Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Newt's Follow-Up: Much press attention was given to Newt Gingrich's speech to the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year when he called for a major reorganization of the State Department. His follow-up is in the non-partisan journal Foreign Policy. For gist, he says:
The State Department needs to experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world, place it more directly under the control of the president of the United States, and enable it to promote freedom and combat tyranny. Anything less is a disservice to this nation.
More specifically, Gingrich argues that, consciously or not, State serves to undermine administration policy in the world by operating under a structure and according to principles that will prove increasingly ineffective in the post-9/11 world. Much like the UN, it exists as a closed society and an insular culture. To offer just one example of my own, consider Egypt, a State-Department ally, nominally friendly government, and recipient of massive U.S. aid, whose state-run media expose the unfriendly, anti-American side that Foggy Bottom ignores. In a world where the rhetoric of Islamic extremism may be a leading indicator of threat, wouldn't it be useful to treat such relationships with a realpolitik outlook? For another example, see Arabia, Saudi.

When Gingrich first brought this up, it was dismissed in the press as a partisan shot at the perceived doveishness at Foggy Bottom. But the bipartisan Hart-Rudman commission on national security (which co-chairman Gary Hart touted as resume material during his brief flirtation with presidential candidacy) came to similar conclusions about the efficacy of the department in the 21st century. To wit:

This Commission believes that the Secretary of State should be primarily responsible
for the making and implementation of foreign policy, under the direction of the President. The State Department needs to be fundamentally restructured so that responsibility and accountability are clearly established, regional and functional activities are closely integrated, foreign assistance programs are centrally planned and implemented, and strategic planning is emphasized and linked to the allocation of resources. While we believe that our NSC and State Department recommendations make maximal sense when taken together, the reform of the State Department must be pursued whether or not the President adopts the Commission’s recommendations with respect to the NSC Advisor and staff.

. . . We cannot emphasize strongly enough how critical it is to change the Department of State from the demoralized and relatively ineffective body it has become into the President’s critical foreign policymaking instrument.

(Italics in original; bold mine.) One can certainly argue that Gingrich, as a Republican, likes the idea of a State Department more directly under the guidance of a strong GOP president, and would be uncomfortable with the hand of, say, Howard Dean on the wheel. Nonetheless, Gingrich's suggestions, along with the recommendations of the commission, argue coherently for change.

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