Joe Conason's Journal

Now Rumsfeld has Newt Gingrich railing against the State Department. It's time for Powell to resign.

Published April 22, 2003 4:13PM (EDT)

Monkey shines
Alert readers by the score have forcefully reminded me that, contrary to what I implied in yesterday's journal, the "wrong side" technically won the 1925 "monkey" trial. The jury in Dayton, Tenn., found teacher John Scopes guilty of violating state law by teaching evolution. He was fined $100 by the judge. The state Supreme Court reversed the verdict on appeal because of a sentencing error, and dismissed the case.

Modernity won the moral victory -- a victory that endured, thanks to "Inherit the Wind," the theatrical version of the trial by playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which premiered on Broadway in 1955. Five years later, Stanley Kramer directed the film version starring Fredric March, Spencer Tracy (and Gene Kelly as H. L. Mencken). Tennessee didn't lift the ban on teaching evolution until 1967. I apologize for the error and thank all who wrote in.
[2:00 p.m. PDT, April 22, 2003]

Colin Powell, neocon target
The loyal soldier Colin Powell is a marked man. For his adversaries on the neoconservative right, it wasn't enough that the secretary of state went to the U.N. and said things he didn't fully believe about Iraq, in order to advance the White House war agenda. Although he won plaudits for his show-and-tell at the Security Council, the brief truce between Powell and his rightist critics could not outlast the hostilities in Iraq. Still regarded as an "appeaser" in neocon circles because he insists on recognizing the existence of the rest of the world, he is now once again their target. And to add further indignity to the right-wing insults, the designated assassin is none other than Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, like Richard Perle a member of the Defense Policy Board, is taking the occasion of a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute to launch the latest attack on Powell. The former speaker is a longtime advisor to Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense whose obvious desire is to seize complete control of the administration's foreign policy. Who needs a State Department or a Secretary of State if all diplomacy is to be conducted by gunboat?

It says something rather unflattering about the neocons that they have dispatched the unsavory Gingrich to carry their public agenda. After all, he is among the most renowned chicken hawks, and an Army brat to boot, who managed to avoid Vietnam while Powell served. His remarks today eerily echo Joe McCarthy's jihad against the State Department -- just substitute "commies" for "appeasers" -- and he even bears a disturbing physical resemblance to the Wisconsin demagogue. But then he always resembled McCarthy, going back to the "lexicon" he used to hand out to GOP congressional candidates, which urged them to accuse Democrats of "treason."

When the former speaker isn't blathering on Fox News or hustling to annul his second marriage, he spends his days running the Gingrich Group -- a "communications" firm in Washington that depends heavily on his access to Rumsfeld and other administration figures. His perch on the Defense Policy Board, where he receives classified briefings and hobnobs with defense industry executives and Pentagon officials, is too important to Gingrich for him to risk Rumsfeld's displeasure. (While he refuses to publicly release the names of his clients, Gingrich is known to represent the nanotech industry, which requires large infusions of public investment from the Pentagon and other government agencies.) Today's speech, which reportedly demands a congressional investigation of the State Department and disparages American diplomats as ideological enemies of the president, is a direct act of aggression by the Defense Department.

What will the president say? Probably nothing, as usual. Bush often looks like an insignificant cipher in these struggles. For the moment, Powell seems to be winning bureaucratic battles on Syria and North Korea. But unless the president's spokesman repudiates Rumsfeld's surrogate attack on the secretary of state, Powell should consider preparing his resignation letter. He has sacrificed more than enough for his callow boss.
[10:25 a.m. PDT, April 22, 2003]

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