Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tells Newsmax TV that Russian President Vladimir Putin's motives in becoming involved in Middle Eastern diplomacy are far from altruistic.
"It's strange," Gingrich, the former Republican presidential candidate, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. "The Russians aren't doing this because they're good guys. I always try to remind people that Putin was a senior KGB agent. This is a very tough, very ruthless man.
"He is a Russian nationalist," Gingrich adds. "He wants to re-establish Russia as a great power — and I guarantee you that whatever he does, he's doing with Russian interests at heart. He's not trying to help Obama. He's not trying to help the international chemical warfare convention. He's thinking like a Russian.
On Monday, Putin proposed that Syria give up its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control. He said the plan would only work if the United States agreed not to use force.
The proposal "can work, only in the event that we hear that the American side and those who support the U.S.A, in this sense, reject the use of force," Putin said on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama is backing a French resolution to the U.N. Security Council even as he continues to push the idea of U.S. airstrikes against Assad's regime if the Russian effort fails.
That resolution would demand that Syria open its chemical weapons program to inspection, place it under international control, and ultimately dismantle it.
"I suspect that they see an opportunity here to play a role, which makes them a bigger player on the world stage, which protects their ally," Gingrich says of Putin. "Remember, they want Assad to survive. And so you have a Saudi Arabia-Turkey-Jordan-American coalition that wants to beat Assad. You have an Iranian-Russian coalition that wants to protect Assad — and that's what the underlying power struggle is.
"That's where Obama could have a problem, because the anti-Assad Syrian forces were livid over the idea that there'd be some agreement just to take away his weapons because that leaves him in power," he observes. "They were really hoping that the U.S. was going to bomb him so that they would begin to weaken him so that he could be driven out of power.
"If you are the anti-Assad rebels, you don't necessarily see this deal as a good idea."
But what is even more paradoxical, Gingrich, co-host of CNN's Crossfire tells Newsmax, is that Syrian President Bashar Assad now admits to having chemical weapons — something he has long denied since the nation's civil war began more than two years ago.
"It is kind of ironic that you have President Assad now prepared to give up the weapons that he didn't have — and that just tells you a little bit about how the world works. I would say Ronald Reagan had it right when he said, 'trust but verify.'
"The Russians have taken a positive step," he adds. "I suspect that they have privately put enormous pressure on the Syrians, and as a result the Syrians have said they would go along with it.
"If, in fact, in the next few days you could get a genuine agreement that the Syrians will identify their chemical warfare systems and that they will then allow the United Nations to destroy them, that would be dramatically better than a very tiny bombing campaign that — frankly — won't accomplish anything."
President Obama has urged Congress to delay a vote on authorizing the use of force while the international negotiations play out. Gingrich supports that approach.
"First of all, depending on what we see happen in the next couple days, it is very unlikely that they could win a vote in the House," he tells Newsmax. "Second, if the agreement is entirely at a government-to-government level, you would not need the Senate to confirm it because it wouldn't involve any U.S. obligations.
"It would be a commitment by the Syrians to the United Nations that they will allow the United Nations to come in and clean it up — and we would have some right to supervise that and make sure it's real.
"The odds are probably — not any better than 50-50 — that this is real, but as compared to where the administration was heading, it's a much better gamble than what Secretary [of State John] Kerry said recently would be an unbelievably small bombing campaign. What is the point of that?"
Regardless, the American public is against becoming involved in another Mideast conflict, Gingrich says.
"There's no question that some of the rebels are al-Qaida and various branches. There's no question that they're anti-Christian. There's no question that some of them have done horrible things. You can choose which of these really bad, destructive, vicious groups do you favor, but there are no good guys in this fight.
"That's why in the last poll that I saw, 85 percent of the American people said don't get involved in the Syrian civil war," he adds. "Now, that's a real national judgment. When you get up into that kind of number, that means people have talked to each other. The country is rendering a judgment.
"We've been engaged in the Middle East since the hostage crisis in Iran in October of '79. We had Marines killed in '83. We have been through the Khobar Tower bombings," Gingrich says, referring to the 1996 attack on a housing complex in Saudi Arabia that was used as quarters for foreign military personnel.
Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed and 498 of many nationalities were wounded in the bombing, which has been tied to Hezbollah.
"We've been through two wars in Iraq. We've been through a war in Afghanistan," he adds. "Frankly, on one level, the American public is just saying: 'We're not gaining ground here. We are spending lives and spending money — and all we're doing is feeding a region that likes to hate itself."
But the real threat, and the White House is not addressing it, is Iran.
"It emboldens them," Gingrich tells Newsmax of the American resistance to bombing Syria. "It makes them more confident.
"One of the great surprises to me has been the number one threat to the United States in the region is Iran, because if the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, they change the whole balance of power in the region — and nobody knows what they would do with it.
"Yet, we have focused on Libya. We have focused on Egypt. We've focused on Syria. It's almost like the administration looks for any excuse to avoid confronting the real problem, because the real problem's scary.
"These are tough people. They lost a million men in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and they kept coming. They didn't quit," he adds. "You can't see Iran as an easy problem — and faced with a hard problem, Obama looks for something else to talk about."
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