Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Has the Time Come for Radical Reform of the U.S. State Department? NO: The Itch of the Pentagon's Neoconservatives to Control U.S. Foreign Policy Should Be Resisted

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Has the Time Come for Radical Reform of the U.S. State Department? NO: The Itch of the Pentagon's Neoconservatives to Control U.S. Foreign Policy Should Be Resisted

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard W. Murphy, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

Newt Gingrich justly enjoys the reputation of being one of Washington's more combative and entertaining polemicists. However, in his fondness for swinging the broadsword most recently in his American Enterprise Institute speech slashing at the State Department for its prewar recommendations on Iraq he sidestepped his real target: the White House. This must have been deliberate because he knows better than most that the secretary of state makes recommendations, but the president decides the course of U.S. foreign policy. Gingrich also knows, though he might be loath to admit it, that loyalty to the president's decisions is just as much the hallmark of the State Department as it is of our uniformed services. So why pick on the faceless striped-pants set?

He may have been fronting for the neoconservatives at the Pentagon who have missed no opportunity to snipe at the State Department and its alleged defeatist agenda. State is an easy target, with no constituency ready to come to its defense in Congress or the private sector as the Department of Defense (DoD) enjoys. In any event, the evident itch of the Pentagon's neoconservative officials to control U.S. foreign policy should be resisted. U.S. armed forces have shown an unmatchable ability on the battlefield in quickly disposing of the military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in both those countries it is proving far harder to put those countries on their feet and head them in the direction of more-representative government.

This is not to argue that the State Department ideally is equipped for today's tasks in rebuilding the political, economic and social structures of those countries. And the neoconservatives are correct in charging that service at State breeds a cautious attitude to regime change. It normally does take a guarded approach, asking about the consequences of change and the degree to which Washington can control its pace and direction. Whether this is a virtue depends on the specific case.

It's fair to ask whether either State or the DoD distinguished itself in thinking through and planning for what we likely would confront the day after the war ended in Iraq. Hopefully the current confusion over how to secure the peace in Baghdad will quickly end. But for the moment, the Bush administration is caught up in a messy and costly course of on-the-job training trying to, for example, restore law and order without adequate military police. Overall, Washington appears to be improvising as it works through the problems of Iraq's postwar governance.

The important question facing our country today in Iraq is not the turf battle between federal departments, an obsession of those within the Washington Beltway. The much more serious issue is how soon the administration will enlist the support of the international community to deal with the complex problems of nation-building in Iraq. The ability of our "coalition of the willing" to build a nation is untested, and Washington's negative attitude toward U.N. involvement in Iraq persists.

The present confusion has served to sharpen the knives of those who opposed the war in the first place and those who aver that not only did President George W. Bush "fail to make the case" that Saddam Hussein's regime was linked to global terrorism, but that there may have been witting manipulation of the intelligence which the administration used to build its case for going to war. No one outside the administration can judge the truth of such allegations. The CIA already has started investigating, and the relevant congressional committees state that they also will investigate the prewar gathering and analysis of intelligence on Iraq.

For perspective, it should be noted that the charges hurled by Gingrich and his admirers are nothing new. Were State-DoD relations less agitated in the past than under this administration? Certainly under Ronald Reagan there were tensions between the two departments, but in retrospect they seem to have been much better contained. …

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