- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

After former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's forceful critique of the State Department's ineffectiveness last week, The Washington Post reported that department officials were jumping into "foxholes" expecting further incoming fire. But, after senior State Department officials issued a few rude comments about Mr. Gingrich (and extracted from the White House a pro forma endorsement statement of the State Department's sterling qualities), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told his minions it was safe to come out and play in the sunlight. "Ah, to be so fortunate as to pick your enemies," he self-satisfyingly observed. The formidably constructed deputy secretary may not want to fill in those foxholes quite yet. He might ask former Speaker Tom Foley, former health care czarina-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, former OMB Director Richard Darman and the many opponents of historic welfare reform (including former President Clinton) all eventual losers in substantive policy battles with the much-maligned Mr. Gingrich.
Because, make no mistake about it, the issue of State Department ineffectiveness is a deeply substantive, structural matter of vital and immediate importance to our national security. There is a broad, currently silent majority in Congress both liberals and conservatives who are not at all sanguine about the State Department's bureaucratic ineptitude and resistance to both congressional and presidential guidance over the last decades. Congress only lacks leadership and courage on this matter to give full voice to their deep concerns.
Those who think this struggle is only about ideology and personalities should read the report of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century co-chaired by former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren Rudman and issued on Jan. 31, 2001. It can be found in the U.S. Department of State International Information Programs Washington file, and the complete report can be accessed at www.nssg.gov. That study called for three large projects: the creation of a Cabinet-level National Homeland Security Agency and a "recasting" of the "crippled" State Department and the Department of Defense." Interested State Department readers this morning may note that Congress has created the new department and that Secretary Rumsfeld has been famously busy struggling against his bureaucracy to transform the Pentagon for the 21st century. The only remaining item that has not yet received any attention is "recasting the crippled State Department."
The report summary, written before the Bush presidency came into being and before Colin Powell had been nominated, introduced the topic of the State Department in the following words: "The Department of State, in particular, is a crippled institution, starved for resources by Congress because of its inadequacies, and thereby weakened further. Only if the State Department's internal weaknesses are cured will it become an effective leader in the making and implementation of the nation's foreign policy. Only then can it credibly seek significant funding increases from Congress. The department suffers in particular from an ineffective organizational structure in which regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals, and in which sound management, accountability, and leadership are lacking."
The highly regarded bipartisan commission, which presciently predicted a catastrophic terrorist attack soon in the United States (September 11 occurred less than a year after the report was filed), concluded its executive summary with a warning: "We of this commission believe that many thousands of American lives, U.S. leadership among the community of nations, and the fate of U.S. national security itself are at risk unless the president and the Congress join together to implement the recommendations set forth in this report."
Then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-President Bill Clinton jointly created this commission. Congress and the secretary of Defense have acted on two of the three major items of the report. It is time and passed time for Congress and the secretary of State to start acting on the third and final corner of our national security triad. If the deputy secretary of State prefers school yard taunts to genuine reform, he may want to keep that metaphorical foxhole within jumping distance.


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