The problems at State

Posted: Apr 23, 2003 12:00 AM

After the action comes the after-action reports -- what the Pentagon calls lessons learned, and what the State Department calls business as usual (BAU). But at State, BAU is likely to become CYA if my old boss, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, has anything to say about it. And he has a lot to say. Yesterday, at the American Enterprise Institute, Newt delivered a major speech entitled "Transforming the State Department," in which the opening sentences surely sent a chill through the State Department looking for a spine to go down. "The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success. The first days after the military victory indicate the pattern of diplomatic failure is beginning once again and threatens to undo the effects of military victory."

The high point of American diplomacy was on Sept. 12, 2002, when President Bush laid down the law to the United Nations. Then, Newt observed, "the State Department took the president's strong position and negotiated a resolution that shifted from verification to inspection (because, in part) under internal State Department politics, verification would have put the policy in the hands of people who disagreed with the Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs' propensity for appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes." State's next mistake was to accept Hans Blix as chief inspector, even though they had been warned that "he was clearly opposed to war and was determined to buy time and find excuses for Saddam. (They) 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, which put the burden of proof on Saddam, to pursuing United Nations inspections, in which case the burden was on the United States."

Newt went on to explain in detail how the State Department's public diplomacy -- i.e. communicating to the world -- utterly failed, characterizing that effort harshly but fairly as "a pathetic public campaign of hand-wringing and desperation." Moving on to the matter of the State Department's private diplomacy, he noted their calamitous failure to gain Turkish basing rights. During that pre-war period I was personally told by a number of foreign diplomats and a major Russian player that "They don't know how to make an offer and close a deal" (in the words of the Russian).

In perhaps Newt's most withering observation, he explained that it was lucky the Defense Department and Central Command successfully negotiated for basing rights with 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. The military delivered diplomatically, and then the military delivered militarily in a stunning four-week campaign."

Having demolished State's pre-war performance, he methodically dissected their post-war mistakes (brief time for which they have had), starting with Secretary Colin Powell's ill-considered decision to go to Damascus. "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." Newt went on to observe that State is sending all the wrong people to post-war Iraq. They "represent the worst instincts of the Bureau of Near Eastern affairs (who) were promoted in a culture of propping up dictators, coddling the corrupt and ignoring the secret police."

Next on Newt's list of State Department inanities is their invention of the quartet of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States to oversee Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations. "After the bitter lessons of the last five months, it is unimaginable that the U.S. would voluntarily accept a system in which the U.N., the E.U. and Russia could routinely out vote President Bush's position by three to one."

Fourth on Newt's list is State's decision to send people from its Agency for International Development to Iraq to "help" with reconstruction. Newt noted that they have similar responsibilities in Afghanistan and "As of two weeks ago, not one mile of road has been paved." An AID official was quoted in the Washington Post explaining, "Afghans need to understand the lengthy bureaucratic processes of AID and not become impatient." Newt correctly observed: "That is exactly why the State Department should be transformed, but AID should be abolished."

Then Newt called for the president to start the transformation process at State, just as he has done at the Pentagon and with his newly created Department of Homeland Defense. To that end he called for extensive congressional hearings (as was done for the Pentagon years ago, resulting in the Goldwater-Nichols reform bill -- the beginning of Defense transformation) -- it will be a brawl, but one the country desperately needs. Winning the wars and losing the peace has got to stop.