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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gingrich and Political Warfare

At The New York Times, Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny recount a conference call in which Mitt Romney's advisers reacted to a primary defeat in South Carolina by taking a more aggressive approach to Newt Gingrich: "Behind the scenes, it was more than that. It was a call to arms employing all the visible and invisible tactics of political warfare."   The article describes how the Romney battle plan has thrown Gingrich onto the defensive.

Ironically, Gingrich himself has done more than any American politician to bring military concepts into political life.  He often gave his aides reading lists, which included the following:
  • Sun-Tzu. The Art of War. Westview Press. 1994. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford.
  • Miyamoto Musashi. A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy. Overlook Press. 1974. Woodstock, New York.
  • General Heinz Guderian. Panzer Leader. Zenger Publishing Co. 1952. Washington, D.C. 
Here are excerpts from my 1996 paper, "Understanding Newt Gingrich." (Downloadable pdf here). 
Although Gingrich never served in the armed forces, thoughts of the military have always buzzed in his mind. His adoptive father, an army officer, once took him to the ossuary at the Verdun battlefield. Gingrich later said that this confrontation with the horrors of war persuaded him to change his career plans from science to statesmanship. His academic studies included military history, and when he taught at West Georgia College, he learned still more from colleague Albert S. "Steve" Hanser, a military veteran. In the House, he helped found the Military Reform Caucus and often spoke at the war colleges as a way of making contact with the best military minds. He even wrote the introduction for a military text on strategic vision.
 Like everyone, Gingrich uses military terminology in discussing politics. (After all, words  such as campaign and strategy were born on battlefields.). Unlike most other political figures, he seriously thinks about applications of military principles.
In his first successful congressional race, Gingrich made it clear that he did not take the military analogy lightly. He told a group of College Republicans:

Every one of you is old enough to have been a rifleman in Vietnam. A number of you are old enough to have been platoon leaders, or company commanders, depending on the  situation, and how rapidly you move up in rank. This is the same business, we're just lucky, in this country, we don't use bullets, we use ballots instead. You're fighting a war: It is a war for power.
As speaker, he has expressed much the same sentiment: "Politics and war are remarkably similar systems." In an address at the Library of Congress, he put it more colorfully by paraphrasing Mao Zedong: "War is politics with blood; politics is war without blood." This  mind set manifests itself in very concrete ways. Throughout 1995, Gingrich sent House  Republican leaders and their aides to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command centers in Virginia and Kansas. In 1996, he asked military congressional fellows to aid in an "after-action review" of why the GOP's budget plan nearly lost on the House floor.

I later expanded some of these ideas in my book The Art of Political Warfare.