Newt Gingrich is taking steps toward a potential presidential bid in 2008 with a book criticizing President Bush’s policies on Iraq and a tour of early campaign states.
The former House speaker who led Republicans to power a decade ago said he soon will visit Iowa and New Hampshire to promote his book, try to influence public policy and keep his political options alive.
“Anything seems possible,” including a White House race, Gingrich told The Associated Press.
The quotable and controversial former Georgia congressman, who now runs a consulting firm in Washington, is promoting, “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.” He seemed to welcome the thought that a book tour will increase speculation about his political aspirations.
“It never hurts to maximize opportunities. That’s the American tradition,” Gingrich said. “If I can influence the reporters and political activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, they will influence the candidates.”
'Anything seems possible'
Asked if he might be a candidate himself, Gingrich said. “For an Army brat from Pennsylvania who became the only Georgia Republican in the House and the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years, anything seems possible. I don’t think it’s very likely. On the other hand, if I have an impact on public policy and do it in a way that is exciting and positive, why wouldn’t I want to do that?”
Gingrich said he hopes newspapers in Iowa and New Hampshire seize on issues raised in his book. “If that means that every candidate will be hit by those questions, at a minimum I have helped shape policy,” he said.
“And, at a maximum, other things might happen,” he said.
Republicans close to Gingrich said he privately has mused about potentially running for president in 2008 or beyond. These officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Gingrich would not approve of public speculation, said odds are against him seeking and winning the White House.
If nothing else, they said, Gingrich understands that talk could help sell his book, which goes on sale Monday.
Gingrich, who helped develop the “Contract with America” and end four decades of Democratic power in the House, built the book around a post-Sept. 11 update to the 1994 political manifesto.
He says America’s early-century goals should be to defeat terrorism, stop driving God from public life, develop “patriotic” immigration and education policies, harness modern science and technology and establish personal Social Security accounts.
Criticism for Bush
While giving Bush credit for recognizing the threats posed by terror, Gingrich said U.S. intelligence capabilities are one-third of the size needed. On Iraq, he writes that the Bush administration erred by creating a U.S.-led provisional authority instead of quickly creating an interim government as it did in Afghanistan.
He also accused the administration of underestimating the effect of anti-U.S. propaganda from the Arab rule and lacking a strategy to deal with insurgents. “This lack of strategic planning led to the tragedy of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal,” Gingrich wrote.
In the AP interview, he said Bush had signed off on an adequate postwar plan, but it was abandoned by former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer.
“When Bremer arrived, he thought he was (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur in Japan” during post-World War II reconstruction, Gingrich said. “He thought he had five years to build an Americentric model. He just basically amputated the entire postwar plan.”
Bremer, in an opinion column in The New York Times in October, said it was no secret that he had tactical disagreements with military commanders and others while in Iraq. But he said he underscored his “constant public support for the president’s strategy in Iraq and his policies to fight terrorism.”
Despite his criticism of Bremer, Gingrich said the official should not be a scapegoat for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush. “Whatever mistakes Bremer made were not corrected by his bosses, who were Rumsfeld, Powell, Cheney and the president,” Gingrich said.
Those men were apparently too exhausted or focused on Bush’s re-election campaign to curb Bremer, he said. Bush recently awarded Bremer the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in Iraq.
Had the president stuck with an Afghanistan-style postwar plan, his public approval rating would be sky-high “and the Arab world would be closer to democracy,” Gingrich said. “But that is history now, and we must work our way out of it.”