March 15, 2005

Bolton, Again

Samantha Power, writing in the New Yorker:

It is unclear what the Bush Administration has in mind by shipping Bolton to New York. The appointment has been spun as “Nixon goes to China.” Nixon, however, actually went to China: the visit was compatible with his world view. Bolton, by contrast, seems averse to compromise, and is apparently committed to the belief that the U.N. and international law undermine U.S. interests. If he is to be an engine for U.N. reform, he will have to jettison his core values.

John Bolton, accepting his nomination to USUN:

And, Secretary, my record, over many years, demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy, whether it be the Proliferation Security Initiative, the G-8 global partnership or adopting U.N. resolutions. Working closely with others is essential to ensuring a safer world...

...Close cooperation and the time-honored tradition of frank communication is central to achieving our mutually held objectives.

The United Nations affords us the opportunity to move our policies forward together with unity and purpose.

As you know, I have, over the years, written critically about the U.N. Indeed, one highlight of my professional career was the 1991 successful effort to repeal the General Assembly's 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, thus removing the greatest stain on the U.N.'s reputation.

I have consistently stressed in my writings that American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N., one that is true to the original intent of its charter's framers.

This is a time of opportunity for the U.N., which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform. [emphasis added]

I have only the utmost respect for Samantha Power but think she's being too harsh on Bolton here. Yes, Bolton has been a U.N. skeptic. But there is nothing about him that makes him constitutionally incapable of compromise, innately opposed to international law writ large, or wholly predisposed to think the U.N. always undermines the U.S. national interest. Bolton is ultimately a pragmatist (note the use of the word "effective" twice in the above passage)--not some messianic idealogue railing against all international fora. He just, in the main, wants to improve the U.N. efficiency in matching its lofty goals while, at the same time, not allowing the U.S. to be emasculated by said international organization when more effective means of pursuing the national interest are available. Yes, Samantha is right that Bolton is a nation-building skeptic, of sorts. But from this and some Lexis-Nexis ferreting about for Boltonisms one can't so easily extrapolate that he doesn't care a whit for international law, the United Nations system, even, 'compromise'! As even Power points out the Proliferation Security Initiative took some doing, didn't it? Multilateral doing, that is.

Indeed, I anticipate that he will have a strong voice indeed up at the U.N. and will be quite an, er, effective advocate of U.S. interests there (including, so important, helping spearhead critical U.N. reforms). He's also street smart and savvy enough to not only get advice about how to navigate the rocky shoals of Turtle Bay from people who share his basic DNA (Jeanne Kirkpatrick, say), but also from people like Dick Holbrooke who will have distinctively different worldviews from his. At minimum, however, Holbrooke and Bolton will be able to agree that the U.N. can at least sometimes be of utility. As Bolton wrote in this article:

What, then, does the foregoing analysis mean for the United Nations, and for America's role within the organization? It means primarily that the rest of the world should have realistic expectations that the United Nations has a limited role to play in international affairs for the foreseeable future. While that role can be important, it must be seen in perspective. Thus, during the Persian Gulf crisis, the U.N. Security Council served as a critical element in developing the global coalition that opposed and reversed Saddam Hussein's unprovoked aggression against Kuwait. Not since the Korean War had the United Nations been so central to the handling of a major international crisis, and never before had American diplomacy been so focused on the United Nations. Unfortunately, however, many people drew the wrong lessons from the U.N.'s role in the Persian Gulf, thus contributing in part to the debacle in Somalia.

Worth noting too, and contra Power, Bolton has been to the metaphorical 'China':

I believe that the United Nations can be a useful instrument in the conduct of American foreign policy. That is why, for example, even as a private citizen, I am willing to assist my former boss, former Secretary of State Jim Baker, in his capacity as the U.N. secretary general's recently appointed personal envoy to assess the situation in the Western Sahara. Secretary Baker and I met with Kofi Annan on April 2, and we will be travelling to the region, at the secretary general's request, to assess the situation there, and to make recommendations to him and the Security Council.

Another part of Samantha's piece worthy of flagging:

The appointment of John Bolton has the look of a bureaucratic fix for an Administration that doesn’t really care what happens to the U.N. At the State Department, Bolton, a protégé of Vice- President Dick Cheney, has behaved more like a grandstander at a conservative think tank than like a diplomat. Colin Powell endured the collateral damage caused by his outbursts, but Rice made it plain that she would have none of it, and passed over Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State. Cheney reportedly then insisted that Bolton get the U.N. When Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were appointed U.N. Ambassadors, President Clinton announced the nominations. Bush did the same for his first-term nominees, John Negroponte and John Danforth. Rice, in naming Bolton herself, sent a not so subtle signal that she expects to remain boss. [emphasis added]

It wasn't just Condi sending a message but, more important, Bush. After all, it was Bush's perogative, not Condi's, as to whether he would announce Bolton's nomination like is customary for a UN Ambassador (and like he had Danforth's and Negroponte's). He chose not to--signaling that Bolton was to report through Condi and not entertain bypassing her too often via independent channels to the White House. The point is that, where he might have a tendency to go off the plantation a bit, he will be more easily reeled in than he was during Bush's first term.

Meanwhile, I note that Steve Clemons is on something of a monomaniacal anti-Bolton blogathon. Hey, to each his own! It's his space...and he's trying to keep Sid Blumenthal's "neo-primitive" at bay (read: away from Turtle Bay)! But what exactly does he mean by the "Niger-Uranium fiasco"? I thought we had dealt with that extensively here or here or here or, er, here (there's more, just search "Niger" or such 'key words' to the right). The only "fiasco" here, truth be told, was Josh Marshall's breathless chearleading (tectonic plates a shiftin') of what proved a non-story (if you are going hard for the jugular and trying to topple major players--well, you gotta pull it off or, if you can't, stand down and eat some humble pie). So it's too bad to see a smart guy like Clemons repeating the discredited meme as gospel. You can't just try to tar Bolton by muttering on about Niger and uranium and, voila, try to get Chuck Hagel to think twice about supporting his nomination. That's just not serious. Nor would such smear tactics work anyway. People like Hagel are smarter than that.

P.S. Don't miss Sully writing on this in the Times (UK) either:

It remains true that Bolton’s visceral suspicion of the UN is not what we usually think of as diplomacy. But the post of UN ambassador has long been a job in which ferocious critics of the UN have found their niche. Remember Jeane Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s ambassador, or, more pertinently, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Democratic senator? When the UN passed its infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution, Moynihan diplomatically stated, “This is a lie.” When Idi Amin addressed the organisation and was granted the same respect and status as a democratic leader, Moynihan called him a “racist murderer”. Somehow the UN and world diplomacy survived this rare outburst of truth.

The UN and world diplomacy will survive John Bolton too. Hell, they may even be better for it.

Posted by Gregory at March 15, 2005 03:00 AM | TrackBack (2)

weak. I'll get to this later.

Posted by: praktike at March 16, 2005 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not sure about this. After all, both Moynihan and Kilpatrick were substantial intellectual figures chosen in large part for their willingness to say things that their principles wanted said but did not want to say themselves.

Is this really true of Bolton? Or does his appointment represent a point of bureaucratic equillibrium produced by Rice's preference for Zoellick as her Deputy Secretary, Bolton's desire for a new post, Cheney's enthusiasm for Bolton's toughness and willingness to communicate with the Vice President's office, and Bush's preference for filling prominent positions with familiar faces?

Don't get me wrong: I'd prefer to think of this appointment as a product of design. Because Bolton has promoted policies I thought unwise in other areas doesn't mean he could not make a useful contribution as UN Ambassador. But bureaucratic accomodation first and improvisation afterwards have been characterisitc of this administration, and may be what we're seeing here.

Posted by: Zathras at March 16, 2005 03:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Maybe, but more likely you and Greg are both right. As opposed to the hyper rational way that we often speak of how foreign policy should be conducted, in the real world people come up with ideas for rather mundane reasons and then put them to use in more thoughtful ways. Justification can follow a convenient choice and often turn out quite well.

How often in making decisions in your own life and career has someone suggested something as a compromise or to solve an ancillary issue and then a strategy of making it a very effective decision developed? In mine it has been quite often. The reason such decision paths are often so fruitful is that it leads to thinking outside the box. Will Bolton work? I don't know, but I can see some possibilities. Of course at the time neither Moynihan nor Kirkpatrick were seen as unalloyed goods. They seem more worthwhile choices in retrospect.

Posted by: Lance at March 16, 2005 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Uncharacteristically hacky this post. Are you serious when you suggest that Bolton is not opposed to international organizations and law? When has he said otherwise? On the contrary, there is a mile-long paper trail of him condemning both in no uncertain terms.

As for the Niger story, I think you revise too much. If there was nothing to be ashamed of, why does Bolton try to conceal his involvement in the matter? Go read praktike. What he said.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 16, 2005 10:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I have no idea what kind of ambassador Bolton will make. However, what intellectually honest figure would not have a long list of criticisms of international organizations and law? Similarly what intellectually honest person wouldn't have a long list of criticisms of the foreign policy of Bush, Clinton and so on. That is not to say that Bolton has no interest in cooperating with other nations, he is just unhappy with the tools at hand. His solutions may not appeal to you, or his demeanor, but while Praktike's quotes are brusque and undiplomatic, they are also quite accurate in many respects.

Posted by: Lance at March 17, 2005 03:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The discussion is manifold. First, does Bolton make salient points? Perhaps, perhaps not. Intelligent people can disagree, but the criticisms are not the problem.

Further, Greg isn't saying he makes good points, Greg is saying that Bolton is not averse to working with IGO's as such. The quotes are not important because they show a brusque nature, they are important because they reveal the fact that he does not believe in the institutions themselves. This is a big distinction. Moynihan was a critic, but did not repeatedly call for the institutions abolition. That is sort of a big difference. I don't care about his demeanor, I care about his positions on the very organization he will be operating within.

Maybe he has had a change of heart, and will swallow his past stance, but that suggests that he is CHANGING from a prior position. Prak was right on this.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 17, 2005 04:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by