Jay Bookman, writing in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, says that Newt Gingrich's speech last week at the American Enterprise Institute was full of "hateful, vile garbage [that] makes Joe McCarthy look measured and responsible." Joe Klein, in Time, notes wryly: "Newt Gingrich is clearly running for President. How do I know? He gets dumb and angry when running for office [and] pander[s] to the yahoos." Amy Sullivan, also in Time, suggests that Gingrich might be encouraged by the "Burn a Koran Day" organized by a kooky, right-wing church in Florida.
All this reaction, and more, was sparked by the AEI remarks, pompously entitled "Camus, National Security, and Afghanistan." (Camus, in fact, has very little to do with it.) Widely touted as a major address on the failings of the Obama administration on national security, Gingrich's remarks in fact veered weirdly into outright craziness and near-drooling paranoia.
If his speech at AEI is a sign that Gingrich is running for president in 2012, then the only role he can play is to make Sarah Palin look moderate by comparison.
Stripped to its basics, Gingrich sounded like a psychotic Paul Revere as he warned his listeners — who, it seemed, watching the tape, applauded only sporadically and politely — that "sharia" is on the verge of taking over America. Yes, sharia. "I believe sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States," Gingrich thundered. Not only Obama, but the entire American establishment, is "willfully blind" to the existential threat unfolding right before our eyes. To Gingrich, it's so obvious that it's like saying "two plus two is four," yet the Orwellian monsters who control our government insist that the answer is five, or three, or something else! The threat is so dire that Gingrich even proposed a new law to protect Americans who are one-step away from having full-bearded, scimitar-waving, Koran-thumping Taliban jurists ordering their very limbs to be chopped off and their women stoned. Gingrich, warning that the "fight against sharia" is the defining struggle of our time, intends to propose a law "that no court anywhere in the United States will be allowed to substitute sharia for American law."
Last I checked, that wasn't happening. But, you never know. "Many of our elites are sleepwalking," warned Gingrich. "It's time we had a national debate on this."
A key plank in Gingrich's planned War on Sharia is his apoplectic outrage over the plan to build a harmless mosque and community center in the general vicinity of Lower Manhattan — the non-controversy that has stirred up Fox News, Glenn Beck, Palin and other fear mongers as the monstrous "Mosque at Ground Zero." It would be fine, Gingrich said, if they built the mosque in the South Bronx, because "they need the employment." But to "suggest [it] a few blocks from the site where Islamist extremists killed more than 3,000 Americans" is a "political act" of "triumphalism," he warned, and it can't be tolerated. How to stop it? Ah, there's the rub, given the pesky and persistent freedoms that Americans enjoy. But Newt has an idea. Because the area is the site of the 9/11 attack, it is a battlefield in the war on terrorism. Thus (he actually said this!): "Congress can declare the area a national battlefield area and control what's built there."
In his speech, Gingrich allowed that there are wars happening overseas. But, he said, Obama is wrong to say that Afghanistan is the "central front" in the struggle against al-Qaeda. In fact, Islamists and sharia-imposers are far more insidious than that. "The central front is the United States," he intoned, sounding like an over-excited Chicken Little. It is there — along with the "second front," in Europe — that the final battle against Islam will be fought and won. If not, lovers of sharia will impose their will and values on peace-loving Americans.
Above all, he warned, it's the American left that doesn't get it. It's the left, he said, under the "destructive influence of a secular, socialist system" that sympathizes with radical Islamists and "prefers our opponents to us." It is the left, said Gingrich, which inexplicably fails to understand that sharia "is a direct, mortal threat to every value that the left has." Doesn't the left get it, that women shouldn't be stoned to death? Gingrich wondered. Luckily, we on the left have Gingrich to remind us of the values we hold dear.
So of course Gingrich called for a New Cold War, a long struggle against radical Islam, the toppling of regimes in Iran and in North Korea (where, no doubt, sharia is making huge gains), and so on. He railed against Obama's deadline of July 2011 for Afghanistan. He suggested that there are seven simultaneous fronts in the Middle East for his Cold War, in this order: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Israel's "borderlands."
And there is more to come. Concluded the Newtster: "This speech is the beginning." Uh oh.
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Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).