A New War in Washington

It's been barely a week since the U.S. took control of Baghdad, but the Pentagon is already embroiled in a new war, this time with the State Department.

The opening salvo was delivered Tuesday morning 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 neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Gingrich, who is close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, aimed the full fury of his rhetorical fire at the State Department, accusing it 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."

It was a stunning attack from someone so closely identified with Rumsfeld and the neo-conservative hawks around him. "I've never seen a wholesale attack on America's entire diplomatic establishment like this," said Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University. "This is fundamentally about ideology and the efforts of the neo-conservatives to institutionalize their victories over the moderate and liberal internationalists."

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

Kupchan also said it was unlikely that Gingrich, as a member of the Policy Board, would not have cleared his remarks with top officials. The fact that Gingrich's remarks were leaked to the Washington Post in advance is also highly significant. So is his choice of venue. The AEI -- where Gingrich is a Fellow -- is where Bush presented his most comprehensive proposal yet for democratizing Iraq and the Arab world nearly two months ago. It is also home to the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle and several other neo-conservative analysts who have been the most outspoken about promoting "regime change" in the Middle East and U.S. military dominance in the world.

Gingrich was careful to insist that he was not faulting Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom he depicted as a prisoner of the Department and its Near East bureau. But he charged that the administration was split between two "worldviews": the State Department worldview as one of "process, politeness, and accommodation," and president's worldview was that of "facts, values and outcomes." Gingrich said that the Pentagon appeared far more faithful to the latter. When the State Department failed to persuade key allies, such as Turkey, South Korea, France and Germany to support Washington, it was the Pentagon who 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, a "terrorist-supporting, secret police-wielding dictator," as plainly "ludicrous." Second, Gingrich attacked the State Department's "invention" of the so-called "Quartet," made up of the U.N., Russia, the E.U. and the U.S., to manage Palestinian-Israeli peace talks as a "clear disaster for American diplomacy." Third, Gingrich assailed the diplomats sent to help oversee the occupation in Iraq as "representing the worst instincts" of the Near East Bureau, which was "to create a weak Iraqi government that will not threaten its Syrian, Iranian, Saudi and other dictatorial neighbors." Finally, he slammed the involvement of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the reconstruction process, calling instead for its abolishment.

The State Department itself issued a low-key response to the Gingrich attack, insisting that it is loyally and effectively carrying out Bush's policy, including the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace. But many onlookers agree that Gingrich's assertions are simply not true. "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 neo-cons."

Gingrich's call for "bold dramatic change at the State Department" does, however, offer a preview of the ambitions of the neo-conservatives and their allies within the administration. "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," Kupchan said.

Jim Lobe writes on international affairs for Inter Press Service, Oneworld.net, Foreign Policy in Focus and AlterNet.org.

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