Former House speaker Newt Gingrich unleashed a broadside Tuesday against the State Department for alleged diplomatic failures. His comments intensified the ideological trench warfare that has long characterized the Bush administration.
In a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Gingrich accused the State Department of being responsible for the global unpopularity of U.S. policies in Iraq and contrasted that with the success of the Pentagon's military campaign.
The State Department ''failed . . . to such a degree that 95 percent of the Turkish people opposed the American position,'' Gingrich said. ''Despite a pathetic public campaign of hand wringing and desperation,'' he said, the department failed to gain the votes it needed for a second United Nations Security Council resolution paving the way for war in Iraq.
Gingrich, a close associate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, asserted that his criticism had nothing to do with Secretary of State Colin Powell personally. But Gingrich also attacked Powell directly by saying his decision to visit Syria soon was ''ludicrous.''
The White House defended Powell. Spokesman Ari Fleischer praised ''Powell's superb efforts'' and said the secretary of State had not departed from President Bush's policies.
Asked Powell's reaction to the speech, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, ''The secretary was astonished that Mr. Gingrich attacked the president.''
Armitage's own reaction: ''It's clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of therapy.''
The speech was part of a campaign against Powell that was muted during the Iraq invasion but appears to have revived in recent days, as some Republicans seek to harden U.S. policy toward other regimes. The campaign has escalated to include a petition campaign urging Bush to replace Powell, according to a prominent Republican businessman who was requested to sign and asked not to be identified.
Some White House officials have complained that Powell is limiting the influence of hawkish political appointees within the State Department in the office of John Bolton, undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Bolton was previously vice president of AEI.
Administration officials, including Powell, have defended the heated ideological debates within the Cabinet as healthy. But others say they are exhausting for the bureaucracy, confusing to the American public and foreign governments and harmful to administration policies.
''In spite of the military victory in Iraq, it appears that the split between State and Defense is increasing,'' says Raymond Tanter, a Middle East expert and a National Security Council staffer for President Reagan. But he added that Powell seems to be winning on a number of issues.
The president endorsed Powell's push for talks with North Korea in China this week and rejected Rumsfeld's attempts to get the meeting canceled or to have Bolton head the U.S. delegation, a senior State Department official said.
According to the Nelson Report, a diplomatic and trade newsletter, Rumsfeld also sought last week to send U.S. troops after Iraqi officials and soldiers escaping into Syria. But Bush and Powell thought it was sufficient to issue tough verbal warnings. On Sunday, Bush said the Syrians appeared to be ''getting the message.''