Washington — Newt Gingrich, the GOP presidential primary frontrunner, derides the U.S. State Department as “incapable of articulating the cause of freedom.” Former Senator Rick Santorum threatened to take a “meat ax” to it as his first order of business if elected president. And Rep. Michele Bachmann, another GOP presidential hopeful, called on it to more forcefully “expose the atrocious activities of the Iranian regime that are arresting, imprisoning, torturing and murdering innocent Iranian citizens.”
Seeking traction with Jewish voters, these Republican candidates have made the State Department a target of their attacks, portraying it as a bastion of pro-Arab sentiments in the U.S. government.
Current and former State Department officials forcefully reject the candidates’ accusations that the agency harbors an anti-Israel bias. But the charge plays into a decades-old notion that U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East is controlled by “Arabists,” and to the feeling that, historically, the State Department has pushed harder than the White House to resolve the Middle East conflict, even if that means leaning harder on Israel.
Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives who currently tops the group of Republican hopefuls in public opinion polls, told a candidates’ forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition that America is being “morally disarmed” by the State Department when trying to fight radical Islam. The former speaker also vowed, if elected president, to appoint John Bolton as his Secretary of State, a statement that drew a standing ovation from the crowd of Jewish Republicans. Bolton, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration, is known for his staunch support of Israel and his advocacy of military action against Iran to halt its nuclear development program.
In a conference call with Jewish supporters two days after the December 7 forum, Gingrich fleshed out his idea for reforming the State Department. “Overhauling the State Department will be one of my first goals,” Gingrich said in a conference call organized by the National Council of Young Israel. He explained that in order to reform the diplomatic service, he’d make sure to employ people he trusts and to provide training for other foreign service officers. “You need to be very clear that you’re willing to make changes,” he said.
A key example used by Republicans to demonstrate what they see as an anti-Israel approach by U.S. diplomats is the issue of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Congress passed legislation mandating the move in 1995, but the legislation contained a provision for a presidential waiver of the move on national security grounds for six months at a time.
Every president since has signed the waiver every six months.