State wanted Baathists to remain as a significant part of the post-Saddam transitional authority in Iraq, in large part because Foggy Bottom officials believed that those Saddam loyalists were the only ones with the requisite knowledge and skill sets to effectively manage the country. Until new civilian administrator Paul Bremer issued a sweeping de-Baathification order last month—banishing some 15,000 to 30,000 former high-ranking party members from holding any public office—State was successful in installing Saddam loyalists into any number of key positions. One of the most vivid examples was State reinstating as president of Baghdad University Saddam Hussein’s personal physician.
Despite President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil,” State managed to initiate talks with the reigning mullahs. This was no small feat. The approved talking points for the meeting were changed from the friendly tone State wanted to a much harsher one endorsed by the so-called “hawks,” but having the talks at all with a government that might be on the brink of collapse was a victory in and of itself.
Proving that they are, in fact, exceedingly skillful bureaucrats, State officials managed to conceal for three weeks North Korea’s March 31 admission to them that it was reprocessing plutonium—the first time Pyongyang had conceded that. Had State told the White House and the Pentagon, the talks with North Korea and China slated to start on April 23 in Beijing likely would have been canceled. But because of State’s “shielding” of the information, the talks went off as planned.
Mr. Gingrich’s proposed structural fixes of State could have a substantial impact. But it’s hard to imagine that organizational reform alone will cure State’s corrosive culture. If anything, Mr. Gingrich’s modest proposals do not go far enough in reforming Foggy Bottom. There are many talented and dynamic FSOs, but they are outnumbered by those who adhere to State’s culture, as Mr. Ginrich puts it, “that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces.”
If the White House and Congress fail to act on Mr. Gingrich’s recommendations, President Bush’s policy goals could be jeopardized. If they fail to go even further by bringing in fresh blood and outside leadership, the President’s political goals—namely re-election next year—could be jeopardized as well.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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