Newt Gingrich this week spoke boldly on Iraq, which is the same way he spoke on just about everything when he was U.S. speaker of the House in the 1990s.
Gingrich, on December 12, said the American "establishment" has retreated into a burrow from which it peeps at the Iraq war, sees its own shadow and then disappears again.
Gingrich was hazy about naming names in this ill-defined "establishment," but he made it plain that it reminds him of key, hesitant political actors in the years leading up to World War II.
"They want to believe Chamberlain is right, Churchill is wrong, and that Hitler doesn't exist," he said, comparing efforts to appease Nazi Germany to current efforts to embrace the Iraq Study Group's findings as a vehicle by which to leave that troubled country.
Gingrich pointed to recent public statements made by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he alluded to a world without the United States and openly cheered the prospect of the end of Israel. Iran, of course, has for years now duped the international community as it tried to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons. Iran is also believed to be supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
"The recommendation [the study group] made to President Bush is, let's talk to [the Iranian leadership]," said Gingrich. "Why? What possible conversation could we have?"
Gingrich and others are coming to see the emergence of aggressive, defiant regimes, coupled with an ungovernable spread of terrorism, as dual threats that make for a holistic threat against world peace and stability.
Gingrich believes President George W. Bush must use his likely upcoming address on Iraq's future to link America's effort there to a wider context of dealing with these interrelated threats as they grow more serious each day.
How would Gingrich act now? He says he would pitch a sort of hybrid of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Harry Truman's Marshall Plan. It would provide economic resources in Iraq to create jobs and rebuild infrastructure. Gingrich proposes giving "every able-bodied person" a job to do and a wage to receive. Money and personal security, he says, bring stability. For all the talk of religious strife, Iraqis want food to eat and safety on their streets as much as anyone.
Gingrich says the region should then be flooded with goods that would first be given to and later, ultimately, bought by Iraqis, with money from their new paychecks.
This perspective is a historical one. No surprise there. Gingrich has a vast knowledge of history. Part of that history is the disdain many conservatives had -- or still have -- for FDR's New Deal, with its many public-works programs designed less to accomplish public tasks than to put money in people's pockets. But Gingrich believes a similar plan in Iraq would be a critical adjunct to purely military efforts.
Gingrich became a critic of the handling of the war in 2003, when his basic message was that act one of the military venture, the invasion of Iraq, had gone swimmingly, but that act two had never been written, much less staged.
This Sunday, the former speaker will return to the same television venue where he voiced those concerns three years ago, NBC's "Meet The Press." He'll likely revisit those previous comments with host Tim Russert.
Nobody's saying Gingrich's ideas are flawless. Certainly not me, and not even him. Yet it's becoming abundantly clear that President Bush intends to stay in Iraq for a while. Further, he may authorize a significant number of additional troops to go there.
If so, the Gingrich Plan could become not only possible, but unavoidable. After all, the fiercest criticism of Bush among endless criticism has been the lack of "a plan." Gingrich offers one -- beyond just bombs and bullets.
If Bush's promised change of direction isolates Iraq as the only world danger, and if he offers only more of the same in fighting that conflict, then Gingrich believes America might as well pull out its troops and quit.
If it comes to that, he says, our nation's weakened "establishment" will have lost its resolve to address the bigger, uglier picture. That would be the one that could threaten our very existence in the years to come.