By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Wednesday that as president he would draw down U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
"As rapidly as the generals think is safe," Gingrich said after speaking to about 180 members of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina in Charleston.
"And I would go to a much different style of using covert operations and using diplomatic and economic pressures. And I'd have a very clear goal, which is replace the Iranian dictatorship. But I think this is a very hard problem."
After nearly a decade of war, polls show Americans are increasingly eager to bring their troops home.
U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by 2012 and President Barack Obama has proposed a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan that would have them out of that country in 2014.
Gingrich, whose campaign has struggled to raise money and support, also made a stop at a Tea Party-sponsored town hall in North Charleston on Tuesday night. He said it was too early to handicap South Carolina's early presidential primary, scheduled to be held in February.
Gingrich said that at this point in the last election cycle, it appeared Republican former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, would be their parties' presidential nominees.
"Nobody has any sense of these things at this point," Gingrich said. "Just relax and keep campaigning."
Gingrich said as president he would replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Solutions Agency, call for no tax increases in 2013, reduce the capital gains tax to zero, permanently abolish the inheritance tax, and bring the corporate tax rate down to 12.5 percent.
He referred to General Electric, which owed no federal income taxes in 2010 despite earning $14 billion.
"At 12-and-a-half percent, you will get more tax money out of General Electric than you currently get at 35 percent. Because at 35 percent, General Electric hires enough tax lawyers to not pay any. At 12-and-a-half percent, it would be cheaper to fire half the lawyers and actually write a check to the government," Gingrich said.
He touted volunteerism, citing the wagon trains of American expansion westward in previous centuries.
"We didn't create a federal Department of Wagon Trains," he said. "We didn't have bureaucrats who certified that you were acceptable as a wagoner ... We voluntarily, spontaneously came together."
(Editing by Jerry Norton)