James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012 Roundup: How Would President Gingrich Handle Iran?

by James M. Lindsay
December 14, 2011

Newt Gingrich speaking at a forum for the GOP candidates in December. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

Newt Gingrich speaking at a forum for the GOP candidates in December. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

Michael Crowley at Time’s “Swampland” has an interesting post up today questioning Newt Gingrich’s plans for Iran. Crowley notes that during Monday’s Lincoln-Douglas-style debate with Jon Huntsman, Gingrich argued that military strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities may not keep Tehran from going nuclear:

They have huge underground facilities. Some of the underground facilities are under mosques. Some of them are in cities. The idea that you’re going to wage a bombing campaign that accurately takes out all the Iranian nuclear program I think is a fantasy. It would be a gigantic mess, with enormous collateral civilian casualties…. There’s no practical scenario in which you can take out their weapons without them rebuilding them.

But last week Gingrich told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

I think the world needs to understand, Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence, but Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon.

Crowley puts the two statements together and concludes that Gingrich has staked out:

A position that is perhaps unique, and quite dramatic. He’s skeptical about military action to take out Iran’s nuclear complex. But he thinks war with Iran to replace its regime might be necessary.

So is Gingrich really saying he would go to war to keep Iran non-nuclear? Is he shrewdly pressuring other countries to come down harder on Iran and putting some fear into the mullahs that run Tehran? Or is he just blustering to win votes on the campaign trail? Your guess is as good as mine. But perhaps a moderator at one of the upcoming GOP presidential debates will press the candidates on the point that both Gingrich and Mitt Romney have made: striking Iran’s nuclear facilities could be hard to do and produce fewer lasting benefits than a lot of the armchair discussions of the problem suggest. Who knows? Perhaps the discussion will give the candidates some newfound sympathy for the challenge that President Obama faces.

Journalists aren’t the only ones questioning Gingrich’s foreign policy views. Tim Pawlenty thinks that “Newt’s current views on foreign policy are a work in progress” and points to the fact that Gingrich “whirled around two or three times on the Libya question.” As you probably know, Pawlenty is stumping for Romney, who he says has been “talking about foreign policy issues in detail for a long time.” So Pawlenty is hardly a disinterested observer.

Some conservative bloggers are touting Pawlenty as a possible secretary of state nominee after Bob Kagan suggested at yesterday’s Foreign Policy Initiative conference that “Secretary of State Pawlenty” would be a tough act to follow.

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