Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) might have been persona non grata in certain Republican circles early in the aughts after he resigned the Speakership, divorced his wife and married a much-younger aide, but he was more than welcome in the Pentagon under then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Documents released Monday by Rumsfeld, quaintly called “snowflakes” to highlight their abbreviated nature, show that Gingrich was in on more than just the Bush Administration’s Iraq War planning.
In one to Gingrich directly in April 2001, Rumsfeld encouraged the Pentagon “consultant” to read a memo by William “Bill” Schneider pushing for the idea of fewer Congressional hearings featuring major Administration officials in favor of more contacts between executive branch and Congressional staffers. Rumsfeld told Gingrich, “It is thoughtful and helpful,
may give you some ideas as you fashion a plan,” adding “Bill Schneider might be someone you want to talk to and get his thoughts firsthand. He is really smart.”
Later that year, Gingrich joined the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon where, in the days after September 11, 2001, Gingrich and his colleagues met for 19 hours to discuss what to do about the attack. As the New York Times reported, the members of that meeting agreed to attack Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war with Afghanistan was over. Gingrich said in an interview at the time, ”If we don’t use this as the moment to replace Saddam after we replace the Taliban, we are setting the stage for disaster.” In a speech around the same time, Gingrich told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, “We have to talk about replacement, not about punishment” of Hussein.
In another memo from March 19, 2002, Rumsfeld made a series of recommendations to then-Army Gen. William F. Kernan, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, who was in charge of the $250 million Millennium Challenge, a a joint war-fighting, experimental exercise involving both live field forces and computer simulations. He suggested to the General that speaking with Gingrich — who never served in the military — might be “helpful” as One other individual who might be helpful as, he said, Gingrich “has been working with me on transformation.”
One of Kernan’s colleagues in the war games, Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who commanded the “bad guys,” later told the Army Times that the games were rigged for the opposition forces to lose. The Joint Forces Command denied his assertions.
Gingrich, under his moniker as Pentagon consultant and his position on the Board, also made several trips to the CIA in the run-up to the Iraq war, either at the behest of Cheney or Rumsfeld. In the June-July 2003 issue of Foreign Policy, Gingrich then claimed that the real problem with the Iraq war intelligence was the State Department, asking, “Can anyone imagine a State Department more out of sync with Bush’s views and objectives?”
In May 2003, when Gingrich was writing, 79 percent of Americans thought that war was justified. By August 2004, two-thirds believed we went to war based on faulty assumptions — i.e., the intelligence that Gringrich wanted but didn’t get from State (and got from the CIA).
In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporate Poll from January 2011, just before the hawkish Gingrich launched his Presidential bid, 67 percent of Americans opposed the Iraq war altogether. Whether they’ll nonetheless elect one of its architects and biggest cheerleaders, however, remains to be seen.
[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]