Gingrich vocal about combating terrorism, mostly mum on political ambitions

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich brushed back questions about his presidential ambitions but laid out a series of tough measures he said are necessary to win a war against radical Islam at a forum on Sept. 30 sponsored by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, or CELL.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, host Larry Mizel of The CELL and Newt Gingrich chat.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Newt Gingrich and Ginnie Kontnik, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Fellow Republicans Newt Gingrich and former Gov. Bill Owens pose for a photo at a reception before the forum.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Courtney Mizel and Melanie Pearlman of The CELL along with John Elway, who appears on a video promoting the counterterrorism organization, and his wife, Paige.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Newt Gingrich, former head of GOPAC, visits with June Weiss, a Colorado Republican political consultant who used to work with Gingrich at GOPAC in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Sharon Magness Blake and Mayor Ernie Blake have their picture taken with Newt Gingrich before the start of the forum.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Perry Buck, wife of GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck, casts a look of surprise at Gingrich.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

During the hour-long discussion before a sold-out crowd at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Gingrich blasted both Republican and Democratic administrations for failing to treat the threat of terrorism with sufficient seriousness.

While he warned of threats across the globe — including the activity of Mexican drug cartels, which he said were responsible for “some of the most vicious terrorism on the planet” — Gingrich sounded the alarm loudest over radical Islamic terrorists, including an Iranian regime seeking nuclear weapons.

“We need to relentlessly understand we’re in an ideological and intellectual war with a group of people who would destroy us if they could,” Gingrich said. He drew what he termed a sharp distinction between radical Islam and “the overwhelming majority of Muslims” worldwide who oppose the terrorists.

“The fact is,” Gingrich said, “the most likely person to be killed in the world by terrorists is a Muslim who has not subordinated himself to the demands of terrorists.” Those demands include imposing religious-based sharia law, which Gingrich called “a set of rules that are, essentially, medieval.”

Asked by Denver Post editor Gregory Moore, who moderated the forum, what victory against radical Islam would look like, Gingrich ticked off an ambitious list: “No more madrasas teaching hate, no more websites recruiting suicide bombers, no more people around the planet actively plotting our destruction. It means they go from being a genuine threat to being an occasional odd nuisance. There’s a fundamental difference,” he said. “I think that’s something we as a country have to do.”

Top on his list of priorities, Gingrich said, is preventing Iran — a country he said has been “actively at war” with the United States for more than three decades, since seizing hostages at the American embassy — from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“They are methodically building nuclear weapons,” he said, which present an enormous danger because the country’s leader “represents a religious fanaticism which would regard dying as a good thing.”

Comparing the Iranian regime to suicide bombers, Gingrich said it would be “impossible to deter them” if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a nuke.

“You say boy, if you take out Tel Aviv, we’re going to take out Tehran — they go, oh, OK,” Gingrich said. “In his world view, everyone in Tel Aviv will go to hell and everyone in Tehran will go to heaven. That may sound nutty, but read what they actually say. It is very sobering.”

Calling the Iranian government “not a very strong regime,” Gingrich proposed reaching out to younger Iranians and cutting off the country’s gasoline supply as ways to topple its leaders. “You could, I think, realistically replace this regime,” he said.

Pressed by Moore whether that was a wise course, Gingrich didn’t flinch. “You cannot tolerate this dictatorship having nuclear weapons, period,” he replied.

It was one of several hard-line proposals that drew sustained applause from the audience.

“We have to be dramatically more aggressive taking on radicals,” Gingrich said, also proposing a “policy of knocking out every Internet site that has radical Islam on it.”

America’s “tiptoe” behavior around China, too, is “an example of us not being serious” about the terrorist threat, Gingrich said. Instead of relying on diplomatic niceties to get China’s help pressuring its prominent trading partner, he said, the United States should threaten China with a total trade embargo if it doesn’t support sanctions against Iran.

Gingrich pointed to a recent controversial position taken by President Barack Obama as a sufficiently “serious” approach to the terrorist threat. Saying Obama has “done the right thing” signing a document authorizing the killing of an American citizen “hiding out” in Yemen who has been calling for the death of Americans.

“When you decide to fight the United States, you are a traitor,” he said. “When you are a traitor, you do not come under U.S. civil law.”

But Gingrich blasted both the current administration and its Republican predecessor for allowing terrorists past safeguards, saying government officials should have been fired after the foiled Christmas bomber plot, as well as after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

President George W. Bush, Gingrich said, should have fired his director of intelligence for failing to prevent the attack on the Twin Towers. “That was his job, and he failed.”

And after a terrorist blundered an attempt to ignite an underwear bomb on a Detroit-bound flight last year, Gingrich said even more heads should have rolled, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. (CELL officials announced before the forum that Napolitano is scheduled to visit Denver for an event on Oct. 28.)

Moore asked Gingrich twice whether he planned to run for president in 2012 — a prospect fueled by the former speaker’s recent heavy national touring schedule and round of provocative statements — but Gingrich declined both times to take the bait.

As Gingrich and Moore began speaking from the stage, a group of hecklers disrupted the forum for several minutes with shouts of “Newt is New World Order” before being ejected from the hall.

Prior to the forum, Gingrich mingled with several dozen donors beneath the Opera House at a fundraiser for his political organization at Kevin Taylor’s restaurant. Saying he planned to talk policy upstairs, the former speaker instead offered “some politics” to the assembled supporters.

The upcoming election is the culmination, Gingrich said, of “an amazing year,” offering Republicans the chance to retake Congress four years after losing the majority in both houses to the Democrats “because of combination of real economic trouble and real resistance to the level of radicalism Obama has come to represent.”

Gingrich said Republicans are likely to reclaim “a minimum of 55 House seats,” giving the GOP a majority in the chamber, and are on track to win back at least seven Senate seats, which would still be two votes shy of a majority. He urged the crowd to support Colorado Republican Ken Buck to defeat the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet, calling the race “very, very important,” because it “could easily be the margin” to control the Senate.­

Noting that June saw the highest number of Americans ever to receive food stamps, Gingrich said that fact highlighted the difference between what the two parties were offering voters.

“Obama’s model of redistribution was, after he cost you your job, he’d get you some food stamps,” he said to laughter and applause. It’s the job of Republicans, he added, to “draw a contrast between a food-stamp party and a pay-check party.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com