In fact, Newt Gingrich is right on target. It is the worst kept secret in this town -- or, for that matter, around the world -- that Colin Powell's State Department profoundly disagrees with President Bush and the rest of his national security team on most important policy matters. For many, both in foreign capitals, among the media elite and in Bush-hostile political circles, this is widely regarded as a very good thing.
The depth of this anti-Bush sentiment was captured in a letter to the editor published in Monday's Washington Post: "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is one of the few voices of reason in this administration, one of the nation's most respected civil servants, a man of impeccable morals and judgment, someone who brings legitimacy to the White House, who has saved that same White House from political disaster on numerous occasions and without whom this administration would be in even more trouble diplomatically than it already is. Thank God the State Department does not agree with the White House and its controversial foreign policy....Thank God for the checks and balances built into our democratic system."
The idea that a President's policies would be stymied not by opponents in the legislative branch or by due process in an independent judiciary but by career bureaucrats nominally working for him in the executive branch was surely not what the Framers had in mind. Yet this notion animates many in the Foreign Service whose almost caste-like view of their profession encourages their contempt for political masters with whom they disagree and, not infrequently, their rank insubordination.
An example where such behavior can have potentially serious repercussions was reported last Friday by the Reuters news service: On March 31st, two unnamed State Department officials were told by North Korean counterparts in a meeting at the UN that Pyongyang had begun to reprocess spent fuel rods, a step that would provide materials for a number of nuclear weapons. Reuters' revelation was news to others involved in highly contentious Bush Administration decision-making about U.S. policy toward the North. According to Sunday's Washington Post, "Some elements of the State Department purposely did not report the claim to senior officials in the Defense Department and the National Security Council in order to avoid rupturing the Beijing talks before they began."
Now, the folks in Foggy Bottom know that President Bush deeply, and properly, distrusts the North Korean regime. He has, as a result, been leery of State Department-promoted efforts to engage in yet-another fraudulent "peace process" that would legitimate the despotic Kim Jong-Il and likely allow him to become still more dangerous.
As with other misconduct noted by Speaker Gingrich, Mr. Bush may be embarrassed to discover that what is nominally his Department of State has been playing fast and loose with the facts so as to embroil him in precisely the sort of diplomacy that has not worked in the past vis-à-vis the North Koreans -- and that Newt has correctly pointed out is being no better managed by State on the East River or in the Middle East. The President and those truly loyal to him must recognize, however, that the political costs of recognizing the validity of the messenger's message today are sure to be far less than those that will come of ignoring it.
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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