Politics & Policy

Speaking Truth to Power

Newt Gingrich on the State Department.

The speech former House Speaker Newt Gingrich delivered Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute may be one of the most important foreign-policy addresses by a former national leader since Winston Churchill warned in March 1946 that “an iron curtain has descended across the [European] Continent.”

In his time, Churchill was concerned about the failure of the West to comprehend, let alone to contend effectively with, Stalin’s Communist ambitions to dominate the globe. Today, Gingrich warns that “the collapse of the State Department as an effective instrument” of American power threatens to put at risk vital U.S. interests in a world similarly up for grabs.

Like Churchill, Gingrich is not only an accomplished public-policy practitioner. He is also a serious student of history. That being the case, the former Speaker appreciates — as did the former British prime minister — the challenges of understanding the import of historical trends as they are happening.

Yet, in his withering critique of Colin Powell’s State Department, Gingrich has correctly identified a flaw every bit as ominous for the present era as was an earlier generation’s sanguine postwar view that “Uncle Joe” was still an ally and partner for peace: the hostility the diplomats of Foggy Bottom feel for President Bush’s international agenda and, not surprisingly, their chronic failure to advance it effectively on the world stage.

Specifically, Gingrich described the hash-up State made of its pre-Iraq war assignment — a period he characterized as “six months of diplomatic failure.” He proceeded scathingly to describe State’s undercutting President Bush at the United Nations; its inability to promote America’s position internationally or even to counter France’s campaign aimed at fomenting opposition to it; and the State Department’s failure to secure military transit rights through Turkey.

More importantly, Speaker Gingrich fears that — left to their own devices — Powell’s diplomats will prove no more willing, or able, to consolidate the victory wrought by the Defense Department’s “month of military success.” He warns that “the State Department is [now] back at work pursuing policies that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard won victory,” citing for example:

1) The untimely and unwarranted resumption of high-level diplomatic contacts with Syria by Secretary Powell: Gingrich calls the secretary’s upcoming trip to Damascus “ludicrous” insofar as it risks squandering the opportunity created by the U.S. military “to apply genuine economic, diplomatic, and political pressure on Syria.”

2) The institutionalizing of a stacked deck that will certainly not advance and will probably foreclose President Bush’s plans for a genuine, just, and durable Middle East peace: “The State Department invention of a quartet for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations defies everything the United States has learned about France, Russia, and the United Nations. After the bitter lessons of the last five months, it is unimaginable that the United States would voluntarily accept a system in which the U.N., the European Union, and Russia could routinely outvote President Bush’s positions by three to one (or four to one if the State Department voted its cultural beliefs against the President’s policies).”

3) The appointment of State Department “experts” to help rebuild Iraq who “represent the worst instincts of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs: They were promoted in a culture of propping up dictators, coddling the corrupt and ignoring the secret police. They have a constituency of Middle East governments deeply opposed to democracy in Iraq. Their instinct is to create a weak Iraqi government that will not threaten its Syrian, Iranian, Saudi, and other dictatorial neighbors.”

Powell’s defenders respond to such charges by contending that the secretary of state is faithfully executing the president’s directions and that Gingrich’s critique is really an attack on President Bush. A helpful corrective to this transparent scam appears in Ramesh Ponnuru article in the current issue of National Review, entitled “The Teflon Secretary.”

In fact, the problem Newt Gingrich is identifying is not simply one of Secretary Powell’s own myriad, well-documented disagreements with the substance and promulgation of Bush security policies. It is one inherent in the nature and composition of most of the permanent foreign-service bureaucracy that staffs the Department of State. When Powell announced on his first day in Foggy Bottom that this bureaucracy was to be his “army” — a message powerfully affirmed by his appointment of foreign-service officers to nearly all of the Department’s presidentially appointed positions — he signaled that he would be, as Ponnuru puts it, the State Department’s ambassador to the Bush administration, not the president’s enforcer at State.

Which brings us to Mr. Gingrich’s bottom line: the need for systematic and comprehensive reform at the Department of State — the sort of “transformation” President Bush has correctly assigned Donald Rumsfeld to carry out at the Pentagon.

Just as Winston Churchill articulated at Fulton, Missouri the imperative of reinvigorating after World War II the English-speaking people to deal with the rising danger of international Communism in the latter part of the 20th century, Newt Gingrich has underscored the necessity of effective diplomatic, international information, and aid instruments to securing America’s vital interests in the 21st century. Gingrich’s call for rigorous congressional hearings — ideally of the sort Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson convened several decades ago that helped overhaul U.S. national-security-making machinery — should be embraced by President Bush and by all those who want him to succeed in the conduct of foreign and defense policy.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributing editor to NRO.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.Frank Gaffney began his public-service career in the 1970s, working as an aide in the office of Democratic senator Henry M. Jackson, under Richard Perle. From August 1983 until November ...


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