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Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Our old friend Newt Gingrich made a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, and Salon has printed the transcript. Let's gut this baby.

The State Department took the President's strong position and negotiated a resolution that shifted from verification to inspection. This was in part done because of internal State Department politics because verification would have put the policy in the hands of people who disagreed with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs' propensity for appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes.

Uh, isn't that the CIA? Newt here is playing to the AEI's prejudices, so I don't entirely know what he's talking about, but presumably it's some sort of neo-conservative bugaboo. Anyway, it's far too glib.

From President Bush's clear choice between two worlds, the State Department had descended into a murky game in which the players were deceptive and the rules were stacked against the United States.

Alternately, Bush's myopic, reductive worldview was destined to fail in a world that is, in fact, murky, and largely distrusts the U.S. But.

The State Department communications program failed during these five months to such a degree that 95 percent of the Turkish people opposed the American position. This fit in with a pattern of State Department communications failures as a result of which the South Korean people regarded the United States as more dangerous than North Korea and a vast majority of French and German citizens favored policies that opposed the United States.

And [descending slide whistle noise] here's where it starts to get wrong. This is absolutely untrue. The reason State was pressing for increased UN efforts was because public opinion was already well on its way to child-molester levels. Newt's argument would be, I guess, that since everyone was so impressed by the military success in Iraq, if we had just done it sooner the numbers would never have gotten that high. But in the case of Turkey, just as a for instance, we had a problem wholly unassociated with the UN where their democratic system rejected putting our troops on their soil, and we ended up having to wait for these troops to work their way south in order to start the invasion anyway. And surely a lot of the problems were due to Rumsfeld's groaningly ham-handed public pronouncements. These are all separate from the UN, and the decision to go back there obviously didn't cost America that much because we invaded after canceling a vote. We lost a few weeks, and the world hated us just as much either way. Some neo-conservatives are at least honest enough to admit that they don't care.

Now the State Department is back at work pursuing policies that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard won victory.

1. The concept of the American Secretary of State going to Damascus to meet with a terrorist-supporting, secret-police-wielding dictator is ludicrous. The United States military has created an opportunity to apply genuine economic, diplomatic and political pressure on Syria. The current Syrian dictatorship openly hosts seven terrorists' offices in downtown Damascus, in public, with recognized addresses. The current Syrian dictatorship is still developing chemical weapons of mass destruction and will not allow inspections. The current Syrian dictatorship is still occupying Lebanon to the disadvantage of peace in the region and is still transmitting weapons and support for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon where there are more than 11,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. This is a time for America to demand changes in Damascus before a visit is even considered. The visit should be a reward for public change not an appeal to a weak, economically depressed dictatorship.

I've never really understood the political reasoning that posits that visiting is appeasement, not engagement. I think Powell has actually learned a hard lesson from Gulf War II, which is that he needs to get out of the fucking country in order to get anything done. This aside, however, the idea that now is the key time to engage with Syria is ludicrous. They pose no threat to us whatsoever, and to the best of my knowledge, none of the terrorist groups they house have every lifted a finger against the US. Let's not let our military bite off more than our diplomacy can chew. It's true that they are a serious issue in the extremely important peace negotiations with Israel, but whatever happened to "Speak softly and carry a big stick?" The big stick is there. Now we will be more likely to achieve success through treating them with some degree of respect rather than coldly shutting them out. Politicians know damn well that sometimes you need to shake the hand of the person you hate to get what you want.

3. The people the State Department has sent to Iraq so far 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.

Oh, bullshit. How is Defense's sponsorship of Chalabi, a man who defrauded Jordan of $200 million, any more moral? All I know is that State does seem a lot more concerned with creating an actual functioning representative democracy rather than an administration blindly pro-American which will probably fall to Islamist groups within ten years.

4. The announcement that someone from the Agency for International Development would work to help reconstruct Iraq was a further sign that nothing has been learned. As of two weeks ago, not one mile of road had been paved in Afghanistan. This absolute failure of American entrepreneurship was a direct result of the State Department blocking the Corps of Engineers from being directly involved. There is no reason to believe AID will be any better in Iraq than the disaster it has been in Afghanistan. As one AID official told the Post, "Afghans need to understand the lengthy bureaucratic processes of AID and not become impatient." That is exactly the wrong attitude and helps explain why the State Department should be transformed but AID should be abolished.

You mean the organization that we forgot to give money to? That one? That one that is, for some weird reason, failing? Underfunding an agency and then declaring it a failure is a classic conservative technique. The gall anyone connected with the administration has to bring up Afghanistan as a "failure"--the absolute fucking gall--is cynicism of the highest order.

Our ability to lead is more communications, diplomatic, and assistance-based than military. People have always admired us more than feared us.

The collapse of the State Department as an effective instrument puts all this at risk. We must learn the transforming lessons of the last six months and apply them to create a more effective State Department.

And here I agree with him--well, except that we totally disagree. See, I think the reason that State's had so many problems is that because every time they say something, Rumsfeld comes out and says the exact opposite. How is this fostering anything besides "a broken instrument of international communication"? Time and time again, the DoD has come out and undermined State's authority in a very public way that has, time and time again, angered our allies. Let's not pretend that the "failure" of State is due to its own desire to prop up dictators when it's clear that the Pentagon opposes its policy choices at every opportunity, refusing to conduct these discussions behind the scenes and instead presenting a squabbling and vindictive administration that cares far more for its own internal working than for its image abroad. Let's not pretend State is this evil subversive bureaucracy when Powell's deputy is an ally of the neo-cons at Defense.

Gingrich's speech is a unique distillation of the cynical, manipulative politics of the neo-conservative movement: when they see an institution they don't like, they undermine it and then declare it defunct, when it never had a chance to maneuver in the first place. It's unclear what Newt wants State to be like in the future, but all I know is that I like having competing interests in government, because then maybe we won't fuck up quite so much. Give State room to breathe, let it do its job, and then we'll see how it does, OK? Claiming that they work counter to the President's interests implies that Paul Wolfowitz's wishes are the President's, and for now that's just not true.