After I went on TV last week answering former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's attack on Secretary of State Colin Powell and the State Department, some folks accused me of piling on my old friend, Newt. I humbly disagree. Gingrich was so far off base even Bill Buckley said he overdid it. Let me explain why I agree with Buckley and disagree with Gingrich.
Gingrich complained of "diplomatic failure" and of a "deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the president's policies" by the Powell-led State Department. His attack came, unfortunately, in a speech sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. Although he aimed at the State Department and Powell's trip to Syria, he did enormous collateral damage to President Bush both diplomatically and politically.
By parroting Sen. Tom Daschle's criticism of Bush diplomacy, Gingrich fits Winston Churchill's description of a particularly rowdy member of Parliament in Britain when he said, "He's the only case I know of a bull who carries his own china shop around with him."
Heaven knows the Department of State needs reforming and has for a long time. But isn't it interesting that when he had an opportunity to push for reform while he was speaker of the house, Gingrich didn't hold hearings and push legislation to reform the department?
When I pointed this fact out after his speech last week, he claimed I had failed to do my homework and referred to his service on the Hart-Rudman Commission, which was charged with the task of conducting a comprehensive review of American security and designing a national security strategy appropriate for the changed world of the 21st century. Based upon his service on the commission, Gingrich claims now to be "the father of homeland security." Hmmm - and Al Gore was father of the Internet?
Whether or not he is the father of homeland security, the Hart-Rudman Commission, while it fairly well diagnosed some of the State Department's problems, was conspicuously silent on the precise "reforms" it would propose to correct the problems. In fact, when Gingrich spoke to AEI, he didn't offer any specific reform proposals from the commission's report; he called for another working group to report back within six months with more grand ideas for the "transformation of the diplomatic, communications and assistance elements of the United States." Wow, Gingrich is in favor of an early spring and a late fall.
By constantly harping on the need to reform and transform the State Department without providing any specifics, it becomes clear that Gingrich is using the easy target of the State Department bureaucracy as a pretext for criticizing Bush's diplomatic policies through Powell. Gingrich appears to be attempting to drive a wedge between the president and his secretary of state in the name of reform, which plays right into the hands of America's adversaries. It also plays right into the hands of the Daschle Democrats who would love nothing better than to create dissention over foreign policy within the ranks of the Bush administration and blame the president for a failure.
Talking about the run-up to the war in Iraq, Gingrich charged that, "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." This accusation against the Powell State Department has the same ring to it as David Frum's accusation, published in National Review, against Bob Novak and other anti-war conservatives that "They have turned their backs on their country."
Gingrich laments that he believes Powell is complicit in a process that not only undermines the Bush administration but is in direct contravention with the interests of the United States. He really goes over the top when he lashes out at Powell for "throw(ing) away all the fruits of hard-won victory (in Iraq) by going to Syria." In Gingrich's words, "The concept of the American secretary of state going to Damascus to meet with a terrorist-supporting, secret-police-wielding dictator is ludicrous."
What's ludicrous is the implication that Powell would go to Syria on his own without orders from the president. If Gingrich understands that the secretary of state would only make such a visit at the direct order of the president (which I can assure you he does), then it is the president's actions, not Powell's, that Gingrich is calling ludicrous.
We haven't heard much from Gingrich since his AEI speech, so I can only assume he realizes his mistake. Coming from Gingrich, a week of silence says more than a year's worth of speeches.