- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

The administration struggles with foreign policy Every administration has its internal foreign policy battles, which mostly tend to pit the National Security Council in the White House against the State Department. There was the William Rogers-Henry Kissinger battle of the Nixon administration. The Carter administration featured the Zbigniev Brzezinski-Cyrus Vance feud. In the Reagan administration, Richard Perle and Rick Burt butted heads. The administration of George W. Bush has its own version of this Washington tradition, in the shape of an on-going tug of war over foreign policy, this time between the Department of Defense and State. One might have thought that with a former chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as secretary of state, the culture clash between the two departments would have smoothed over. That was not to be. Throughout the two-plus years of the Bush administration, the differences between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom have been profound. Some of these differences have played out on the level of personalities, though neither Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld nor Secretary of State Colin Powell has stooped to that level; in Washington these things are done through surrogates. As the war in Iraq entered its second week, and turned into a bumpier ride than had been expected, Mr. Rumsfeld came in for a good deal of criticism. News stories featuring sniping from Republican operatives and anonymous State Department types started appearing. One critical front-page story in The Washington Post cited “officials in the State Department” and “people sympathetic to Powell.” When the Iraqi regime imploded, all that changed overnight. Over the past week, the focus has been on the State Department. The department has come in for heavy attack — mostly from conservatives led by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a member of the Defense Policy Board and a longtime friend of both Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. Mr. Gingrich is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he delivered a scathing attack on the State Department’s performance on Iraq and its structures, culture and overall performance. “The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success,” Mr. Gingrich said. “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.” He tore into the State Department’s performance in the United Nations, its lack of public diplomacy, ineptitude in the handling of Turkey as well as the question of a Palestinian state. It was a bomb thrown into the carefully organized halls of diplomacy. State Department officials have not taken the criticism lightly and have fired back at just about the same level. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage suggested that Mr. Gingrich needed to get back on his medication. Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, called Mr. Gingrich an “idiot” in an interview with a Spanish newspaper. Now, while Mr. Gingrich played the role of the bull in the diplomatic china shop, it is clear that the State Department badly needs reform. By contrast, the Pentagon has undergone major post-Cold War changes, both under the Clinton and second Bush administrations. Commissions have studied the changing demands on the U.S. military as well as the necessary redefinitions of the roles of the services. Investment and transformational technology have produced a formidable and highly flexible fighting force, which performed superbly in the war in Iraq. No similar rethinking of missions, organizational transformation or underfunding has taken place at the State Department. Mr. Powell came in determined to rebuild the department’s morale, which, with the experience of a leader and a military man, he did very well. The problem was that he did so in part by promising job security to a bureaucracy that needed shaking up, and he undoubtedly expected the loyalty of soldiers for the president’s agenda from State Department employees.This was not to be. Instead, the handful of Republican political appointees at the State Department struggle not just with an entrenched diplomatic structure, which gives all but lifelong job security to those in a career track — but also against colleagues who have by no means given up on the liberal agenda they were brought in to promote under Clinton Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. As a consequence, the department’s overall image is so liberal that those who look for foreign policy leadership in tune with the White House tend to look to the Pentagon, which has the prestige of a major victory, the intellectual firepower of Deputy Undersecretary of State Paul Wolfowitz and the stream of snappy and provocative statements flowing effortlessly from Mr. Rumsfeld himself. But, it is always wrong to underestimate the power and clout of Mr. Powell. The scrutiny of his department will continue in months to come. He could capitalize on it to reclaim the foreign policy agenda.

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