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and in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times, Mr. Gin­grich is ad­vo­cat­ing a more nu­anced role for the United States — even in deal­ing with such provoca­tive regimes such as North Korea.

“North Korea has to be han­dled with enor­mous pa­tience but with a clear un­der­stand­ing that they can’t sell their nu­clear weapons,” Mr. Gin­grich said. He said he fears cal­cu­lated nu­clear war­fare less than he wor­ries about fail­ing gov­ern­ments and economies go­ing hay­wire.

“In­sta­bil­ity rather than ag­gres­sion is the great threat,” he added in the week­end in­ter­view, which touched on top­ics such as Iran, the util­ity of Amer­i­cans based in un­friendly re­gions, his en­ergy plan and Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­sis­tance to it.

To the sur­prise of some fel­low hawks, Mr. Gin­grich, run­ning third be­hind Mitt Rom­ney and Rick San­to­rum in the pres­i­den­tial del­e­gate hunt, has said it’s time for the U.S. mil­i­tary to re­con­sider its mis­sion in Afghanistan de­spite the threat that al Qaeda cells could flour­ish there af­ter an Amer­i­can pull­out and de­spite his role as a lead­ing and vo­cif­er­ous op­po­nent of Is­lamic “ji­hadism.”

“We have to re­assess the en­tire re­gion,” Mr. Gin­grich said re­cently in widely noted com­ments on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.” “We need to un­der­stand that our be­ing in the mid­dle of coun­tries like Afghanistan is prob­a­bly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.”

The mis­sion given U.S. forces there, he added, may not be “doable.”

Con­ser­va­tives who have fol­lowed his decades­long record on for­eign pol­icy say they see Mr. Gin­grich mov­ing in a sur­pris­ing di­rec­tion.

“I’d say Newt’s for­eign pol­icy is closer to Ron Paul’s as it re­lates to mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion than to San­to­rum’s,” said former Vir­ginia GOP Chair­man Jeff Fred­er­ick. The lib­er­tar­ian law­maker from Texas, run­ning fourth in the GOP pres­i­den­tial con­test, has long op­posed U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sions abroad.

Mr. Fred­er­ick said it is not out of char­ac­ter for Mr. Gin­grich, who has ac­cused Mr. Obama of “slash­ing” the Pen­tagon bud­get, to work out com­pet­ing ideas in pub­lic as his views evolve.

“It is not un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of Newt Gin­grich to be hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with him­self and the pub­lic about is­sues,” Mr. Fred­er­ick said. “The fact that he is an in­tel­lec­tual and an idea fac­tory gives him, I think, more li­cense than other can­di­dates typ­i­cally do to have evolv­ing and/or de­vel­op­ing po­si­tions.”

Al­though 24 per­cent of Amer­i­cans want to stick to Mr. Obama’s timetable to quit Afghanistan by the end of 2014, half of re­spon­dents in a re­cent Gallup poll said they fa­vor a faster with­drawal, with Repub­li­cans about evenly di­vided be­tween an ex­pe­dited with­drawal and keep­ing the troops abroad un­til the U.S. achieves its goals.

Mr. Gin­grich said in the in­ter­view that bel­liger­ent moves by Py­ongyang ex­pose more short­com­ings in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s un­cer­tain ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

“The North Korean an­nounce­ment that they would use their mil­i­tary [in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile] to launch a satel­lite next month is a fur­ther il­lus­tra­tion of the gap be­tween re­al­ity and fan­tasy in the Obama poli­cies,” Mr. Gin­grich said.

The former speaker re­called the bizarre 2010 in­ci­dent when the North Kore­ans threat­ened to dis­rupt a sum­mit of Group of 20 lead­ers in South Korea through the use of bio­chem­i­cal-filled bal­loons.

“Obama an­nounced at that time that North Korea would ‘suf­fer con­se­quences,’ “Mr. Gin­grich said. “I know of no se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Here we are three years later, with a re­play of the same pat­tern.”

Mr. Gin­grich said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to de­velop a dra­matic break­through in nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment “is an odd con­trast with the grim re­al­i­ties of Iran, North Korea and Pak­istan.”

The Ge­or­gian, a long­time stu­dent of his­tory, com­pared Mr. Obama’s ap­proach to the postWorld War I Kel­logg-briand Pact and other ef­forts to avoid an­other arms race and out­law war. The words are mean­ing­less if the will to live up to a nonag­gres­sion pledge is ab­sent, Mr. Gin­grich said.

“Where it re­ally mat­ters, the forces of ag­gres­sion are de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons in Iran, and the world is drift­ing to­ward an Is­raeli pre-emp­tive strike,” he said.

Mr. Gin­grich said that in many ways, Pak­istan, a nom­i­nal ally, is more of a risk to U.S. in­ter­ests than the openly hos­tile North Korean regime.

“Pak­istan has a sub­stan­tial num­ber of nu­clear weapons, which it sees as off­set­ting the In­dian nu­clear arse­nal,” Mr. Gin­grich said. “Pak­istan has very large el­e­ments of rad­i­cal Is­lamists, and the nu­clear weapons could some­day be at risk.”

Mr. Gin­grich said a re­al­ist would fore­cast that 10 years from now there would be more coun­tries, not fewer, pos­sess­ing nu­clear weapons.

“Pro­lif­er­a­tion is more likely than nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment,” he said, adding that if he were in the Oval Of­fice, he would have mil­i­tary and civil­ian lead­ers de­velop “a much more real­is­tic na­tional se­cu­rity ap­proach to the dan­gers of nu­clear weapons in hos­tile hands.”


Newt Gin­grich, with wife Cal­lista, speaks at the air­port of Lake in the Hills, Ill., Thurs­day. The former House speaker sounds less hawk­ish on for­eign-pol­icy mat­ters. “In­sta­bil­ity rather than ag­gres­sion is the great threat,” he re­cently said of North Korea.

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