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. At the Republican Jewish Coalition candidate forum on Wednesday in Washington, Gingrich got more specific. He pledged to nominate the famously nationalist, hawkish former UN Ambassador John Bolton to be his Secretary of State, but only if Bolton pledges to radically overhaul the department. Here’s what Gingrich said:
If he will accept it, I will ask John Bolton to be Secretary of State. But I will only appoint him if he will agree that his first job is the complete and thorough transformation of the State Department and the replacement of the current Foreign Service culture with a new entrepreneurial and aggressive culture dedicated to the proposition that defending freedom and defending America is the first business of the State Department, not appeasing opponents.
Why does Gingrich harbor such strange antipathy for the nonpartisan, apolitical analysts in Foggy Bottom?
It is an often overlooked aspect of Gingrich’s history that he was a leading advocate of the disastrous Iraq War. In April 2003 he delivered at broadside against the State Department at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. (USA Today described Gingrich at the time as “a close associate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board.”) The State Department produced honest intelligence assessments in the run-up to the invasion, rather than the politicized fear mongering about imaginary weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda that the Bush-Cheney White House wanted. Secretary of State Colin Powell was also more cautious about invading Iraq than his colleagues in the White House and Defense Department.
In June 2003 Gingrich wrote an article for Foreign Policy that scathingly attacked the State Department for failing to back the Iraq invasion. FP’s Josh Keating recounts that Gingrich’s piece “accused the department of undermining the Bush administration’s foreign policy and argues that it needs to ‘experience culture shock, a top-to-bottom transformation that will make it a more effective communicator of U.S. values around the world.’ ” As Keating notes, “Published just weeks after Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, the piece feels a like a bit of a relic of the short-lived triumphalism of the early Iraq war.” Gingrich’s recent statements suggest he has not rethought his discredited worldview.
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.”