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Gingrich's Iran Straddle

12:15 PM, Sep 1, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Containment advocates oppose military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, arguing that a strike won't work, that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is exaggerated, and that Iran can be contained. Others argue that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, that all options should remain on the table, and that a Soviet-like containment policy is full of holes. Then there's Newt Gingrich. Today's Washington Times reports:

In an impromptu speech during a Mediterranean cruise that hosted scores of conservative donors and activists, the Georgia Republican expressed unexpected skepticism about prospects of military intervention to halt Iran's nuclear program….

"I am opposed to a military strike on Iran because I don't think it accomplishes very much in the long run," said Mr. Gingrich, who supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has been a strong defender of Israel.

"I think if this regime [in Iran] is so dangerous that we can't afford to let them have nuclear weapons, we need a strategy to replace the regime," Mr. Gingrich said. "And the first place you start is where Ronald Reagan did in Eastern Europe with a comprehensive strategy that relied on economic, political, diplomatic, information and intelligence" means.

The statement represented a significant modification of one of his most hawkish foreign-policy views.

Earlier this year, he said, "A nonviolent solution that allows the terrorists to become better trained, better organized, more numerous and better armed is a defeat. A nonviolent solution that leads to North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons threatening us across the planet is a defeat."

…After saying he opposed military action against Iran, he said that "in North Korea and Iran, we should have a conscious strategy that starts from a simple premise" that many residents of both countries hate their leaders and political system.

"I think our position should be that we don't expect Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be around for very long," he said. "But we think the Iranians are going to get rid of him. We're not. But then I would do everything I could to make that possible."

Gingrich is pushing what is essentially a containment plus strategy. Reagan came into office in 1981; the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Does anyone believe that Iran won't acquire a nuclear weapon in the next, say, 3-8 years? He's right that regime change would be desirable, but we have no idea whether the implementation of such a policy would bear fruit before the Ahmadinejad regime acquired a weapon. And even if one harbors doubts about the efficacy of military strikes against Tehran's nuclear facilities, it's hard to imagine how foreclosing the option so publicly strengthens the diplomatic hand of those trying to compel Iran's compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. President Reagan's Secretary of State, George Schulz, makes precisely this point in the latest Policy Review:

Iran seems convinced that its actions, as in restarting its enrichment facilities, will have no adverse consequences. It sees no strength behind the diplomacy. We must be ready to summon the will - and persuade others to join us - to use economic and political strength - and ultimately force - to deal with this situation if multilateral diplomacy and collective security are to be credible…

But the option for military action on even a large scale, such as a sustained air campaign to cripple Iran's nuclear weapons program, must remain alive as a last resort. The more alive it is in the minds of our adversaries, the more likely it is that we never will have to use that military option.

I half suspect that one reason behind Gingrich's latest remarks is that he has concluded that the kind of military campaign that would be needed to cripple Iran's nuclear program (should it come to that) won't be pursued. Stay tuned….