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[casi] Diplomats on the Defensive?

Diplomats on the Defensive
State Dept. loyalists say the Pentagon is usurping foreign policy and
undermining Powell. Conservatives say 9/11 has changed the rules.
By Sonni Efron
Los Angeles Times

May 8, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Diplomats are paid to have cool minds and even cooler
temperaments, but inside the beleaguered State Department, plenty of
America's elite diplomats are privately seething.

They are up in arms over what they see as the hijacking of foreign
policymaking by the Pentagon and efforts to undercut their boss, Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell.

"I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military
coup' and then it all makes sense," said one veteran foreign service

The first two years of the Bush administration have seen what the diplomat
called a "tectonic shift" of decision-making power on foreign policy from
State to the Defense Department, one that has seen the Pentagon become the
dominant player on such key issues as Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan.

"Why aren't eyebrows raised all over the United States that the secretary of
Defense is pontificating about Syria?" the official, who declined to be
identified, said, fuming.

"Can you imagine the Defense secretary after World War II telling the world
how he was going to run Europe?" he added, noting it was Secretary of State
George C. Marshall who delivered that seminal speech in 1947.

Leading conservatives and Pentagon officials say such comments show the
State Department's failure to grasp how profoundly global politics and U.S.
foreign policy interests have been redefined, especially in the aftermath of
the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Bush's national security strategy calls for a forward-leaning,
muscular foreign policy to prevent terrorists and "rogue" states from
gaining access to weapons of mass destruction and to confront such threats,
by military force if necessary, before they reach American shores.

"Anyone who thinks that you can conveniently separate foreign policy,
diplomacy, national security and war-fighting is clueless about the
realities of global affairs, power politics and modern [war]," a senior
Pentagon official said.

Neoconservatives argue that the Pentagon is ascendant because it has better
internalized the president's worldview. The State Department, they say, has
not succeeded in its main task of explaining U.S. policy to the world and
winning support for it.

Pentagon officials stressed that they are cooperating with State, but the
military's swift victories in Afghanistan and Iraq have boosted its stature.
"When there is a track record of success, that tends to earn a heavier and
heavier workload," the senior Pentagon official noted.

In public, Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have friendly
relations, and their policy differences are cordial, if hard-argued. In
private, Powell is said to roll his eyes at the volume of "Rummygrams"
routinely sent his way that offer the Defense secretary's views on foreign

However, at the day-to-day working level, mid-level State Department
bureaucrats say they are alarmed by the ideological fervor of the Pentagon's
civilian decision-makers, and how they leave State out of important
decisions, brush aside the diplomats to get things done, or ignore tasks
they do not want to perform.

After months of bitter battle over who should run postwar Iraq, the two
departments finally agreed on L. Paul Bremer III, who was appointed Tuesday
by Bush to be the top civilian administrator.

But in the larger ideological struggle, there is no compromise in sight.

Diplomats interviewed for this story -- all of whom insisted on anonymity
because of the sensitivity of the political infighting -- said they 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 toward the
United States.

They cite as an example fallout from Iran being included in President Bush's
"axis of evil." Under both President Clinton and Bush, the State Department
had been ordered to try to befriend Iranian moderates in order to counter
that nation's Islamic fundamentalists. During the war in Afghanistan,
American diplomats succeeded in persuading Iran to allow U.S. military jets
to fly over Iranian territory, a surprise foreign policy success.

However, within hours of Bush's State of the Union speech last year linking
Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," Tehran canceled U.S.
overflight rights, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.

"It has taken them an incredibly short time" to anger many other nations,
said one veteran senior diplomat.

A mid-level official complained that intemperate remarks by administration
hawks have damaged long-term American interests. "Goodwill is an element of
national security -- and perhaps one of the most profound elements of
national security," he said.

The long-simmering interagency battle burst into the open last month when
former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close friend of Rumsfeld, accused the
State Department of being "ineffective and incoherent" and of a
near-treasonous failure to advance U.S. interests on the eve of the Iraq

Gingrich portrayed the foreign policy disputes within the administration as
a clash of worldviews between a president focused on "facts, values and
outcomes" and a State Department focused on "process, politeness and
accommodation." Instead of taking advantage of the diplomatic momentum
created by the Iraq war, "now the State Department is back at work pursuing
policies that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard-won victory,"
Gingrich charged.

'Decapitation' Try Seen

Rumsfeld has said Gingrich was speaking only for himself. But the address
and other attacks from neoconservatives are being viewed within the State
Department as an effort to politically "decapitate" Powell.

The Gingrich speech triggered a bitter public response from the State
Department. Powell noted during Senate testimony that diplomats are supposed
to craft alliances and find diplomatic solutions. "That's what we do," he
said. "We do it damn well, and I am not going to apologize to anyone."

In an interview with USA Today, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L.
Armitage said sarcastically, "Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of

Gingrich "said there's been this 'massive failure of diplomacy,' " noted a
mid-level State Department official. "There has been a massive failure of
diplomacy, but it's because of the president and Don Rumsfeld. This is
blame-shifting at its best."

Rumsfeld's dismissal of opposition among some allies

to the Iraq war as the political weakness of "Old Europe" and other comments
are cited by moderates in and out of government as having sabotaged Powell's
efforts before the war to get a second United Nations resolution authorizing
force against Iraq. A New York Times columnist recently dubbed Rumsfeld "the
anti-diplomat," a moniker that has caught on in Washington.

"The votes [against the U.S.] in the U.N. had nothing to do with Iraq. It
was personal" toward America, a senior diplomat said. "I don't think this
group realizes how arrogant they come off. It's a PR nightmare."

The official said he agreed with the president's decision to go to war in
Iraq, and so did most officials at State, contrary to the department's
reputation among neoconservatives as a bastion of wimpy multilateralism.
"The issue for a lot of us is the way it's been done," he said.

Many within the department dismissed Gingrich as a political has-been whose
speech had overreached and backfired, causing the president to defend and
side with Powell. But among some conservatives, Gingrich gave voice  to
complaints about the State Department that they feel have been ignored for

Conservatives cite a long-standing situation within the department of what
is often called "local-it is," the process by which foreign service officers
come to identify and sympathize more closely with the countries in whose
affairs they specialize than with American interests as defined by the
sitting president.

Some also see failures during Powell's leadership. John Tkacik, a 24-year
veteran of the State Department now at the conservative think tank the
Heritage Foundation, said there is a perception among conservatives that the
U.S. inability to secure Turkey's cooperation in the war on Iraq was a
diplomatic defeat for which the State Department should shoulder

Many inside the Beltway regard the increasingly public rift between the
agencies as just another in unending bureaucratic wars that mark life in
Washington, but one that could damage U.S. interests if it encourages
foreign countries to try to exploit the conflict. In South Korea, for
example, many officials believe the North Korean leadership is more likely
to miscalculate U.S. intentions because of the policy rift between
administration hawks and doves.

Neoconservatives such as Charles Krauthammer argue that it is precisely the
message that the U.S. is willing to use military force -- preemptively if
necessary -- that will convince regimes such as North Korea and Syria to
behave. And America should not shirk from using this power to achieve
democratic transformation in the Middle East and elsewhere, Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz often says.

For decades, the State Department has been fighting a mostly losing battle
with critics from successive incoming administrations who have accused it of
everything from harboring Communists to coddling China.

"This building is chock-full of people who are deep, deep believers in this
country and its principles and its defense," said a young diplomat who
opposed the Iraq war. The current ideological spat "has nothing to do with
whether U.S. interests are being defended and everything to do with trying
to check a Pentagon run amok. It's the 'Dr. Strangelove' syndrome: There's
very much the dominance by this institution whose sole role ultimately ...
is to kill people and blow things up and they do that very well."

"I, like many others, am carrying a great deal of anger and at times even
shame over the way we as a nation are conducting ourselves," he said.

Such impassioned sentiments do not appear to be widely shared. But what is
widespread within the State Department is the view that the U.S.
intervention in Iraq ultimately must be judged in part by whether it
generates more anti-American terrorism. Diplomats worry that the
administration is insensitive to the risks its policies carry.

"When I was a kid, conservatives were the ones who did not want to take big
risks" to change the world, recalled one middle-aged veteran at State,
adding that "these people seem willing to take huge risks" that can truly be
termed radical.

"Their willingness to roll the dice with people's lives I find troubling,"
he said.

Powell remains highly popular within the State Department. But some wonder
whether the former general is too loyal to Bush and should consider
resigning if his powers are being usurped with presidential approval by the
hawks agitating on his right flank.

Others note that most such resignations on principle do almost nothing to
change the political system.

Support From Bush

Powell reportedly has told close associates he doesn't need the job, but
Bush knows he is loyal and will carry out the president's decisions. "If you
come after us, you're in for a fight, and I'm going to fight back," Powell
told senators last week.

And senior officials say Bush, though more conservative than Powell, has
frequently sided with the former general on key issues.

But some of Powell's underlings, much as they revere their boss, are worried
that their team is losing more battles than they'd like to admit.

"If you've got to deal with the Pentagon at the working level, it's a
difficult existence," one senior official conceded. "They're so ideological,
and they're so over the top now that the testosterone is flowing" since the
Iraq war.

"But morale here is not crashing," he said. "On the contrary, we are
entering a period in which we are going to need to turn to diplomacy -- in
the Middle East and beyond."

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