Newt Gingrich and his wife celebrate his win in South Carolina Saturday night (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP/Via Bangor Daily News).
Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina win in the Republican primary thrusts the former speaker, and his benefactor Sheldon Adelson, back into the heart of the political discussion. And while much has been made of Gingrich’s comments on Palestinians–they’re “terrorists,” an “invented people”–less attention has been paid to Gingrich’s evolving positions on Iran and Adelson’s influence on the shift.
Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman has a comic, if scary, look at Gingrich’s proposed plans to overthrow the Iranian regime. But he also notes Gingrich’s past, less hawkish position on Iran:
The irony is that Gingrich wasn’t always so bellicose. Back in 2002, he predicted that the Islamic Republic’s days were numbered, and outright dismissed the prospect of bombing. All it would take is a little diplomatic outreach to inspire Iran’s natural pro-American tendencies, he told an audience in Melbourne. “I believe you are likely to have a modernizing, democratic Iranian regime within a year or two,” he said. Call it an evolving position.
So what happened between 2002 and now? Sheldon Adelson. Beginning in 2006, the wealthy Greater Israel advocate began to pour millions of dollars into a Gingrich PAC. Acclaimed investigative journalist Wayne Barrett has more in The Daily Beast:
Gingrich also referred in the 2005 article to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but without urging any immediate American or Israeli action. While there’s no doubt this is a graver concern than it was six years ago, Gingrich said then that Iran was “believed by many countries to be secretly developing nuclear weapons.” He put this in the broader context of North Korea and Pakistan already having nukes, and Gingrich calling them and a chemical-weapon-armed Syria “hostile to Israel’s existence.” But he clearly saw it as a future threat, concluding that “another generation of continuing hatred and violence could culminate in a devastating attack” on Israel. No presidential candidate now, however, has done more saber rattling against Iran, another Adelson echo.
In Connie Bruck’s extraordinary New Yorker profile of Adelson, she reported that as early as June 2007, Adelson was so ready for war with Iran that he separated the men from the boys on the basis of their willingness to strike Iran. At a conference in Prague sponsored by his own Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, he dismissed the son of the former shah because, he told one participant, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” He said he liked another Iranian dissident at the conference “because he says that if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” He attributed his own lust for an attack to his love of Israel, adding that he didn’t care what happened in Iran.
Another U.S. group Adelson bankrolled, the now defunct Freedom’s Watch, listed Iran as one of its two top concerns on its website, and enlisted Gingrich as one of its prime defenders in 2008 when NBC refused to air its ads the network branded “too political.” Gingrich went on Fox calling for an NBC boycott. In addition, Israel Hayom, the Adelson-owned newspaper in Israel that’s become its largest daily, is simultaneously beating the drums for an Iranian attack and a Gingrich nomination. In an interview with its editor, Gingrich called a possible Israeli attack on Iran “an act of self defense.”
Gingrich has become a fount of anti-Iranian ideas—sabotaging their oil supply, funding every dissident group, and even assassinating their nuclear scientists, which he proposed way back in November, long before the recent murder in the streets of Tehran.
It’s true that, even without Adelson’s millions, Gingrich would have plenty of reasons to saber-rattle at Iran, like the fact that the Republican base contains some fervent Christian Zionists licking their lips at the thought of an Iran war. But as Barrett’s piece shows, Gingrich has followed Adelson’s line on Israel and Iran after the cash the speaker received. Expect more of that hawkish line as the campaign rolls on and Adelson’s millions continue to shape the outcome.