Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Newt the toad is at it again. 

Via TomPaine.com, Back by popular demand, the dark lord of American politics, the salamander-like, the slimey, the slinky, the frequently mundane, the loquacious Newt Gingrich, to wage war on the most venerable of our institutions, the State Department (last stop between here and armageddon):

"No sooner were the guns silenced in Baghdad than they opened up back in Washington with a blistering volley by Newt Gingrich on the State Department.

The former House Speaker's sweeping attack on Colin Powell's turf -- especially the department's Near East Bureau -- marks the boldest and most demagogic move yet by the neoconservatives who surround Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. This maneuver was designed to gain control of policy and marginalize -- if not purge -- their perceived enemies in the government bureaucracy.

Speaking at Neocon Central, otherwise known as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Gingrich charged that the State Department was systematically subverting President George W. Bush’s policy in the Middle East and should be radically transformed. He singled out the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs -- long seen by the neocons as a bastion of anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic, Arab lovers -- by suggesting that its appointees to the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq loomed as major threats to Bush’s regional agenda.

"The people the State Department has sent to Iraq so far represent the worst instincts of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs," he declared. "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. This is the exact opposite of the president’s stated goals."

The harshness of the attack reminded some of the "Who Lost China" debate that helped launch Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy 50 years ago. "Frankly, my mind goes back to the 1950s and what was considered a vicious and unjustified and wrongheaded purge of the China hands in the State Department," said Richard Murphy, a career diplomat who served as head of the Near Eastern bureau under Reagan and has since been based at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "I think it is designed to scare people into thinking that anyone who challenges the right wing is going to suffer for it." Richard Armitage, Powell's Deputy, had a different take on Gingrich's speech: "It's clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of therapy," he told a USA Today reporter.

"I’ve never seen a wholesale attack on America’s entire diplomatic establishment like this," said Charles Kupchan, a National Security Council officer under Clinton who teaches at Georgetown University. "This is fundamentally about ideology and the efforts of the neocons to institutionalize their victories over the moderate and liberal internationalists."

Indeed, Gingrich, stressing that Powell himself was not a target, framed his attack in ideological terms, claiming that the State Department’s worldview -- one of "process, politeness and accommodation" was not compatible with the worldview of the Pentagon and presumably Bush himself, one of "facts, values and outcomes."

He went on to blame the State Department for failing to reduce popular opposition to Washington policies in Turkey, South Korea, Germany, France and other ally countries. In contrast, he applauded the performance of the Pentagon in lining up U.S. Gulf allies -- as if they were not part of the Near East Bureau’s "dictatorial" constituency -- behind the Iraq invasion. "The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success," he said. "The first days after military victory indicate the pattern of diplomatic failure is beginning once again and threatens to undo the effects of military victory...."

He called Powell’s planned trip to Damascus "ludicrous" and the State Department’s commitment to the "Quartet" -- the European Union, United Nations and Russia, as well as the United States -- to implement its "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace a "clear disaster" and "a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the president’s policies."

While Gingrich has a reputation for shooting from the hip, the fact that a written summary of his remarks were provided in advance to The Washington Post, which obligingly featured them on its front page, makes it clear that the attack was premeditated and probably cleared by top Pentagon officials whose war with the State Department has moved into high gear.

Gingrich is a member of Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board and is close not only to the Pentagon chief himself, but to Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the powerful former Board chairman, Richard Perle who, like Gingrich, perches at AEI as a senior fellow.

Adding to the notion that Gingrich was not only speaking for himself, Frank Gaffney, the director of the ultra-hawkish Center for Security Policy, told CNBC Tuesday night, "There is a strong degree of concern [in the Pentagon] that the president’s direction is not faithfully implemented by the State Department. I’m delighted that Gingrich is bringing this into the public domain."

The neocons -- particularly those like Perle and Undersecretary for Defense Policy Douglas Feith who have strong ties to the right wing of the Likud Party in Israel -- appear to see victory in Iraq as an opportunity to push the State Department and its Near East bureau out of the game once and for all.

For them, the Quartet and any diplomatic re-engagement with Syria are seen as clear dangers to transforming the region according to their wishes. The road to an acceptable Israeli-Palestinian settlement runs, they think, not only through the domination of Baghdad, but through Damascus, Tehran and even Riyadh, as well.

Now that the CIA has been sufficiently cowed to go along with weak evidence about weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda connections in Iraq, only the State Department and its regional experts lie in the way.

As with much of neocon ideology, Gingrich's assertions of State Department responsibility for diplomatic failures were questionable at best. He blamed diplomatic gaffes with Turkey on the State Department, failing to recognize that Wolfowitz played a highly visible and central role in trying to line up Ankara’s support for the war.

Nor did Gingrich take into account the impact on foreign opinion of various statements by his comrades-in-arms, including Bush’s early reference to the anti-terrorism war as a "crusade," not to mention Rumsfeld’s allusions to "so-called occupied territories," "old Europe" or Wolfowitz’s tactless suggestion that "we need an Islamic reformation."

"Gingrich and company should look at themselves in the mirror," Kupchan said. "If you ask who is it who has set most of the world against the United States, it’s not the [State] Department; it’s the Pentagon and the neo-cons."