Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sits on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board along with other neoconservatives, including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and Reagan-era Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle. The board serves as a brain trust for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his chief deputies. These include neocons Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense and an architect of Iraq policy, and Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith. If it weren’t for all these links, Gingrich’s incendiary speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute about State Department “appeasement” could be dismissed as bloviation from a failed revolutionary and political has-been.
Republicans, after all, have a long history of complaining about the State Department. In the early 1950s, Sens. Joseph McCarthy, William F. Knowland, William E. Jenner and Patrick McCarran all fulminated about Secretary of State Dean Acheson and what they saw as a lily-livered department that was soft on Red China. The result was a purge in 1953, carried out by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, that reminded Acheson of the worst days of the Red Scare. In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan led denunciations of Henry Kissinger for allegedly selling out on arms control agreements to the Kremlin. Gingrich is only following suit, calling for “transforming” the department.
Gingrich depicts the State Department as riddled with Middle East experts who have a “propensity for appeasing dictators” that is undermining Bush foreign policy. The list of sins could hardly have been more sweeping: State Department bunglers mismanaged the diplomacy leading up to the Iraq war; Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s planned visit to Damascus, Syria, in May is “ludicrous.” But nothing stirs up the hawks more than the Middle East “road map” that President Bush reluctantly adopted under pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair before the Iraq war.
War against Syria, Iran or North Korea may not be in the cards, but neoconservatives inside and outside the administration are pressing to dilute, or even abandon, the road map. Gingrich put the case plainly: Inviting the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to help form a plan for Middle East peace amounts to a “deliberate and systematic effort” by the State Department to undermine Bush’s policies.
So far, the administration shows no sign of capitulating to demands that the U.S. abandon the process or at least trash the road map. If Bush were to budge, however, progress already made would be lost. The road map has already helped promote a more moderate Palestinian leadership headed by Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas.
That Gingrich’s outlandish comments are attracting serious attention is a sign of how deep the divisions in the administration have become. Bush should end them by saying without equivocation that diplomacy, not military action, will remain his first resort in the Middle East and elsewhere.