Pedestrians in Washington have to be a patient lot. The Nuclear Security Summit was a big deal for Barack Obama and the visiting heads of state, but for everyone else it was only an opportunity to watch diplomats speeding down the avenues in big black rented limousines, trying to look important. They were in Washington to talk about ways to put nuclear weapons under lock and key, but it's hard to find anyone who thinks it was anything more than big talk.
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and Republican gadfly-in-chief, is one of the harshest skeptics of Obama's show-and-tell. A small group of journalists and economic and foreign policy conservatives braved the traffic gridlock to take breakfast with him in the midst of summit week and listen to his reasons why it was not the good day that the patient and polite traffic cops were going out of their way to wish the impatient pedestrians.
Newt provided his usual whirlwind of words, food for thought and for more than a little indigestion. Obama's summit, he said, was a "charade." He saw it as a craftily staged play in the Theatre of the Absurd, a fantasy of foreign policy in a time and place that demands reality.
Always the well-prepared college professor (which indeed he once was), Newt compared the two-day summit to the endless disarmament talks in Geneva in the 1920s. He recalled the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which sounds like a box of breakfast cereal but was actually a worthless piece of paper that was supposed to end war. Fifteen nations signed it initially, and the number grew to 50, including Germany.
We know how that turned out. The U.S. Senate confirmed it with only one dissenting vote, and the men who put the pact together each won the Nobel Peace Prize. Kellogg-Briand was meaningless as a defense against aggression, but it made a lot of people feel good about the prospects for "peace." Events would soon demonstrate the difference between "peace" and peace. Newt thinks there's a lesson here for today.
But if Obama's foreign policy is the absurd theater Newt says it is, the president's domestic agenda is a contraption that could have been created by Hollywood director James Cameron, the master of the images of the man-machine hybrid. You could call the movie "The Determinator."
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