April 22, 2003

State Versus Defense The WaPo

State Versus Defense

The WaPo on the battles underway between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. A prominent part of the piece has to do with a Newt Gingrich broadside against Powell's State Department.

Some key language:

"Gingrich said the "final straw" that caused him to speak out was Powell's announcement that he planned to visit Syria. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials had assailed Syria, accusing the country of aiding Saddam Hussein's government and allowing top Iraqi officials to flee. Powell's statement helped cool the diplomatic fires. But Gingrich said Powell should not visit a country that he said was obviously linked to terrorism.

Powell allowed himself to be convinced to go to Damascus" by the department's Near East Bureau, which Gingrich said "appeases dictators and tries to be nice to corrupt regimes." The State Department official noted that Bush said over the weekend that Syria appeared to be cooperating in response to U.S. concerns, in effect endorsing Powell's approach."

Listen, this isn't Warren Christopher off to Damascus for his 26th visit or such. The Syrians have assured visiting Congressmen that they will not provide asylum to any of Saddam's former henchmen or other wanted Iraqi Baath party officials. On WMD, we will have to wait and see if there is any evidence that Iraqi chemical or biological agents may have been transferred to Syria but grandstanding about it at the present moment is unwise until compelling intelligence proves the case.

This leaves the terrorism issue. Damascus has cooperated on providing critical intelligence regarding al-Qaeda in the past. The U.S., however, has very real concerns about their support to Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas (this is less of a "global reach" terror group than Hezbollah). But having the Secretary of State press Bush's agenda (make no mistake, it is Bush's agenda, despite Newt trying to make Powell's Damascus trip sound like a nefarious plot hatched by hapless Arabists at NEA) in Damascus is just fine. Better to apply diplomatic pressure, in person at such high levels, than continue the breathless pontifications that Damascus is next--at least at this juncture.

Some neo-cons might find my musings above wobbly Foggy Bottom prattle. But the bottom line is that marching to Damascus now, or even imposing severe economic sanctions without even trying to make progress diplomatically, would be folly. What is needed now is a vigorous diplomatic push to have a chastened Damascus, cowed by the rapid-fire implosion of their fellow Baathists across the border, make very real concessions to the U.S. Let's give Powell a chance to do that contra Newt's broadside.

Posted by Gregory at April 22, 2003 11:09 PM

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