on wide range of topics.
“The former speaker of the House is a dab hand at drawing listeners in, for good reason – he showers them with details, facts and history in a degree no candidate in recent memory has even approached,” Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote. “Audiences have a way of rewarding such trust.”
Other prominent Jewish conservatives, however, are skeptical of Gingrich’s intellectualism and where it has led him.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer slammed Gingrich for a 2008 television advertisement that he made alongside then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calling for action against climate change – an ad for which Gingrich has since expressed regret.
In his column, Krauthammer wrote that Gingrich had made the ad because he was “[t]hinking of himself as a grand world-historical figure, attuned to the latest intellectual trend (preferably one with a tinge of futurism and science, like global warming), demonstrating his own incomparable depth and farsightedness.”
Gingrich’s campaign rolled out its foreign policy team earlier this month. The team appears to be stacked heavily with pro-Israel hawks, including David Wurmser, a former top adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and James Woolsey, a former CIA director.