At this late date, these statements are unexceptional, even banal. The public long ago wrote off these wars. It is a small coterie of defense intellectuals, pundits, and politicians in the GOP who have clung to the notion that if there was a flaw in the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East, it was only in the execution, not the theory. One reason Gingrich’s musings are exciting interest is, of course, because of the GOP’s longstanding refusal to confront the woeful outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The party line has been to blame President Obama for not prosecuting those conflicts more aggressively, for squandering the victories that were within sight, for ignoring the triumphant legacy that George W. Bush had left behind for his successor.
It’s interesting that Gingrich is saying these things at a time when most hard-liners and hawks in the party are reaffirming their support for the ideas behind failed Bush-era policies, but I’m doubtful that Gingrich’s “change of heart” is all that significant. As a sign that hard-liners continue to lose ground in the party, it could be a welcome development, but it is just as easy to see Gingrich’s remarks as an effort at damage control. It seems to me that Gingrich isn’t saying these things because he wants to abandon neoconservatives, since he still claims to be one, but because he recognizes that their dead-ender defenses of extremely unpopular wars and attacks on Rand Paul are not having the desired effect.
Note that Gingrich doesn’t say that he likes the ideas that Paul is promoting, but only that he likes Paul because he is talking about alternatives. Because Gingrich likes to consider himself one of the party’s intellectual leaders, he wants to present himself as being open to debating issues, but it doesn’t follow that he has significantly altered his views or shares any of Paul’s. As far as I can tell, Gingrich’s position now is that democracy promotion should take a backseat to combating “radical Islam.” He told The Washington Times:
I think we really need a discussion on what is an effective policy against radical Islam, since it’s hard to argue that our policies of the last 12 years have been effective.
Based on what we’ve heard from Gingrich regarding “radical Islam” over the last few years, I would be genuinely surprised if his idea of an “effective policy against radical Islam” were not an even more aggressive one than we have seen over the last decade.