Thursday, 26 January 2012

Its all getting a bit Newt in here

Newt Gingrich is the political equivalent of someone who looks hot when you notice them at the other end of a long corridor, often (as in this case) the closer you get, the worse it becomes. Face to face, its a mess.

Foreign policy is the area which concerns me most as a non-American. US Presidents have the ability to do real harm to their allies in this one area, and although Obama has more or less killed the Special Relationship we remain at least on good speaking terms with the USA, and are likely to remain so. Its rather worrying that the breakthrough candidate, Speaker Gingrich is so... goddamn mental.

The Atlantic did a good writeup of his erratic position on foreign policy the other day:
Gingrich seems to be awash in competing ideas -- his favorite word -- but has little in the way of core beliefs to guide them, or little compunction about jumping from one contradictory declaration to the next. This might make some fun for bloggers and opposition researchers in pointing out Gingrich's contradictions and inconsistencies. But imagine what it would be like for a head of state or senior government official watching Washington from Beijing or Moscow or Jerusalem or Tehran, and having no idea how President Gingrich is going to behave.

Gingrich's approach to problems of any kind seems, as Conor Friedersdorf put it, to start with "fundamentally transforming" the issue or policy or agency at hand. He wants to gut the State Department, shut down Homeland Security to be replaced with a new agency, and bring "profound change" to the Agency for International Development, the military, the war on terror, and diplomacy. His love of dramatic, bold, sweeping policy changes -- apparently made for the sake of being bold and dramatic and sweeping -- makes for great press conferences, but they would create uncertainty about how these newly "transformed" institutions and policies are going to operate.
Of course they're right, its critically important that the cards are largely on the table as far as what the US is likely to do in any given set of circumstances. Iran knows that if they continue to develop their nuclear technology, they will most likely get bombed, that leaves it up to them as to how they then move ahead.

The issue is that Gingrich tends to devolve swiftly into pure fantasy, not least in his 1996 desire to explore how feasible it would be to develop a real world Jurrasic Park:
“Why not aspire to build a real Jurassic Park?” Gingrich asked on page 190 of the book, adding in parenthesis that such an achievement “may not be at all impossible.”

“Wouldn’t that be one of the spectacular accomplishments of human history?” he continued. “What if we could bring back extinct species?”
Now, I realise this is a speculative throw away line, but it does speak to a rather 'aspirational' aspect of his personality, as well as his limited understanding of technology and how it works. I agree that science fiction has been very good at predicting technological innovation, that doesnt mean that every science fiction idea is reality waiting to happen, it just means that in a vast sample some guys get it right from time to time.

He has also recently decided that there will be an American moon base in place by the end of his second term:
"By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," he said. According to Talking Points Memo Gingrich went on to say that the base would be used for "science, tourism, and manufacturing" and to create a "robust industry" modelled on the airline business in the 20th century.
His 2012 bit of crazy is about cyberwar. Setting aside the fact that no one is really sure what a cyberwar is (I have my own personal definition, which tends to change from time to time) the rather casual way he throws the term around, and equates it to real world action is a little bit concerning:
I think that we have to treat state-based covert activities as the equivalent of acts of war,” Gingrich said in response to a question about countries that target U.S. corporate and government information systems. “And I think that we have to respond to that and create a level of pain which teaches people not to do it.”
Really? Because "state based covert activities" covers a hell of a lot of ground. Its been the bread and butter of Governments to spy on each other for as long as there have been Governments, and usually no one goes to war over it. Otherwise we'd all be at war with each other all the time.

Putting this in the context of cyber espionage is even more dangerous. Its so easy to hide your tracks online. Complete anonimity might not be possible, but its damn close. Certainly as you fuel up the bombers I think you want to have a better idea who conducted the attack than "well the IP address is probably somewhere in China".

Also, how to do you tell the difference between a state sponsored act of cyber espionage and a private citizen doing it for the lulz or at the behest of a company? Corporate espionage online is a fact of life now, and will be forever. Companies are finally figuring this out and starting to build decent network security, but in the end, if someone wants in, they will get it.

My concern is that he is trying to win a war of words which no one else is playing it, one upping his own statements in terms of how high he can crank up the rhetoric.

There are two options as far as I can see
  1. He believes what he is saying - This means he is a dangerously uninformed individual, who, with access to the vast power of the presidency will be a threat to world peace and security
  2. He just likes the sound of his own voice - I really hope this is the case, as he would hardly be the first person to throw about phrases like 'cyber war' without really knowing what it means
Frankly, I'm worried he might be a little mad.
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