Whom the gods would destroy, they would first lead to military victory in Iraq.
With the resounding success of the military campaign in Iraq, the neoconservatives have gone utterly manic. Any force that they see as standing in their way is fair game, and in the last week they have trained their fire chiefly on fellow Republicans — on Senate moderates from swing states and even on members of the Bush administration who have failed to get with the neocon program.
On Tuesday, a savage attack on Colin Powell’s State Department was leveled by none other than Newt Gingrich. The Bush administration has always had a soft spot for Republican miscreants of yore — Iran-contra wackos Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter are once again gainfully employed by the White House and the Pentagon, respectively — and the Newtster is a member of the now-celebrated Defense Policy Board, where neocon free associations turn into state policy. In fairness, Newt rose to the top in the House by attacking moderate Republicans as well as Democrats. He comes by this dishonest kind of work honestly.
This week, though, he may have outdone himself, engaging in utterly slanderous revisionist history (though the events he discussed are so recent, it might better be termed revisionist current events). The reason the United States is so friendless in the world, he asserted in a talk at the American Enterprise Institute, was the failure of the State Department to effectively communicate American policy. The fact that 95 percent of Turks opposed our war, that South Korea turned against it, was explicitly the fault of the fogies of Foggy Bottom. He contrasted “six months of diplomatic failure” with “one month of military success,” he accused State of “hand wringing and desperation,” he asserted that “America cannot lead the world with a broken instrument of American diplomacy.”
Then his remarks grew more pointed. He assailed Colin Powell for announcing he’d soon visit Syria; he said that promoting the road map for a Middle Eastern settlement in concert with the European Union, the Russians and the United Nations was a mistake. More than a mistake, actually: These policies “undermine the president’s goals.” Accordingly, he called on the Senate and the House to investigate what’s wrong at State — which, in the world according to Newt, is its lack of loyalty to Bush. Asked by the Washington Post’s Bart Gellman if Powell hadn’t rebuilt morale at the State Department, Gingrich responded that “He rebuilt the morale of people who don’t believe in what George Bush believes in and try to undermine what Bush believes in.”
The Republican right has a long history of attacking the loyalty of State Department professionals, of course. Old Joe McCarthy built a career around his unfounded accusations that State was riddled with communists; Richard Nixon, running for vice president on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952, accused Dean Acheson, then the secretary of state under Harry Truman, of running a “cowardly college of communist containment.” Gingrich’s accusations are more factional than those of his forebears: He’s not saying State is disloyal to the United States. He’s saying State is disloyal to the president — more specifically, that it is perfidiously cool to the president’s unilateralism in foreign affairs. And unlike McCarthy and Nixon, he’s attacking part of a Republican administration, not a Democratic one.
With accusations that are, in the parlance of political-science professionals, ass-backward. The policies that estranged the planet — the right of the United States to wage pre-emptive war, its contemptuous dismissal of weapons inspection (as if our troops today are doing better than Hans Blix did), its trashing of our half-century of commitment to containing totalitarian powers, its dismissal of the United Nations and NATO — were those promulgated and articulated by the Defense Department that Gingrich sees as the model for what’s right with the government. Defense has destroyed the rules and structures of international security that virtually every nation (including, before Bush took power, our own) supported, and Gingrich blames State for failing to persuade other nations to like it.
But Gingrich’s attack on State is not an isolated incident. The Republican right, crazed with success, is now subjecting fellow Republicans to the same kind of over-the-top vilification it had hitherto reserved for Democrats. Right now, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio are under attack from both the administration and movement conservatives for their adamant opposition to Bush’s proposed $726 billion tax cut, targeted heavily to (you know this, I know) the rich. By refusing to vote for a cut larger than $350 billion, the two senators have guaranteed that the president will swoop into their states to stump for his cuts, and have roused the ultra-right Club for Growth (members have to be both very rich and very greedy) to produce and air attack ads on them. “Some so-called Republicans,” the ads proclaim, “stand in the way” of the president’s economic plans — just as the French stood in the way of his plans for Iraq. In case viewers miss the point, digitally inserted French flags flutter behind the senators’ heads. Oh, the horror.
(This French stuff is the new staple of Republican attacks. An unnamed Bush adviser was quoted in The New York Times this week as saying of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democrat the Bushies think most likely to win his party’s nomination, “He looks French.”)
The neocons, that is, are at their Jacobin moment. In their assessment, they have dispatched the ancien régime and the constitutionalists like Lafayette. Now they must turn on their Dantons and Marats, their fellow revolutionaries who have failed to get with the Jacobin program. All prudent Republicans must now swear allegiance to Wolfowitz and Rove. If they don’t, Newt Gingrich — like Robespierre, a provincial second-rater with delusions of grandeur and an affinity for ruthlessness — is already tinkering with his chopping block.