'Crossfire': Newt Gingrich on new CNN gig, Syria and Barack Obama

newt-gingrich-crossfire-syria-gi.jpgAs part of its retooling plan, CNN has decided to reach into its past and revive "Crossfire," its right/left weekday debate program that originally ran from 1982 to 2005.

The new version, premiering Monday, Sept. 9 (moved up a week from the originally announced date of Sept. 16), features four co-hosts appearing in rotating pairings, along with other guests.

They are, for the liberal side, Van Jones, an environmental and civil-rights activists and attorney, and Stephanie Cutter, a deputy manager of President Obama's re-election campaign.

Representing the conservative viewpoint are columnist and commentator S.E. Cupp (seen most recently on MSNBC's roundtable show "The Cycle"), and former Speaker of the House (during the Clinton administration), author and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

It was announced today that Gingrich and Cutter will be the hosts for the first episode; with Jones and Cupp the following night.

Speaking on on Tuesday (Sept. 3), Gingrich tells Zap2it, "Tonight is my first practice show. They've been practicing for about two weeks. I deliberately took vacation. I thought it was the last chance I'd have in a while."

But Gingrich -- a frequent guest on news cablenets and network Sunday-morning political shows -- still has his eye on the news, especially the debate surrounding possible U.S. military intervention in Syria following reports that government forces employed chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war.

"It's so tied into tactics," he says, giving a preview of upcoming "Crossfire" attractions, "that you don't have a real discussion of what the national strategy is. There's a possibility that this is going to unfold differently than people expect, particularly because the American people, a fairly significant majority, are very skeptical after 12 years of fighting."

Asked if the chemical attack lends any credence to the theory that Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons were smuggled into Syria before the 2003 U.S. invasion, Gingrich says, "I don't know, to be honest. I suspect that's true, but I also believe the Syrians have a very large chemical warfare system. They're probably the largest possessor of chemical weapons in the world.

"I was in Israel, in fact, on a trip with [now Secretary of State] John Kerry, back about 1999. At the time, I met with a senior member of the Israeli Defense Force. I said, 'What are you worried about the most?' He said, 'Syrian chemical weapons, because they cause so much damage that they make it very difficult to a country that relies on military reserves to mobilize. People are torn emotionally between protecting their families and going back into the field to protect their countries.'

"So, that was 14 years ago."

President Barack Obama is currently face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin (a longtime supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) at the G20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Their initial handshake encounter produced a moment in which Obama looked at Putin in a way described by some as a "death stare."

"It'll be interesting," says Gingrich, "to watch the president dealing in Russia this next few days, for that very reason. He's going to discover that Putin's a very hard-nosed KGB agent who is now the head of a country."

As a convert to Roman Catholicism -- his wife Callista sings on the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. -- Gingrich is also keeping an eye on Pope Francis, who's made several calls for peace in Syria this week (including writing a letter to Putin) and has declared a day of prayer and fasting at the Vatican for Saturday, Sept. 7.

The vigil, which starts at 1 p.m. ET, will be covered live in its entirety on Catholic satellite and radio network EWTN; CNN and FNC are also offering some live coverage.

"It's just part of the agony of modern life," says Gingrich, "if you're truly, deeply Christian, how do you deal in a world in which there's so much pain and so much violence, in which there are so many threats to everything you believe in?

"I hope the pope succeeds. I have a hunch that, in fact, war will continue, and that's one of the great challenges ... It's the challenge of original sin."

Photo/Video credit: CNN
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