The Grand Strategy Summit: American Leadership in the 21st Century
Keynote Address by Speaker Newt Gingrich
The Ritz Carlton, Washington, D.C.
November 11, 2022
Full Transcript Below
Thank you. Well, first of all, thank you all very, very much for this opportunity. And I want to say to Ed and Tricia, we’re delighted to be here. We actually drove in watching the video that was made for your 50th anniversary, which is a remarkable video, and amazingly beautiful. So, Richard Nixon had a huge impact on my life. People often forget, in retrospect, that Nixon was the preeminent modern Republican in the ’40s, and the ’50s, and the early ’60s. And that he represented a kind of very hardworking, very professional, very serious commitment to growing a Republican party, coming out from under the period of FDR and the domination of Roosevelt. I had the great opportunity to go and visit with him several times when we were trying to think through how to become a majority. And he said two things that profoundly affected us and that were clearly part of how we were able to put the whole majority together.
First, he said that the house Republicans are boring, as this was in the early ’80s. And he said, and I can’t quite imitate his voice, but you can hear it in your head. He said, “They have always been boring. When I was there in 1946, they were boring. And if you intend to create a majority, you have got to learn to be interesting.” And he said, “I recommend that you get a group together that decide to work on being interesting and that meet regularly.” And in many ways, the Conservative Opportunity Society came out of that very experience. The other thing which he had said to Guy Vander Jagt, who at that time was a congressman from Michigan and chairman of the Congressional Campaign Committee, and he repeated to me was, “As long as you are hidden away in the political news, you cannot reach enough people to create a majority. And, therefore, you have to find a way to become dynamic enough and exciting enough that you break through in the news media.”
And I thought about that advice the week before the 1994 election, when in fact, we had the cover of both “Time” and “Newsweek.” And to show you how little things changed, the title of both covers was “Angry White Men,” because that’s the only way the media could deal with it. I later continued his advice of getting in the news media because about a month later, “Time” had me as “Scrooge holding Tiny Tim’s broken crutch.” It wasn’t enough that I stole the crutch. It was a broken crutch, and it was entitled, “How mean will Gingrich’s America be to the poor?” And the following week, Newsweek had me as a Dr. Seuss figure, entitled, “The Grinch That Stole Christmas.” Now, one of the things I think I’d learned from the many years of studying Nixon was that, in fact, the average American could see through the news media.
And so, what people got out of those two covers was, oh, Gingrich wants to reform welfare, which was like a 90% issue. So, actually, ironically, neither “Time” nor “Newsweek” hurt us, they actually helped us by communicating that. I also have to say, for a long time, I was amazed. He came down to speak to the House Republicans at one point, and he had this knack of taking you around the world, and it was astonishing. And I saw him do it two or three times, and I finally realized, all it meant was that he was really good at geography, because once you had the map in your head, you could start in Japan and go through Korea to China, you know, and the map would lead you through the whole conversation. But to the average listener, it seemed so amazing that he knew all these things.
Well, he did know all these things, but he was able to organize them without any notes because he was simply relying on the map. And that gave him the outline of what he was talking about. When I was growing up, and I first got involved actually, in the late ’50s. My first really big campaign activity was as a volunteer for the Nixon-Lodge Campaign in 1960, in Columbus, Georgia, at a time when there were no Republicans outside the mountains. The mountains were Republican because of the Civil War. So, Nixon in that period, for a young Republican, was the dominant figure. He was hard-working, he was intelligent. He had thought enormously…again, while we’re gonna talk about grand strategy internationally, he had thought very long and hard about the necessary politics of becoming a majority and working a way out from under the Rooseveltian majority.
And so, I read his speeches, I read books about him, I watched him, and I would say in terms of the confusion about this week’s election, that the number one advice I have for all of you is to remember Nixon’s own career. 1952, he almost gets kicked off the ticket and saves himself with a brilliant nationwide televised speech, later known as the “Checkers Speech,” because the high point emotionally, was talking about his dog, Checkers. He then ends up in a very difficult, challenging situation with Nelson Rockefeller in 1959 and 1960, gets to be the nominee. He then, in what’s one of the longest nights of my political career, loses the presidency by an extraordinarily narrow margin. And I personally think that both Illinois and Texas were stolen. Then he comes back to run for governor.
And the people of California figure out that, in fact, he’s a national figure. You know, he’s not focused on California, he’s focused on international relations and on the things you do at a national level. So, he loses to Pat Brown, and has the famous press conference, in which he says, “You’re not gonna have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” He then leaves, goes to New York. Everybody sort of assumes he’s out of politics, but he is not out of politics because of his just unbelievable work ethic. He’s out there campaigning. He’s the one senior Republican who stays with Goldwater and supports Goldwater, which leads the conservative wing of the party to be grateful to him. He comes back and campaigns tirelessly in 1966. And David Broder wrote a book on the ’66 campaign and just points out how many hours a day Nixon put in to crisscrossing the country, helping candidates, getting on the telephone.
Then he wins the nomination in ’68, and in a very narrow race beats Hubert Humphrey. And four years later, wins one of the largest majorities in American history, carries all but one state, and then the tragedy of Watergate occurs. Well, if you think about that, I’m just suggesting to you, this process goes on. This is not a Polaroid camera, this is a motion picture. And things will continue to evolve and continue to change. And Richard Nixon did a great deal to make this a much better world. Now, I think if you’re gonna talk about grand strategy, you’re gonna talk about foreign policy. And I was delighted that the video you showed included Henry Kissinger. Cliff and I both are very fond of Henry and spent a good bit of time with him. And he just wrote a great new book called “Leadership,” which I recommend to all of you.
And the chapter on Nixon is remarkable. Partially, I mean, one of…again, if you’re Henry Kissinger, and you’re 99 years old, and you’ve done all the things he’s done, you can write a book on leadership and each chapter’s about somebody you know personally. So, when he describes de Gaulle, he was in the room. When he describes Adenauer, he was in the room. But his chapter on Nixon, who of course he knew intimately and worked with intimately, I think was very relevant to this conversation, and to the whole notion of a Grand Strategy Summit. And I tried to put together some key ideas that sort of explain how Nixon approached these things. And I think it’s important to remember that probably more than any president, and maybe since Lincoln, Nixon was essentially an intellectual. His political activities, his political skills were a function of learned habits.
But in his heart, he was a thinker. And, in fact, he was somebody who liked to be able to have quiet time to really ponder, and he wanted to do big things that would genuinely make the world better. And he wanted to have big strategies. And I think one of the keys to remember is, you know, when you have the current cycle of leadership for whom long-distance planning is Thursday, it’s impossible in a very short period of time to develop and implement a grand strategy. Grand strategies require a bold vision, and then a lot of specific incremental steps. And I think it happens very rarely. It involves people who are remarkable. And Nixon was one of those people, and he had thought about it a long time. He’d thought about it, I think before World War II when he was becoming a lawyer and studying history.
He thought about it while he was serving in the military during the war. He thought about it as a junior congressman. And if you go back and you look at his work, he was very methodically committed to a sophisticated anti-communism which required us to develop NATO, for example, required us to have a Marshall Plan. Well, you know, these were not the automatic right-wing things to do. And so Nixon is constantly bridging the views of people back home with what he thinks is the historic necessity. And I would argue that one of the things Nixon did that is really underreported and misunderstood is he understood the power in the end comes from the American people. And so he spent a lot of his time communicating and building a solid majority, both within the Republican Party and then ultimately in 1972, in the country at large.
And the result was that he was able to sustain a policy, and frankly, had Watergate not occurred, we would have, in essence, won the war in Vietnam. We would not have had the domino effect he described, and we would’ve been a much safer and a much healthier world. But when you think about big things, this is somebody who was capable of thinking on the scale of, can I bring China into the game to balance off Russia? Now, at the time, that was just a remarkable decision and one which was potentially very controversial. And one of the things that Nixon understood, which makes him very much like Charles de Gaulle, is, if you’re gonna be a great strategic leader, a lot of your biggest decisions are gonna be secret. So, the whole process of negotiating with China was essentially secret. And Kissinger tells this great story, which illustrates one of the key realities of American government that, I mean, Nixon understood that you could make a decision in the White House, but if you didn’t drive the decision into the bureaucracy, it couldn’t be implemented.
And so, they wanted to start the conversation with China, and the place we had talked with the Chinese over the years had been Warsaw. And so, Kissinger sent a message to the American ambassador to Poland to go to a cocktail party and have an indirect conversation with the Chinese ambassador. And the American ambassador refused to do it, and Kissinger went back at him a second time, and this is in the book, and it’s truly fascinating. He went back to him a second time, and said, “Look, we really want you to do this.” Kissinger at the time was still National Security Advisor. And the guy’s answer was, I’m the ambassador for the president. I’m not the ambassador for the National Security Advisor. At which point, Kissinger told Nixon. And the following week, the ambassador to Poland flew home and walked into the Oval Office.
And Nixon explained to him, in apparently very vivid terms that he, the President, expected the following things to happen, and just wanted to know if they were gonna happen with this ambassador or with the next Ambassador. At which point the guy said, “Oh, okay, I’ll do it.” So, they go through a process…to show you an example of how secretive this was. They very carefully are reaching out to the Chinese, and saying, you know, we would really like to sit down and talk. Now, the Chinese had become very unhappy with the Soviets. It’s important to remember that when Khrushchev made his famous speech attacking Stalin, from the standpoint of the Chinese Communist Party, this was heresy. This was like Luther taking on the Catholic Church. The Chinese Communist Party, even to this day, loves Stalin and loves Lenin.
And that’s the nature of the Chinese Communist Party, which was founded by a group of people in Paris. And Deng Xiaoping actually went to London University for a year in the early 1920s, learning exactly how to run a Londonist party. So, they were horrified at this kind of heresy that’s coming out of Moscow. Furthermore, they didn’t trust the Soviets and thought that there was very likely to be a significant skirmish on the Chinese-Soviet border. So, they’re interested, but everything’s very secret. So, Kissinger goes to…and this is all being planned by Nixon and Kissinger who sit down every day and talk through, what are we gonna do next? And if you think of Nixon as a chess player, thinking through, how do I get what I want done? You have a much better understanding of how remarkable he was, and how unlike most American politicians he was.
And so, they think through, Kissinger goes to visit in Pakistan, and suddenly has a very severe illness and can’t be seen in public for several days, which of the several days he flies into China from Pakistan, meets with the Chinese leadership, and they agree that Nixon will come to China. Now, it’s hard for us at this stage to realize what an enormous revolution this was, but notice what Nixon is doing. He is simultaneously increasing the military pressure on the North Vietnamese, reaching out to the Chinese, and telling the Russians he’d like to come to Moscow, which by the way, is also pretty good politics. So, Nixon is gonna have a decisive breakthrough in Vietnam. He’s gonna have the Chinese Communist greeting him and get lots of good TV, and news media coverage. And then he is gonna go to Moscow. And they get to a crisis point where the Soviets are very unhappy with what Nixon’s doing.
And basically, and this is again typical of Nixon and Kissinger, they basically say, “Look, if you don’t want us to come, we don’t have to come. You know, we don’t see ourselves as big winners visiting Moscow.” At which point Brezhnev probably says, “Oh, no, no, come on.” Because they don’t want Nixon to go only to China. So, he’s creating a balance of power, in effect, bringing China into the game as sort of an American ally to balance off the Soviets. Now, this is grand strategy. This is thinking ahead.
At the same time, there are key moments where Nixon has enormous courage and where he does things that people might have thought were a sign of unpredictability, but in fact, they were done to drive home certain messages. So, for example, he deliberately went into Cambodia in what was called the Parrot’s Beak to destroy the logistics system that the North Vietnamese had built in Cambodia, because he wanted to send the signal that he was prepared to be ruthless, and he was prepared to change the rules of the game if that’s what it took.
And when the North Vietnamese broke their word, Nixon launched the most severe bombing campaign of the entire Vietnam War. And within a matter of days, the North Vietnamese were saying, “Okay, we want to talk. We get it.” Because Nixon was prepared to do whatever it took to get their attention. When the Soviets are backing Syria and Egypt against Israel, and the Israelis literally are running out of ammunition and potentially running out of aircraft, Nixon first of all, opens up the lines against the wishes of the Pentagon, sends American equipment in considerable quantity, and flies them in. And at the same time, when they get to a real crisis with Kissinger and Nixon working together, they go to DEFCON 3, which is one step short of being prepared to go to war, to send a signal to the Soviets that the United States is gonna stand up to them, and that they cannot send Soviet forces into the Middle East.
If you look at the Middle East under Johnson and the Middle East by the end of Nixon’s time, it is amazing how much it has changed. The Soviets have been kicked out. You now have the Egyptians begin to move towards recognizing Israel. You have a dramatically safer and more secure Israel, and you have American relationships based on strength. One of the things I think the American foreign policy establishment never quite understands is that in places like the Middle East, strength matters. If they think you’re serious and they think you’re real and they think you’re reliable, you can get all sorts of things done. If they think you’re weak and they think you’re confused, or they think you’re unreliable, you can’t get anything done. And it’s not about personality, it’s about a perception of your willingness in the real world to do the things that really matter.
So, I think there’s a lot to be learned from Nixon. The challenge is finding leaders who are capable of this kind of systematic long-term planning, and who are capable of thinking at this level. You know, one of the reasons when I read Kissinger’s new book on leadership, one of the things that really leaped out at me was, you know, you get very few people of this caliber. I mean, Lee Kuan Yew is extraordinary, and you saw the picture of Nixon with a much younger Lee Kuan Yew. Kissinger once had me out to his farm when Lee Kuan Yew was visiting. And I said to him, “Why were you able to be so successful in creating modern Singapore?” And he said, “Well, you know, I was in Britain as a graduate student during Clement Attlee and the Socialist Party. And every time I got to a major decision in Singapore, I would ask myself, ‘What would the Labor Party have done?’ I would then do exactly the opposite. And it worked every single time.”
But somebody like Lee Kuan Yew is extraordinary. You look around the Third World, and the number of people who bring you modernization with freedom is very, very few. You look at de Gaulle, who is extraordinary. These are people…you know, the difference between the France of Macron and the France of de Gaulle is astonishing. And one would have to ask whether or not a de Gaulle could function in modern France because he was such a nationalist. He was so willing to be responsible to take deep positions, to be unpopular if necessary, and he was capable of thinking strategically. And I think this is a sort of thing that we have a deep lack of, I think at two levels in this country right now. We have an inability among people who do thinking to actually think seriously and to actually deal with the real world as it exists.
We have a huge foreign policy establishment that insists in living in a fantasy world. And, therefore, they do things that don’t work. I tell people one of the greatest problems with the modern foreign policy establishment is that they saw the Lion King, and they thought it was a documentary. And so, you know, they think lions and zebras dance and sing together, and in a Nixonian tradition, we keep trying to say to them, “No, you know, lions actually eat zebras.” And their answer is, “Go talk to the current Secretary of State.” I mean, their answer would be, “No, no, didn’t you see the movie?” And so, they consistently can’t…this is why you end up with things like Afghanistan because they’re just lying to themselves, but they didn’t know they were lying to themselves. They took all the data, and they ran it through this thing that said, the world’s really safe. The Taliban are really good guys. You know, we can really be partners.
One of the keys to Nixon, I think both domestically and in national security, was a really intense willingness to focus on the facts. Remember, he’s taking a Republican Party, which had been historically in a deep minority status with a singular exception of Eisenhower, who is a national hero. The party’s natural position is being in the minority and had been since 1932. And Nixon is calmly and methodically thinking through strategies that grow a much bigger party. And Pat Buchanan writes about this in several books on, I think one of them is called “Nixon’s Wars.” And the whole process of how do you put together the 1972 coalition? How do you suddenly grow a party, which I believe in the absence of Watergate, Nixon would’ve been extraordinarily successful, and would, in fact, have created a majority party in the ’70s, and the country would’ve been dramatically better off.
It’s truly one of the great tragedies, and I think one which the Left willfully created, because from their perspective, Nixon was such an enormous danger and such an enormous threat to what had been…what had seemed like a permanent majority. The other part of that I think is, it’s very hard for the current generation when you look back at Nixon’s long career to understand how bitterly the establishment hated him because he proved that Alger Hiss was a communist, and it just literally tore apart the fabric of the establishment, because Alger Hiss was their guy. And even if he was a communist, he was an elegant communist, and he came from the right school and the right family, and it was just wrong to expose him. Now, we know now because after the fall of the Soviet Union, we got access for a brief period to their archives.
And it turns out that at Yalta, Alger Hiss actually goes to Stalin’s railroad car at 3:00 in the morning, and is given the highest civilian decoration that you can get. But the fact, and this is an important thing to remember about the Left-wing establishment, which has been true consistently, all the way back to the 1930s when “The New York Times” won a Pulitzer Prize for a reporter in Moscow who was methodically lying about the Ukrainian famine, the Left consistently tries to destroy people who don’t share its fantasies. Because if we get into a conversation in which it’s legitimate to describe the truth, the Left will lose. And so, what Nixon did more than any other politician of his period, I mean, you know, McCarthy was noisier and made a lot more charges. But McCarthy wasn’t a serious person. McCarthy was just a really good demagogue.
Nixon was a serious person who proved again and again as he did in the brief period when he was out of public life and serving as a lawyer in New York and winning Supreme Court cases. Nixon was really a good lawyer and really a good student, and he was really smart. That made him extraordinarily dangerous to the Left. And you can’t look at histories of things that try to deal with Nixon’s career without always trying to figure out where the person’s coming from who’s writing it. Because on the left, the scars are so deep. And yet we now know, as a matter of pure fact, that Nixon’s attack on Alger Hiss was exactly right. The man was in effect, a traitor. But even today, you’ll find people who would totally repudiate that, and say it’s utterly inappropriate. And I probably could get banned from…well, not since Musk, but before Musk. I could have been banned from Twitter for having written that or said it. So, the last thing I wanna say, because I deeply admire President Nixon, and I deeply admire his patriotism, his commitment to America, his courage, his work ethic, his willingness to learn.
I think it’s important, as we take all of these ideas and we think about the current elections, we think about the near future, we should take from Nixon, a dedication to understanding what America needs to be safe, to be prosperous, to be free. And a willingness no matter what the heat, no matter what the attacks, no matter what the viciousness, a willingness to stand up and tell the truth, in a belief that over time, the truth in fact does win out in a free society. And I think if you look at the total arc of Nixon’s career, all the way up through his post-presidency, he is one of the most consequential people in American history. Someone once wrote an article and said that it occurred to her that her entire life had been taken up by people who were for or against Richard Nixon. And it was literally true, I think up until he passed away, that for an entire generation, he’d been that central.
So, we have two challenges. One is a sort of intellectual technical challenge. How do you think strategically? How do you implement strategically? But the other is, how do you find these people? How do you find that rare person who in fact is capable of not just thinking strategically, but will methodically and steadily overcome all the problems, and with a sort of deliberate persistence, achieving the goals that they think are necessary for the country. And I think in that sense that both the Nixon Library and the Nixon Foundation are very important centers from which we can learn a lot more about what it will take for America to survive. And I can tell you for those close to me, how honored we are to have been allowed to come here and to be part of this very first Grand Strategy Summit, and how much we think that this is really important for the country’s future. Learning from the people who have done it, is one of the real keys to being successful, getting the next generation to do it. And in that sense, I think the foundation and the library play a very key role in America’s future. Thank you very, very much.
About the Grand Strategy Summit:
Fifty years after President Nixon’s historic diplomatic trips to China and the Soviet Union, great power competition has returned. To address America’s challenges on the world stage —only days after the hotly anticipated Midterm Election results— the Richard Nixon Foundation convened its inaugural Grand Strategy Summit: American Leadership in the 21st Century on November 10 and 11, 2022 at The Ritz Carlton, Washington D.C.
The Grand Strategy Summit is dedicated to establishing a consistent approach to a national (as opposed to a partisan) foreign policy, a long-term strategic direction for American statecraft —what President Nixon called “the long view.”
Considering the election results and the balance of power in Washington, summit participants discussed the pursuit of policies in America’s national interest, including how to manage the relationship with China as a major power in the 21st century, weigh the impact of ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, and project Western influence in the Middle East.