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The Elliott Abrams--Jeffrey Lord Dispute



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I’m genuinely puzzled.

Rush Limbaugh kicked off his show today by reading from Jeffrey Lord’s piece accusing Elliott Abrams of quoting Newt Gingrich out of context. Lord’s post at the American Spectator blog is a response to Abrams’ piece here at NRO. By all means go read both pieces for yourself. I just did.

Among other things, Lord argues that when Abrams quoted Gingrich as criticizing President Reagan’s policies towards the Soviet Union, Abrams was taking the quote out of context. From Lord’s blog post:

Abrams quotes Newt for saying in this speech that Reagan’s policies towards the Soviets are “inadequate and will ultimately fail.” This is shameful. Why? Here’s what Newt said — in full and in context:

“The fact is that George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Jeane Kirkpatrick are right in pointing out the enormous gap between President Reagan’s strong rhetoric, which is adequate, and his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail.”

In other words, Newt was picking up on a concern, prominent in the day and voiced by no less than Reagan’s then ex-UN Ambassador Kirkpatrick, not to mention prominent Reagan supporters Will and Kristol and the late-Mondale aide turned conservative Krauthammer, that Reagan’s anti-Communist policies could be stronger if better institutionalized and not tied as much to the Reagan persona. The entire speech focused on suggestions of how to do just that — to effectively institutionalize Reagan’s conservative beliefs in the government. Is Abrams seriously accusing Jeane Kirkpatrick and George Will of being anti-Reagan? Of spewing “insulting rhetoric” at a president everyone in Washington knew they staunchly supported? Really? Of course not. But in apparent service to the Romney campaign, in order to make Newt Gingrich appear to be doing just that, Abrams apparently quite deliberately cut out the original Gingrich reference to Will, Kirkpatrick, Krauthammer, and Kristol.

Personally, I think that the knock on Gingrich for criticizing Reagan is overblown, for reasons that Reagan biographer Steve Hayward ably explains over at Powerline. Lots of conservatives criticized Reagan for particular policies or remarks during the 1980s. But the Elliott Abrams piece never claimed that Gingrich was constantly, relentlessly anti-Reagan. Abrams merely argued that Gingrich lodged criticisms of Reagan’s decisions that were often abrasive and, well, wrong in retrospect. Yes, you can say something similar about George Will and other conservatives. That doesn’t mean that Abrams took Gingrich’s comments out of context or misrepresented them in some way. That is a serious charge against someone’s competence or honesty, and requires more evidence than Lord offered.

Gingrich did say during his 1986 speech that Reagan’s polices concerning the Soviet empire were “inadequate and will ultimately fail.” Those were Gingrich’s words, not George Will’s, although they may have represented a view shared by both Gingrich and Will. That does not constitute taking Gingrich’s words out of context.

Was Gingrich less favorable to President Reagan’s policies than Mitt Romney was at the time? Of course not. I also think the whole matter is extraneous to the current moment. There isn’t much daylight between Gingrich and Romney on today’s foreign-policy challenges, or on the Cold War in retrospect.



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