On Meet the Press, Gingrich cited nonoperational terror plots as evidence of “World War III”

On NBC's Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich declared that “we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War.” As evidence of “World War III,” Gingrich cited -- among other events -- two purported terror plots that involved alleged conspirators who intended to attack U.S. targets but had no apparent means to do so.

On the July 16 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Fox News political contributor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) cited the break-up of two aspirational -- but not operational -- alleged terror plots as evidence of “World War III.” To prove that “we are in the early stages of ... the Third World War,” Gingrich pointed to the recent arrests in Miami of seven men who allegedly planned to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago, and the arrests of three foreign nationals who allegedly conspired to attack commuter train tunnels in New York City, in conjunction with North Korea's recent missile launches, the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, an apparent terrorist attack in India, and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On June 23, federal agents arrested seven men in Miami for allegedly conspiring to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and some federal buildings in Miami. But, the alleged plot was far from operational. The group reportedly had little in the way of a plan of attack, beyond an apparent desire to establish an independent “Moorish” nation through violence. Indeed, in announcing the arrest, FBI deputy director John Pistole stated that the alleged Chicago bombing plot was “more aspirational than operational.” At the same press conference, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that the seven men arrested posed “no immediate threat.” Additionally, as The Miami Herald reported July 16, upon arresting the suspects, the FBI raided the group's hideout in the Liberty City area of Miami and “found no firearms, explosives, blueprints or terror plans -- only three machetes and a Koran, among other items.”

In April, reportedly with assistance from the FBI, Lebanese authorities arrested Assem Hammoud (also known as Amir Andalousli) as the alleged ringleader of a plot aimed at attacking New York City commuter train lines running under the Hudson River. According to reports, Hammoud and other unnamed conspirators were arrested after authorities monitored internet chat room conversations discussing the plot. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the suspects “apparently had not conducted reconnaissance or acquired weapons.” New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asserted that "[t]here is not one shred of evidence that the plan continued beyond the planning stage," although the article further stated that “federal officials said authorities were convinced that the suspects were preparing to act.”

Despite evidence that neither alleged plot posed a significant threat, Gingrich touted the two to argue that the world is engaged in “World War III.” When host Tim Russert asked Gingrich to confirm that "[t]his is World War III," Gingrich replied, “I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you've been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you'd have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.”

As Media Matters for America has previously noted, with the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East and a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, the right-wing media have declared a new “world war” but have not agreed upon which global conflict the United States now faces: World War III, IV, or V. Also, as noted by the weblog Think Progress, Gingrich has apparently decided that the use of World War III rhetoric is a political winner for Republicans. According to The Seattle Times, in a recent interview, Gingrich talked about the “need to recognize World War III as important for military strategy and political strategy.” The article reported that Gingrich was “very worried” about Republicans' chances in the fall elections and felt “the need to recognize that America is in World War III” is an element missing from President Bush's political strategy. Gingrich told the newspaper that “Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and 'connect all the dots' for Americans” and argued “that public opinion can change 'the minute you use the language' of World War III.” Perhaps for that reason, The Seattle Times reported that “Gingrich said in the coming days he plans to speak out publicly, and to the Administration, about the need to recognize that America is in World War III.”

From the July 16 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: And now, joining us in Washington, Democratic Senator Joe Biden, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Welcome, both.

Mr. Speaker, what are we witnessing in the Middle East?

GINGRICH: Well, let me, let me offer three observations.

First, this is not the fifth day of the war. This is the 58th year of the effort by those who want to destroy Israel. As [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, the head of Iran, says, he wants to defeat the Americans and eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. So we should not see this event in isolation. There is an Iran-Iraq-Syria -- I mean, an Iran-Syria -- was an Iraq before Saddam was replaced -- Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas alliance trying to destroy Israel.

Second, the Israelis withdrew from Gaza to create the circumstance of peace. The Israelis withdrew from south Lebanon to create the circumstance of peace. They now have a thousand missiles fired from Gaza, they've had hundreds of missiles fired from south Lebanon. You clearly have Iranian involvement -- there are at least 400 Iranian guards in south Lebanon. Apparently, it was an Iranian missile fired by Iranians which hit an Israeli warship yesterday. The United States should be saying to Syria and Iran, “South Lebanon is going to be cleared out. We are for Israel and the Lebanese government breaking the back of Hezbollah, getting rid of all 10 to 13,000 missiles, and we will decisively stop any effort by Syria and Iran to intervene.”

I mean, this is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it's also a question of what is really a world war. Look what you've been covering: North Korea firing missiles. We say there'll be consequences; there are none. The North Koreans fire seven missiles on our Fourth of July; bombs going off in Mumbai, India; a war in Afghanistan with sanctuaries in Pakistan. As I said a minute ago, the, the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah alliance. A war in Iraq funded largely from Saudi Arabia and supplied largely from Syria and Iran. The British home secretary saying that there are 20 terrorist groups with 1,200 terrorists in Britain. Seven people in Miami videotaped pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda, and 18 people in Canada being picked up with twice the explosives that were used in Oklahoma City, with an explicit threat to bomb the Canadian Parliament, and saying they'd like to behead the Canadian prime minister. And finally, in New York City, reports that in three different countries people were plotting to destroy the tunnels of New York.

I mean, we, we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War, and frankly, our bureaucracies aren't responding fast enough, we don't have the right attitude about this, and this is the 58th year of the war to destroy Israel. And frankly, the Israelis have every right to insist that every single missile leave south Lebanon and that the United States ought to be helping the Lebanese government have the strength to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force, not as a political force in the parliament, but as a military force in south Lebanon.

RUSSERT: This is World War III?

GINGRICH: I, I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you've been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you'd have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.