Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Discussion: Gingrich In Depth

Taking this from the top. Gingrich criticizes the State Department's lack of outrage regarding the US's removal from the UN Human Rights committee. They lost in a vote against Sweden. At the time the administration was cozying up to the likes of China, Isreal, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Pakistan, the Northern Alliance, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all in the name of the war on terror. All well publicized human rights offenders. They were fresh off torpedoeing the ICC, the UN biological weapons treaty, the UN land mine treaty. Not to mention the job they were doing on civil rights here in the US. Was it really in the US's interest to turn this into a big public battle? Given the circumstances it is pretty hard to argue that Sweden was not a better choice for the committee and a fight on the part of the US would have resulted in everything I just mentioned being publicly thrown in our faces. Devoid of any of this context, Gingrich's outrage appears well founded. But context is precisely what I count on FP Mag to have, and why I refer to it as more academic.

Gingrich further asserts that this is the reason that France contested the US's drive for war with Iraq in the UN. He offers no evidence. It is a fairly bizarre assertion. I've read many accounts of France's reasons for their actions, and have some opinions of my own. Never have I seen this connection made before, and barring any further argument it is hard to regard it as anything more than rhetorical hot air.

Passing over Ginrich's main thrust regarding the poor bureaucratic structure of the State Department (which I'll return to later), he attacks the department for a report by their intelligence wing that contradicted a statement of Bush's regarding the spread of democracy in Iraq. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated in a report, leaked in March: "“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.” The truth of this statement seems obvious to me, and I believe that events that have come to pass since that time bear it out. Gingrich makes no effort to contest the accuracy of the statement, only that it is not in tune with the neo-con chorus line. Does he believe the State Department's Intelligence and Research group should serve as a PR arm of the government rather than, say, trying to come up with the most accurate intelligence and research assessments it can? I'll grant that the State Department ought to serve some role in evangelizing the policies of the administration, but I think the research department is not the place for that. Is not the evangelical roles played by intel groups exactly the reason that Bush and Blair now find themselves in such a pickle over the WMD's?

He further rips into the department's diplomats for their opinion that "they are profoundly worried about what they describe as the [Bush] 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 toward the United States.” The job of the State Department is to represent US interest in international matters. Should they not have opinions on how this is done? Should they not attempt to be in tune with the reactions of other nations and their people to US actions? Again, the accuracy of the statement appears difficult to dispute. Numerous polls and statements by foreign politicians bear it out. This feeling on the part of the State Department merely indicates that they are, in fact, doing the job they are assigned to do. Again it seems the State Department is guilty of nothing more than failing to toe the neo-conservative line.

Gingrich takes a brief break from attacking the state department to lambast the left wing media, NGO's, and academics for inciting opposition to the US which the State Department must counter. Again the evidence is completely absent, save a throw-away statement that "some observers" felt the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war was little different from Al-Jazeera's, a statement which I, as a regular reading of the BBC, find to be utterly unbelievable. The left wing media is largely of myth of the past. That time has come and gone, and Gingrich's invoking it does little to improve his credibility. And NGO's contribute considerable human and financial resources that should be a tremendous boon to US foreign policy. They provide a devoted and compassionate side to US foreign policy that is desperately needed in these days. To blame them for US's ills in foreign perception is folly.

Gingrich goes on to state that direct interactions with other states are obsolete, and that the US needs to change to a broadcast format for foreign policy, making minor adjustments for each region. In other words he wants to adopt the Clear Channel radio model for foreign policy. I'm sure other nations will greatly appreciate having even less consideration from, and interaction with, the US than they get now. Again, any reasoning or justification for this change is completely absent.

I'm beginning to tire at this point, so I'll skip the remainder and get back to Gingrich's main point. I, frankly, can't speak to the bureaucratic systems of the State Department and their efficiency in serving the President, other than to say that, based on the issues Gingrich raises, they seem to be doing a good job. He does indeed cite a couple of relevant reports in this area to back up his position. However, he completely fails to provide any counterpoint or perspective from the State Department. In any serious discussion, I expect, I demand, to see this. Getting only one very opinionated side of the story is what I expect of Limbaugh or O'Reilly, hence my comment. The best Gingrich does is to quote the State Department in saying that some reorganization proposal is “too disruptive and distracts too much energy for ongoing operations,” and conlcude based on that statement that "the State Department is far too busy being ineffective to bother fixing its internal structures in order to become more effective." Clearly this is not the whole story. He is arguing against a straw man. And given the weakness of the rest of his argument, and given what I know if his background and previous statements I find this aspect of his position to be quite lacking in credibility. I feel no qualms in dismissing it out of hand. I am at this point a bit curious to know exactly what those reports said and what the full response of the state department was. But on their own, I find Gingrich's arguments worthless.

Credibility is currency. You have to earn it before you spend it. If you've earned credibility I will give you the benefit of the doubt when you make assertions that are less than fully supported. If you haven't, I won't. Gingrich clearly hasn't. Gingrich had little to offer when he was Speaker of the House, and has changed little since then. At the time he was a captain of the vicious and petty party politics that, from his time on, characterized the Clinton Presidency. He was enough to make me a big fan of Bob Dole, his contemporary counterpart in the Senate, who despite disagreeing with almost all of my political positions, at least had the merit of being thoughful and gentlemanly. Now, holding no power, Gingrich has been reduced to serving as a right-wing attack dog.

There are many serious issues to discuss regarding US foreign policy and the perceptions of that policy by other nations and their peoples. There have been many interesting and insightful pieces written on the matter in recent years, and FP Mag has hosted a good number of them. Gingrich completely disregards all of those discussions in foisting his politically driven screed on his readers. He does not even acknowledge the effect of US policies, past actions, or the US's position in the world on foreign opinion, nor the internal conflicts, contradictions, and complications that those issues present to the State Department and its mission. As far as his essay is concerned they don't exist. Only the State Department, by itself, and void of any context, is responsible for the poor global perception the US carries. He ignores all previous serious discussion of the topic on which he writes in order to launch a half-baked attack that finds the State Department guilty of being something other than a simple PR organ for the neo-con leadership, something it was never intended to be in the first place. I find his essay to be of little intellectual value, and frankly somewhat insulting. But then again, as a great man once said, that's just my opinion.

No comments: