Official Washington is notorious for its tendency to respond to unwelcome performance assessments by "shooting the messenger." The reaction to Newt Gingrich's recent, scathing critique of the State Department's conduct of diplomacy in recent months, however, seems closer to the gruesome punishment of "drawing and quartering" -- in which the victim's arms and legs were chained to, and then pulled apart by, four horses.
After the former House Speaker charged last week that the State Department has been responsible for "six months of diplomatic failure" and is engaging in "a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the President's policies," the most decorous of public repudiations came from the White House and departmental press spokesmen, who insisted that the folks in Foggy Bottom are faithfully following the President's direction.
Two of Mr. Gingrich's former colleagues, former Representatives Jack Kemp and Vin Webber, also roled in, with Mr. Kemp charging that "Although he aimed at the State Department and Powell's trip to Syria, [Gingrich] did enormous collateral damage to President George W. Bush both diplomatically and politically. Ugh!" Presidential political advisor Karl Rove is said to have privately chewed Newt out and the Speaker has, regrettably, declined further public comment ever since.
The most outrageous responses, though, have come from officials appointed by President Bush to top positions in the Department of State. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared that the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives was "off his meds and out of therapy." Not to be outdone, Amb. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs told a Portuguese newspaper that what Gingrich said is "garbage....What Gingrich says does not interest me. He is an idiot and you can publish that."
Clearly, Mr. Gingrich has struck a nerve. The vitriol being heaped on him suggests more is in play than mere concern his critique reflects badly on Secretary of State Colin Powell and even President Bush -- not just career diplomats like Ms. Jones and her colleagues in the notoriously Arabist Near East and South Asian Affairs bureau.
The truly offensive ad hominem attacks being mounted on the record by Bush appointees in the State Department calls to mind the combat aviators' expression that "If you are not taking anti-aircraft fire, you are not over the target."
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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