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Gingrich blasts 'diplomatic failure' at State Department

White House defends Powell

The White House defended Secretary of State Colin Powell and the State Department.
The White House defended Secretary of State Colin Powell and the State Department.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blasted the State Department Tuesday for a series of what he described as diplomatic failures leading up to the war with Iraq, and warned that the pattern is poised to repeat itself.

In a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, Gingrich contrasted the experience of the State Department with the Defense Department. He said the State Department had failed in its efforts to apply diplomatic pressure to persuade Iraq to disarm and comply with U.N. resolutions, and it is time for "bold, dramatic change" at the department.

"The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success," said Gingrich, who sits on a Pentagon advisory committee. "The first days after military victory indicate the pattern of diplomatic failure is beginning once again and threatens to undo the effects of military victory."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Powell
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Powell "an extraordinary figure" but said the institution was "broken."

Specifically, Gingrich cited as failures the United States' inability to persuade Turkey to allow U.S. troops on its soil before the war and the failed attempt to win a second U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Without an overhaul at the State Department, Gingrich warned that the United States would "find itself on the defensive everywhere except militarily."

Gingrich, a favorite of many conservatives, faulted Secretary of State Colin Powell for saying he would visit Syria, which the Bush administration has accused of aiding members of the fallen regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Over the weekend, that criticism eased and President Bush said Syria has shown signs of cooperation.

"The concept of the American secretary of state going to Damascus to meet with a terrorist-supporting, secret-police-wielding dictator is ludicrous," said Gingrich, who resigned the speakership under fire in 1999. He had represented Georgia as a Republican congressman, and now works as a consultant and political analyst. "The United States military has created an opportunity to apply genuine economic, diplomatic and political pressure on Syria."

The White House, however, expressed its confidence in Powell, saying he had done an "excellent job" in promoting the president's views and advancing his agenda.

"The actions of Secretary Powell and the Department of State are the president's actions," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. "They carry out the president's directions and they do so very ably and professionally. The nation and the president are fortunate to have a secretary of state as ... strong as Secretary Powell."

Gingrich's comments were first reported in The Washington Post, which featured a front-page story Tuesday examining what it described as rivalries and tensions between the State and Defense departments.

In his speech, Gingrich said he was not criticizing personalities, but "effectiveness." And he had some praise for Powell.

"I think Secretary Powell is an extraordinary figure and I think he's a very effective advocate, but I think he is currently presiding over an institution that's broken," Gingrich said.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher defended the department.

"The State Department is here to carry out the president's policy," he said. "In everyone of these instances being cited, we are doing that effectively. We doing that loyally, we are doing that diligently and we're doing that with a fair amount of creativity and accomplishment. That's what we are here to do. We carry out the president's policy, and I think I we're doing so very well."

One senior official took a swipe at Gingrich, whose tenure as House speaker ended with some Republicans expressing displeasure over his leadership style and lamenting their party's losses in the 1998 midterm elections.

"He saw an opportunity to get on TV, and I'm sure he wanted to reorganize us as effectively as he wanted to reorganize the Congress," this official said.

One former official in the administration of President George H.W. Bush said Gingrich's comments were really directed at the president.

"This was a shot at Bush, not a shot at Colin," he said.

And one Powell aide defended the secretary of state, saying Powell "stands in the way of reckless foreign policy." This aide also said the Gingrich comments could be an attempt to shift attention from the Pentagon's effort to bring security and services to Iraq in the post-Saddam era.

"It's too timely to be otherwise," this aide said.

--Written by CNN.Com Producer Sean Loughlin with reporting from State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, State Department Producer Elise Labott and White House Producer Catherine Berger.

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