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Transforming the State Department By: Newt Gingrich
American Enterprise Institute | Thursday, April 24, 2003


The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success. 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.

The diplomatic highpoint for the United States was President Bush's speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 12, 2002. At that point, the case had been made emphatically that the burden was on the UN Security Council. The Iraqi dictatorship had violated UN resolutions for 12 years--it was the United Nations that was under scrutiny because it was obvious that the regime of Saddam Hussein had failed. As President Bush said, it was time to "choose between a world of fear and a world of progress."

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.

The State Department then accepted Hans Blix as chief inspector--even though he was clearly opposed to war and determined to buy time and find excuses for Saddam. The State Department then accepted Blix's refusal to hire back any of the experienced inspectors thus further drawing out the process. The process was turned from verifying Iraqi compliance, in which case the burden was on Saddam and Iraq had clearly failed, to pursuing United Nations inspections in which case the burden was on the United States.

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.

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.

As the State Department remained ineffective and incoherent, the French launched a worldwide campaign to undermine the American position and make the replacement of the Saddam dictatorship very difficult. This included twisting Turkish arms to block a vote in favor of the United States using Turkish soil to create a northern front and appealing to the other members of the Security Council to block a second resolution.

Despite a pathetic public campaign of hand wringing and desperation the State Department publicly failed to gain even a majority of the votes on the UN Security Council for a second resolution. Opposing America and a world of progress had somehow become less attractive and more difficult than helping America eliminate the fear of Saddam's wicked regime.

Fortunately the Defense Department was capable of overcoming losing access to Turkey, losing public opinion support in Europe and the Middle East and turned those disadvantages into a stunning victory working in concert with our British allies and with support largely secured by Centcom and DoD among the Gulf States. Had Centcom and DoD been as ineffective at diplomacy as the State Department (which is supposedly in charge of diplomacy) Kuwait would not have been available, the Saudi air base would not have been available, and the Jordanian passage of special forces would not have been available, etc.

The military delivered diplomatically and then the military delivered militarily in a stunning four week campaign.

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 terrorist's 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 over 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.

2. The State Department invention of a quartet for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations defies everything the United States has learned about France, Russia, and the United Nations. 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 beliefs against the President's policies).

This is a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the President's policies procedurally by ensuring they will consistently be watered down and distorted by the other three members. This is worse than the UN inspections process--a clear disaster for American diplomacy.

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.

This is the exact opposite of the President's stated goals.

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 entrepreneurial failure 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.

These continuing failures and refusal to learn about new realities compels the Bush Administration to take on transforming the State Department as its next urgent mission.

The President called for transforming the Defense Department in his 1999 Citadel Address and "keeping the peace by redefining war on our terms." Secretary Rumsfeld has been implementing the President's plan and the success can be seen in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

The President called for reorganizing Homeland Security in 2002 and Secretary Ridge has begun that difficult but vital job.

It is now time for the President to call for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols reform bill for the State Department and redefine peace on our terms.

America cannot lead the world with a broken instrument of diplomacy.

America cannot lead in the age of democracy and 24 hour television with a broken instrument of international communications.

America cannot help develop a vibrant world of entrepreneurial progress where countries grow into safety, health, prosperity and freedom for their people with a broken bureaucracy of red tape and excuses.

The House and Senate Committees on International Relations should hold exhaustive hearings on the requirements of diplomatic and communications leadership in the 21st century.

The House and Senate Committees should examine critically what will be needed to help countries grow into safety, health, prosperity and freedom for their people.

The President should appoint a small working group to report back within six months and should prepare to propose for a transformation of the diplomatic, communications, and assistance elements of the United States.

Without bold dramatic change at the State Department, 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 to be in. Indeed in the long run that is an unsustainable position.

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.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.


Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives (1995-99), represented the people of Georgia in the House from 1979-99. He crafted the 1994 GOP campaign position, the "Contract with America," which led to the first Republican congress in forty years. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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