Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warns that the economy is key to President Bush's reelection and urges the GOP to focus on health-care reform. "The economy not growing is the biggest threat," he told WORLD in an e-mail interview. "Republicans becoming complacent is the second biggest threat." On foreign policy, Mr. Gingrich continued his war of words with Secretary of State Colin Powell for his meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The secretary, he said, gave the dictator a "photo opportunity" and allowed himself to be "lied to" about the regime's curbing terrorism. Prior to the trip, the former Speaker called "ludicrous" the scheduled meeting in Damascus "with a terrorist-supporting, secret police-wielding dictator." Secretary Powell shot back that to criticize the trip was to criticize the president: "Mr. Gingrich was taking a broad swipe and a shot at the policies of the president of the United States. He was allegedly doing it because he has some dissatisfaction with the way the State Department runs. But he missed the State Department and hit the president." Other excerpts from the Gingrich interview- On America's biggest postwar challenges: GINGRICH: First, to win the second campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq and grow societies with safety, health, prosperity, and freedom for the Afghan and Iraqi people. Second, the U.S. must help grow a Palestinian political movement and government willing to defeat the terrorists. As long as the Palestinians who want peace do not defeat the forces of terrorism, the Israelis will feel compelled to fight the terrorists and it will be impossible to achieve peace. The focus should not be on diplomacy. The focus should be on growing and strengthening the forces of peace in Palestinian society and driving out the terrorists (of whom Arafat is one). Third, the United States has a continuing challenge with dictatorships seeking weapons of mass destruction and with terrorist organizations. On President Bush's reelection prospects: GINGRICH: If the economy recovers, President Bush will win handily. If the economy stays in the doldrums, the president will face a tough campaign but will probably still win. In the age of 24-hour television news, things can change very fast. The Democrats will have a lively primary campaign. On the most important political issue: GINGRICH: Republicans should focus on growing the economy and creating a better system of health care. Health care is the most important challenge Americans face in their daily lives; it is the largest segment of the economy. We need to have an individually centered system where you have knowledge about your own health, you own your own electronic medical record, you have an insurance plan that has a tax-free buildup of interest on a health reimbursement account that gives you more decision-making power about your own health. The system should focus on wellness and prevention so you don't become a patient unless it is absolutely unavoidable.
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