Quickie: The State Department Nightmare on C. Street, and It’s Not Friday the 13th

Just saw a piece by Ben Adler, an editor at The Nation about the State Department’s worst nightmare. Iran? Iraq? Pakistan? Sorry, none of the above. If you want to get a decent sleep in the next 11 months, you might want to skip this one.  Excerpts:

One of Newt Gingrich’s many peculiar fixations stands out as especially troublesome: his hatred of the State Department. Gingrich has recently been attacking career civil servants there in hostile terms, complaining that they are “Arabists” who advocate “appeasement” of America’s enemies.
The ideological roots of Gingrich’s views go back quite a bit farther than 2003. “It’s a critique we’ve heard periodically from the right since the McCarthy witch hunts,” says Jeffrey Laurenti an expert on international affairs at the Century Foundation. “They want to ensure that only people loyal to supposed ‘Americanist’ values work in the State Department and that it should not be contaminated by understanding the way others think.”

When implemented, these ideological purges have damaged the effectiveness of the State Department and American foreign policy. “It blinded American policymakers to what was happening in China [in the late 1940s and early 1950s],” says Laurenti. According to Laurenti, John Foster Dulles chased out the analysts who best understood the civil war that was going on China because their correct analysis, that the communists would win, was not what politicians wanted to hear. Some would argue that the resulting chilling effect on the way civil servants approached their job had terrible reverberations in years to come, possibly causing Washington to misunderstand the situation in Vietnam in the 1960s by believing that Hanoi was a puppet of Beijing. “This is a formula for blinding America’s leadership to what is happening on the outside,” says Laurenti. “When the State Department has been cowed by the political class in Washington to not report what it sees, we’ve had catastrophic failures: not just China in ‘49, but Iran in ’78–’79.”
“Career people in the State Department who have served under [Bolton] just felt very strongly his involvement in trying to promote the most conservative and ideologically rigid Foreign Service officers and to ignore anyone providing information inconsistent with what he already believed,” says Laurenti.

So what would happen if Bolton were appointed Secretary and charged with carrying out Gingrich’s transformation of the State Department? Revolt, dysfunction, and ultimately probably an exodus of the best analysts and Foreign Service officers. “The notion that whatever you report in the field is going to be vetted by some ideological litmus test would be extremely demoralizing,” warns Laurenti. But Gingrich’s dream of an addendum to the Pentagon instead of a department of diplomacy would be fulfilled.

Quotable quotes:

 “[Gingrich] wants to take the country back on foreign policy that even George W. Bush had some sense to reject towards the end of his second term in office,” says Brian Katulis, an expert on national security at the Center for American Progress. “Trumpeting John Bolton as a diplomatic brand worth selling is kind of like the Ford Motor Company trying to revive the Pinto.”

“Putting John Bolton in charge of the State Department would be like making Aman al-Zawahiri commandant of the Marine Corps,” says Lawrence Wilkerson, retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

This is not the first time, the Newtster has gone after the State Department, of course. Back in 2003, he too, was hysterical over the department’s Arabists and Foggy Bottom’s failure in his view to “communicate” after our troops went into Baghdad. Below is an excerpt from a 2003 article from time.com:

“Gingrich says the State Department is broken,
and must be fixed. But for the kind of “diplomacy” he’s talking about,
the fiscally disciplined thing to do would simply be to abolish it
altogether, and replace it with megaphone mounted atop a Bradley
Fighting Vehicle.”

This is not like Rick Perry’s airhead
moment. The Newtster has been thinking about C. Street improvement
needs, repairs and fixin’ and decorating  and reconstruction for ahhh
long time now …. speaking of transformation, a bureau of diplomacy
inside the Pentagon is the next horror film on option.