Jack Kemp deserves praise for his unprecedented leadership in promoting tax cuts, free markets, and the politics of inclusion. But he deserves criticism for his ad hominem attack on Newt Gingrich in his latest syndicated column (and in a statement last week, which Ramesh Ponnuru responded to here). The attack came after Gingrich dared to criticize the State Department and its failed U.N.-based diplomacy in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
First, Kemp insists that Gingrich’s real beef is with President Bush, since Bush is ultimately responsible for the nation’s foreign policy. But, as someone who has served as a Cabinet member, surely Kemp is aware that every administration experiences debates and struggles among advisers who hope to persuade the president to adopt their policy views.
Throughout last summer, there was just such a debate among President Bush’s defense and foreign-policy advisers over Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, urged the president to forgo U.N. involvement and form a separate coalition of nations to force Iraq to disarm. Secretary of State Colin Powell advised Bush to seek Security Council approval. Powell won the day. The result was an unsuccessful, tortured, and embarrassing process that was used by the president’s opponents in Congress and around the world to thwart his principal objective: removing Saddam Hussein. I know of no serious observer who sees this as a diplomatic success.
So, it’s certainly logical to question the judgment of the very people who urged the president toward such a course: the policy-makers at Foggy Bottom, and Powell himself. In all honesty, Gingrich pulled his punches at AEI, going out of his way to avoid focusing on Powell — no doubt out of respect for the man. He spoke of the intransigence of the State Department bureaucracy, which appears impervious to change and unaffected by national elections. Gingrich isn’t the first to make this point; he’s just the most recent.
Second, Kemp criticizes Gingrich for failing to come up with reforms to change the State Department. To be convincing, that charge should be leveled at Powell, the chief administrator at State. But Kemp doesn’t direct the question at Powell because he knows that the secretary is satisfied with the culture and operation of his department. Apparently Kemp is as well.
Third, as for Powell visiting Syria, Gingrich didn’t suggest that Powell was acting on his own, without the president’s blessing. But I am certain that the idea to visit Syria did not originate with the president. These high-level visits are the stock and trade of State. But, of course, this misses the point. Many have questioned the Syria visit on serious and substantive grounds.
Kemp closes his op-ed with the speculation that Gingrich’s “silence” days after his AEI speech shows that he knew he was wrong. That’s ridiculous. The more interesting question is: Why does Kemp react so convulsively to an honest appraisal of the state of affairs at State? Maybe he’s thin-skinned about his tepid support — or was it opposition? — to war with Iraq.
It’s too bad Kemp wasn’t as passionate in his debate with Al Gore in 1996 as he was in his attack on Gingrich.