July 04, 2003

Newt on State Foreign Policy

Newt on State

Foreign Policy now has Newt Gingrich's article "Rogue State Department" online (a "searing critique" they hype). I didn't find it quite so devastating to Foggy Bottom and doubt many Foreign Policy readers will either.

Newt opens up by creating a false dichotomy between "two worldviews" he claims are clashing in Washington. On the one hand, you have a view that "emphasizes facts, values and consequences." And on the other (State and its fellow travellers) "process, politeness, and accommodation." Does Newt evidence this speculative argument in any convincing fashion? Not in my view.

He starts by reminding us about the farsical episode with Libya chairing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. From this admitedly absurd factoid from the topsy-turvy world of Turtle Bay--Gingrich argues:

"The values- and fact-based advocates note immediately that Libya is a dictatorship with a history of terrorism, and they thus conclude that Libya cannot chair the commission with any moral standing or credibility. By contrast, the accommodation worldview contends that Libya won the vote in the United Nations and that contesting Libya’s moral and legitimate claim to the chair would be impolite and a violation of proper process."

Hmmm. Here's what some allegedly feckless U.S. diplomats were saying at the time. Might Powell have been a bit more aggressive in countering Libya's chances of getting on board? Maybe.

But did State do "nothing" as Gingrich contends? Well, in a word, no. Instead, State pushed for a vote on whether Libya should assume the position of chair of the commission. As the linked report points out, calling a vote was an "unprecedented" move as such appointments are usually made by "acclamation."

Gingrich further argues that State's alleged passivity regarding Libya led to an "emboldened France" launching a campaign to "defeat U.S. foreign policy objectives articulated by Bush."

Come again? Where's the causation between Libya assuming a committee chair at the U.N. and Dominique gallivanting about Yaounde to lobby against approval of a second UNSC resolution on Iraq? How does Newt buttress this far-fetched claim? He doesn't even bother.

From the above thin reed of a State Department terminally ill because of its striped-pants impotence and accomodative tendencies--Newt informs us that State "needs to experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation..."

Some shock and awe at 21st and C! So what are Newt's recommendations?

1) Provide a "decentralized leadership style" that will contribute to granting personnel the "time and incentive to focus on communicating with local people rather than filling out endless reports to Washington;" 2) a training program that would "highlight the strategies the U.S. government is following both to make the U.S. safer and to increase security, health, prosperity, and freedom worldwide (which, Gingrich argues, means expanding the Foreign Service by 40% so that "its personnel can take on career-enriching assigments outside of their traditional duties"); 3) provide for, in an era of mass communication and democratization, a 21st Century State Department that "must include a more aggressive and effective representation for the U.S. around the world" (FSOs must "master this doctrine [exactly what doctrine, again?] and should be measured against it"); and 4) diplomats should take a one year assigment outside of State after six years of service and a two year tour outside after their 14th year (creates "greater realism and sophistication", it seems).

Nothing hyper-objectionable here--though I think that it's more a stereotype than reality that legions of FSOs are hammering out unread memos to Foggy Bottom on old Wang computers from their various postings while hardly ever shaking the hand of a local and, when doing so, butchering the local language. And I'm not sure rotating FSOs out during their 6th and 14th years for "real world" style sabbaticals is really going to add value to the pursuit of our diplomatic goals overseas.

Gingrich does have one good point, on an era of "mass communication" necessitating better outreach, but that point has already been made, in less polemical and more intelligent fashion, in this excellent CFR task force chaired by Frank Carlucci (Gingrich only mentions the Hart-Rudman study in his piece).

Later in the article, Gingrich, perhaps a tad sheepishly, notes that people like Richard Armitage and Jack Kemp took him to task for an AEI talk he gave in which he stated that State was engaging in a "deliberate and systematic effort" to undermine Bush's foreign policy. Quite a charge, isn't it?

Here's how Newt backs up this startling accusation. First, Gingrich quotes portions of a Dubya speech: "I have confidence in the future of a free Iraq. The Iraqi people are fully capable of self-government." And: "You are living proof the Iraqi people love freedom and living proof the Iraqi people can flourish in democracy."

The reader is then asked to "contrast that vision" with an obscure report from State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research ("INR") which, via an LA Times story, Gingrich quotes as stating that "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve in Iraq...Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements."

This report constitutes active scuttling of the President's agenda? Some cautionary notes issued about whether Iraq can forge an effective self-governing polity? The notion that such a report from INR constitutes a "deliberate and systematic effort" to undermine Dubya's foreign policy is probably part of what prompted Armitage's comment that Newt was "off his meds and out of therapy." It's, indeed, way over the top.

Gingrich then trots out a Richard Haas (former head of the Policy Planning Bureau and about to run the CFR) who is portrayed as hell-bent on loosening Iraq sanctions and (again from the L.A. Times) reports that U.S. diplomats are "profoundly worried about what they describe as the Administration's arrogance or indifference to world public opinion, which they fear has wiped out, in less than two years, decades of effort to build goodwill towards the United States."

Sound awfully like the one (or was it two?) FSO who resigned in protest from State from our Embassy in Greece. But does Newt in any way show us that such views are widespread at State? Nope.

Newt then asks: "Can anyone imagine a State Department more out of sync with Bush's views and objectives"? Well, I sure can. Readers, if you think I'm being too easy on State or too hard on Gingrich, please chime in.

But please keep this in mind. I'm not suggesting that State doesn't need to be systematically reformed. But polemical broadsides interspersed with half-baked recommendations isn't the way to pursue a viable consensus leading to effectuation of real reform at State. The key issue, aside from needing to provide State with greater resources so it can improve its "communications and information management infrastructure" and "facilities at home and abroad" is that "the department's professional culture is predisposed against public outreach and engagement, thus undercutting its effectiveness at public diplomacy." (see Carlucci task force report).

Newt touches on this in general fashion but doesn't really tell us where to go with it or analzye the problem in detail. For instance, he doesn't even mention the role of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and how, even after its integration into State, it "remains far more focused on facilitating official communications between governments and gathering, analyzing, and protecting information than on engaging foreign societies and explaining to them America's positions and viewpoints," ie. its more in "information policing" mode than "information providing." (see again Carlucci's task force). He doesn't talk about the importance of diplomats actually exiting the Embassy compound and learning from (or sharing information with) their compatriots based overseas in the NGO and/or business communities. In short, he's long on rhetorical fusillades and short on concrete proposals.

That said, Gingrich does occasionally provides specific proposals. For instance, he suggests that an independent public affairs firm "report weekly on how U.S. messages are received in at least the world's 50 largest countries."

But this outsourcing to the private sector sounds unrealistic to me. A bit too much like some Dick Morris figures doing perma-polls with the SecState breathlessly awaiting the latest polling results from places like Riyadh, Paris and Jakarta. It's not terribly apparent whether this initiative would, in any real way, improve State's efficiency.

Or Newt suggest creating a new position, a "special assistant for global communication," whom would ostensibly report directly to the President and have "coordinating authority" over State, Defense and "other agencies engaged in international communications efforts" (gee, that's pretty much all U.S. cabinet departments, isn't it?).

But this type of thing has been tried before. Bringing in an ad exec from Madison Avenue to a high position at State (see Charlotte Beers) to peddle how wondrous life is for Muslims in America didn't exactly create groundswells of newfound support for the U.S. in Islamic countries.

Make no mistake--it's important to, with pride and conviction, have our diplomatic representatives describe to other countries how we cherish "constitutional liberty, the right to private property, free speech...free markets, free elections" and so on. But, often, we still have to actually work with governments and regimes and peoples that are dubious, for whatever reason, about our vision or the intentions behind our desire to foster that vision in their country. And so our involvement with such entities or individuals will need to go beyond P.R. campaigns of dubious merit. Put differently, diplomacy is more than P.R. ostensibly aimed at bashing people over the head with didactic recitations about the "core values" of the U.S.

Unfortunately, after reading Newt's piece, one is left with the feeling that Gingrich was more interested in pursuing a perhaps politically-motivated broadside against State than a truly sincere attempt to really get to the bottom of what ails State and how to solve it. There are many fine and patriotic Americans, day in and day out, promoting the President's vision in our Embassies overseas. And they often risk their lives doing so. We might all do well to remember that. And we owe them better recommendations by way of how to reform State than what Gingrich offers us in his hyperbolic Foreign Policy piece.

Posted by Gregory at July 4, 2003 10:05 PM
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