Republican and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has made it clear he does not like the proposed community center, which would include an Islamic prayer space, planned for construction two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. The so-called "ground zero mosque" has become a controversial issue in New York and drawn the ire of Sarah Palin, but is otherwise not exactly the biggest dilemma facing the nation. So why is Gingrich, who has made no secret of his 2012 presidential hopes, making this his top issue? Gingrich today gives a much-heralded speech before the American Enterprise Institute warning that President Obama's refusal to halt construction of the community center proves his "willful blindness to the threat of extremist Islam." What is Newt's game here?
- No Mosques Near Ground Zero Gingrich posted to his website, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over."
- Why Not? What Does This Mean in Practice? Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias tries to puzzle out the Gingrich policy. "In the United States we have a strong belief in a brand of religious pluralism that's served both the country and religion well. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its lack of freedom of religion, but we don't improve anything by mimicking Saudi Arabia's flaws. One gets the sense that Gingrich's reasoning is so weak here because he actually has no idea why it would make sense to prevent mosque-construction in Lower Manhattan. He just knows that this has become a far-right cause celebre and he likes to ride the far-right wave." He adds, "I've been wondering how big the Mosque Exclusion Zone is supposed to be. All of Manhattan? The whole of New York City?"
- What About Freedom of Religion? Conservative pundit Rob Port writes in the Washington Examiner that he "empathize[s], to a degree, with those upset with the building of this mosque. Those behind the building of the mosque are being needlessly provocative, and therefore doing more harm to the long-term interests of Muslims in America than good. But those protesting the mosque, up to and including Republican/conservative icons like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, are forgetting what it is that makes America great. It's our freedoms, which include free speech, free assembly, free religion and a host of other liberties that make us so different from the rest of the world."
- We're at War with 'Irreconcilable Wing of Islam' Tim Cameron of Gingrich's "American Solutions" group explains the official position, "The fact is that almost nine years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States has yet to confront fully the threat posed by the extremist and irreconcilable wing of Islam. ... now is the time to awaken from self-deception about the nature of our enemies and rebuild a bipartisan commitment, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to defend America. ... we need a debate about this larger war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam-which mortally threatens America's way of life, freedom, and rule of law-and how it relates to the nuclear threat from Iran and the various other risks posed to America's very existence."
- 'Muslim-Bashing' Think Progress's Matt Duss writes, "Gingrich has an item in Human Events indicating that the speech will also come with a huge helping of crude, irresponsible Muslim-bashing. Newt's basic argument is that Americans are so good and religiously tolerant that we just fail to see the imminent threat that 'creeping sharia' -- i.e. observant Muslims -- represents to the American way of life."
- Gingrich the New Cheney? NBC News' First Read calls the speech "Newt pinch-hitting for Cheney" and "maybe another distraction for the White House today."
- Reveals GOP Divided on National Security The Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis writes in Politico, "when Gingrich takes the podium Thursday in what is expected to be an attack on the Obama administration's national security policy, he will be addressing a Republican Party that faces considerable challenges in reconciling its own competing visions on foreign policy." He says Gingrich reveals that today's GOP is "internally divided and searching for a coherent message on national security."
- Gingrich Wants to Be 'Elder Statesman' Salon's John Bohrer predicts, "What Gingrich is going for is something closer to running for ex-president. It's a campaign to be treated like that of the elder statesman he sees every time he looks into the mirror, to retain the dignitary-behind-the-closed-door lifestyle. Whether for his personal or professional failings, Newt never secured the permanence in stature afforded to former heads of state and Washington giants, the lasting transition from middle-aged gray hair to senior citizen graybeard. And he wants it. Desperately. So for now, an air must be cultivated."