MARK DAVIS: Newt Gingrich, you’ve opened up another hornet’s nest in Washington, but apart from fuelling speculation about rifts between Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, what are the real differences in the battle that’s under way for foreign policy in America?
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER US HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, the point I was making in my speech at the American Enterprise Institute was that if the United States is going to be the leading power in the world, we have to have a much more effective foreign service, we have to be able to listen better, to understand our friends and our allies better, and to communicate more effectively what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it and that we cannot afford to just be a military power.
We can’t afford to have the only effective instruments we’ve got be uniformed soldiers of the US because that undermines the core values of America which are about prosperity and freedom and safety and being able to work with people. So I think it’s very important that our State Department be very dramatically overhauled precisely to be a better neighbour and a better friend to countries around the world.
MARK DAVIS: Well, you’re sounding like an American liberal in that analysis. But I’m sure they differ with you on how that State Department should be restructured.
NEWT GINGRICH: We have to become much more effective at listening carefully to people around the world and working with them in much more subtle ways than just being able to use military power. Maybe in some ways that makes me sound like a liberal, but I think it makes me sound like somebody who believes that freedom belongs to folks more than America and that other folks are allowed to have strong opinions and good ideas also and we need to learn from the world as well as lead it.
MARK DAVIS: Whatever way we look at the results in Iraq, this has been a disastrous period for America’s international reputation and its diplomatic efforts. Why, in your opinion, has the world turned against America in this period?
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, that’s exactly the point I made in my speech a week ago, that while the military campaign may have been tremendous and impressive and very effective, the diplomatic and communications and other efforts around it were remarkably ineffective and I think that’s got to trouble every American who’s thoughtful. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that Saddam was a torturing, murdering, brutal dictator. I think the evidence will come out over the next few weeks that he also was desperately trying to get weapons of mass destruction and yet, among decent, hard working, honest, free people, all around the world, our arguments simply didn’t work and I think we Americans have to be very troubled by that. I don’t think we can say that it’s the European’s fault or the Australian’s fault or whatever. I think we have to say to ourselves, “what is going on?”
MARK DAVIS: Is that a communications problem though, sir, or was it in fact that the package was an impossible one to sell? People didn’t believe you, not because of the sales pitch, but because the evidence was never presented and still hasn’t been?
NEWT GINGRICH: Part of it is a communications problem. We’re not very good at it. Part of it, as you point out, may be the package, that we may not be doing things the right way. But I want to suggest to you that as people, if they’re fair minded and open about it, when they look at the evidence of torture, of murder, of a regime that clearly had relations with terrorists, they have to ask themselves a very simple question – would the world be better off tonight if Saddam Hussein was back in power, if the American forces were back in the United States, would the world truly be safer and better? Or in fact despite all the resentment, is there something profound about the fact that Iraqis tonight aren’t going to bed afraid of a secret police, families aren’t worrying that their loved ones will be killed in some prison.
MARK DAVIS: But is that really the question? The question that was put to the world was weapons of mass destruction, links to al-Qa’ida, possible links to September 11, America was shown to be wanting. Now is that Powell’s fault or is it Rumsfeld and Bush’s fault for making those claims?
NEWT GINGRICH: Now, wait a second. We’ve been in the country about three weeks in terms of looking for things. We have found a number of very interesting things such as the 12 chemical canisters yesterday that seemed to have precursors for nerve gas and for mustard gas. We’ve already interviewed a whole series of scientists who’ve said on the record that they lied to the United Nations and there’s no question about that. But the fact is if I were betting money, I would take very long odds that we’re going to find weapons of mass destruction.
MARK DAVIS: You just need more time like Hans Blix needed?
NEWT GINGRICH: No, no, there’s a huge difference here and I think that’s a good case in point. Hans Blix is the United Nations’ inspector who Iraqi scientists have now said bluntly they lied to. Now why doesn’t it disturb people, including newsmen like yourself, that you now have been told bluntly on the record by Iraqi scientists, they were lying to Hans Blix.
MARK DAVIS: The essential point here was whether the world believed you in the claims that you were making.
NEWT GINGRICH: Let me draw this distinction. If in fact we do or don’t find weapons of mass destruction over the next 30 to 60 days, I’d be honoured to come back on the show and you and I can then discuss whether you have to say “Gee, Bush was right” or I have to say “Gee, Bush was wrong”, OK. I think that’s a good case. But you raise a more profound question and a question that went to the heart of my speech last week and that is, as a country who’s record of defeating dictators and liberating people is pretty good, we were remarkably ineffective for about five months in communicating with the world. Now that has to trouble every American because either what we were saying was profoundly wrong or how we were saying it was profoundly wrong. But there’s something there that as Americans…I don’t put this burden on anybody else. Not on France, not on Russia, not on Britain , not on Australia, on no-one else. There is a burden here for America given our pre-eminence militarily, given the size of our economy, given our willingness to be involved around the world. We carry a greater burden than the rest of the world and I would argue that in communications we failed and we Americans need to study that and be a little humble about what happened over the last five or six months and really think deeply about what we do in the future.
MARK DAVIS: Well, your most recent objection to Colin Powell and his Department is that Powell stated he was prepared to talk with the Syrians. Until then, Syria had been facing a barrage of accusations through CNN, not through any diplomatic channel. What’s wrong with talking with them?
NEWT GINGRICH: First of all, we have an ambassador sitting in Damascus. I would beg to differ. I think the ambassador of the United States is supposed to go and talk to the Syrian Foreign Minister.
MARK DAVIS: Apparently he didn’t. Apparently he didn’t.
NEWT GINGRICH: I have no opposition to the US ambassador to Syria.
MARK DAVIS: Apparently he didn’t.
NEWT GINGRICH: Well he should have. He should have been. That’s why he’s there. But let me draw this distinction. Colin Powell is a remarkable, popular, effective figure known worldwide. If Secretary of State, former chairman of the joint chiefs, General Colin Powell stands in a photo opportunity with the dictator of Syria, he raises the prestige and the respectability of the Syrian dictator. And my question is. “What has the Syrian dictator done to deserve having his prestige and his respectability raised?”
MARK DAVIS: Syria supported America in resolution 1441, which was very significant, Syria also provided considerable intelligence in hunting down al-Qa’ida, which was a primary American objective. I mean is it worth putting these people off side that have shown a willingness to start to participate, particularly after September 11?
NEWT GINGRICH: I would just suggest to you that on balance, by any reasonable standard, Syria is on the side of terrorists and dictators, it is not on the side of freedom and democracy.
MARK DAVIS: But this was an interesting example, wasn’t it, one of the tests of America’s credibility at this moment when the President made those accusations against Syria, when Donald Rumsfeld also made them. Essentially, internationally, the response was one of disbelief. Now this is a very serious moment when the world basically thinks American leaders are lying or misrepresenting intelligence. Now that’s not the State Department, that’s Bush himself.
NEWT GINGRICH: Yes, and I agree with you, that it’s a very serious matter and that’s why I said we need a very profound re-thinking of the last six months. I don’t think it’s good enough for Americans just to look at military victory. I think we have to look at the previous five months of diplomatic difficulties, communications difficulties and I think you and I actually share the same analysis – that to have the President of the United States say something bluntly and directly and have people around the world not believing is very troubling.
MARK DAVIS: But with regard to the next stage, the Palestinian roadmap to peace, you’ve objected to the notion that Russia, the EU, the UN should be involved in the process because they’ll water down President Bush’s objectives, why should the President of the United States be the only voice that should be heard on this matter or any other international matter, for that point?
NEWT GINGRICH: What I said was given the record of the last five months, where the French and the Germans have opposed us, the Russians have opposed us and the UN in many ways has opposed us, why would the US State Department voluntarily bring them into a relationship with the US?
MARK DAVIS: They’re reaching out to the world presumably and trying to patch up America’s relationships.
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think there are a lot of other ways we could patch up relationships but I don’t think we need to voluntarily go out and empower other institutions to undermine and defeat American policy and I thought that’s what the State Department was doing in this instance.
MARK DAVIS: Newt Gingrich, thanks for joining us.