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Gingrich Vs. Powell?

Who will prove most destructive to U.S. foreign policy, Newt Gingrich or Colin Powell?

April 30, 2003

Who will prove most destructive to U.S. foreign policy, Newt Gingrich or Colin Powell?

In the mid-1990s, it was none other than then-Speaker Gingrich who led the charge for deep budget cuts that were inflicted on most domestic and all of the international affairs agencies.

Lest we forget, this led directly to weakened security at embassies, closure of U.S. overseas posts and aid missions, scaling back of public communications and diplomacy programs and also devoting only a tiny fraction of what we can afford (0.11% of GDP) to spurring development abroad.

The United States fell behind in paying UN dues (Gingrich’s Contract with America that linked perceived under-spending on defense with ill-conceived claims that the United States was paying “too much” in dues to the UN). The U.S. goof was also forced to drop out of other international organizations.

Can citizens of other nations be blamed if they thought Americans were losing interest in world affairs?

While taxpayer investment in the U.S. military continues to make it second-to-none in the world, we now suffer from strained alliances.

That is in part the direct result of President Bush’s mishandling of his decision to launch a war against Iraq.

But the responsibility for the present state of affairs cannot be put just at the current President's feet.

It is also the fruit of years of a lopsided approach by Congress — and some in the executive branch — toward funding for U.S. national security.

When it comes to global engagement, the United States maintains the world’s most formidable military. Yet, it skimps on investing in the tools of diplomacy, development — and peace.

This shortsighted double standard has led to the perverse situation that has been detailed by journalist Dana Priest in her book, The Mission.

U.S. military officers have vastly more resources at their disposal than diplomats and development experts to undertake foreign policy and reconstruction responsibilities.

Gingrich seems to think that the military succeeded in Iraq because it has been “transformed” but the State Department has not.

That is curious since many of the senior positions at the State Department are now occupied by former generals and colonels who used to run the U.S. military. Gingrich fails to realize that warfare and diplomacy are two very different tasks, and require very different approaches.

He should ask those who have tackled both jobs — like retired General Anthony Zinni, who excelled as a military commander but failed to produce Middle East peace as special envoy — how challenging a diplomatic assignment can be, and also how dangerous. In recent decades, far more Ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty than U.S. Generals.

Former Speaker Gingrich calls for the abolition of the U.S. Agency for International Development, castigating it for moving slowly in Afghanistan.

But USAID’s “lengthy bureaucratic processes” have been imposed by Congress. The real hindrance to reconstruction in Afghanistan is that the administration wants to avoid paying for it, preferring to pressure allies to chip in more.

George W. Bush has cast aside election pledges to keep the United States out of nation building. And he has become outspoken in calling for new spending on development and to fight HIV-AIDS in poorer nations. Yet, he has still to deliver on his promises.

It’s tough to fund a new Marshall Plan when the federal budget is in deficit, the military budget is reaching record highs — and you’re trying to cut taxes at the same time.

While tough Republicans want to go to war against North Korea, Mr. Gingrich declares war on Foggy Bottom. What is his prescription?

That the President appoint a small working group of ex-diplomats to look at the situation. From this we are going to get “bold dramatic change”?

Diplomacy is only as effective as the policies that are being pushed. If Newt Gingrich wanted to do something useful, he would stop bad-mouthing diplomacy because it can’t brainwash people in other countries to adopt the Bush Administration’s mindset.

Instead, he could focus on improving the resources dedicated to it. And direct his criticisms of foreign policy to the senior-level policy makers (like George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell) who are responsible for it.