Bringing the War Home: Neocons Attack the State Department

As U.S. forces consolidate the occupation in Iraq the neoconservatives are bringing the war home again, re-opening the front in Washington with an artillery barrage against the State Department.

The opening salvo was delivered on April 22 by the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives (1995-98) and member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, Newt Gingrich, at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Gingrich, who is close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, aimed the full fury of his rhetorical fire on a building located about two kilometers to the southwest, the State Department, which he accused of actively subverting President George W. Bush’s agenda in Iraq and beyond.

“The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success,” Gingrich charged, adding, “Now the State Department is back at work pursuing policies that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard-won victory.” While he insisted he was not faulting Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom he depicted as a prisoner of the Department and its Near East bureau, he called for a thoroughgoing transformation of the diplomatic service. “Without bold dramatic change at the State Department,” Gingrich warned, “the United States will soon find itself on the defensive everywhere except militarily. In the long run that is a very dangerous position for the world’s leading democracy.”

It was a stunning attack from someone so closely identified with Rumsfeld and the neoconservative hawks around him. Charles Kupchan, a foreign policy expert at Georgetown University, said Gingrich, as a member of the Policy Board, probably even cleared his remarks with top officials. “I’ve never seen a wholesale attack on America’s entire diplomatic establishment like this,” Kupchan said. “This is fundamentally about ideology and the efforts of the neoconservatives to institutionalize their victories over the moderate and liberal internationalists.” He went on to note that, “Calls for State Department reform are really a veiled way of trying to make permanent changes that would leave a certain ideological strain that could be called ‘neo-imperial’ in control not just of the Pentagon but of other parts of the government as well.”

It also illustrates the degree to which relations between the State Department and the Pentagon hawks have moved to open warfare as both sides jostle for control of policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East.

“Frankly, my mind goes back to the 1950s and what was considered a vicious and unjustified and wrong-headed purge of the China hands in the State Department,” said Richard Murphy, who served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs under Ronald Reagan and is currently a Middle East expert with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it is designed to scare people into thinking that anyone who challenges the right wing is going to suffer for it. He wants to get these people who in his mind pervert presidential policy out on the street,” he said.

The American Enterprise Institute as Soap Box

The fact that Gingrich’s remarks, which were leaked to the Washington Post in advance, were delivered at AEI, where he is a Senior Fellow, is also highly significant. It was there that Bush almost two months ago presented his most comprehensive proposal yet for democratizing Iraq and the Arab world, and negotiating peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

AEI is also home to the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, who was perhaps the most vocal champion of going to war with Syria, as well as several other neoconservative analysts who have been the most outspoken about using the “war on terror” and the occupation of Iraq to promote “regime change” in Iran and Syria–and even in U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In his remarks, Gingrich charged that the administration was split between two “worldviews”: the State Department worldview as one of “process, politeness, and accommodation,” and president’s worldview of “facts, values, and outcomes.” Gingrich said that the Pentagon appeared far more faithful to the latter. Despite the State Department’s failure to persuade key allies, such as Turkey, South Korea, France, and Germany to support Washington, the Pentagon brought along Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, according to Gingrich, thus making it far easier to go to war. “The military delivered diplomatically and then the military delivered militarily in a stunning, four-week campaign,” he declared.

But even now, he warned, those gains are jeopardized by the State Department in four critical areas.

First, he called Powell’s recently announced visit to Damascus next month to meet with Syrian President Bashir Assad, whom Gingrich called a “terrorist-supporting, secret police-wielding dictator,” “ludicrous.” “This is a time to demand changes in Damascus before a visit is even considered,” Gingrich said.

Second, Gingrich attacked the State Department’s “invention” of the so-called “Quartet” for Palestinian-Israeli peace talks as a “clear disaster for American diplomacy.” He argued that, “After the bitter lessons of the last five months, it is unimaginable that the United States would voluntarily accept a system in which the UN, 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 belief against the President’s policies),” a reference to the allegedly pro-Arab bias of the Near East Bureau.

Third, Gingrich assailed the diplomats sent to help oversee the occupation in Iraq as “representing the worst instincts” of the Near East Bureau. “They were promoted in a culture of propping up dictators, coddling the corrupt, and ignoring the secret police. Their instinct is to create a weak Iraqi government that will not threaten its Syrian, Iranian, Saudi, and other dictatorial neighbors,” he said.

Finally, he said the involvement of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the reconstruction process in Iraq was “a further sign that nothing has been learned.” He pointed to what he claims as USAID’s failures in Afghanistan, noting that “As of two weeks ago, not one mile of road had been paved in Afghanistan… There is no reason to believe AID will be any better in Iraq than the disaster it has been in Afghanistan,” Gingrich said, adding, “the State Department should be transformed, but AID should be abolished.”

The State Department itself issued a low-key response to the Gingrich attack, insisting that it was loyally and effectively carrying out Bush’s policy, including the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Murphy, however, dismissed as “nonsense” many of the factual assertions made by Gingrich about the diplomacy leading up to the war. “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 Department; it’s the Pentagon and the neocons.”