May 13, 2005

Bolton and Voinovich

It was suggested to me a while ago, by someone who knows that in a past life I worked under George Voinovich when he was Governor of Ohio, that I might say something about his role in the controversy over John Bolton's nomination to be UN ambassador. Let me state up front that while not close to him personally (or physically, since I worked out of the state's Washington office) I liked Voinovich and thought him a good, conscientious governor.

I don't really have a lot to say; my thinking on Bolton is not that far removed from Voinovich's position. Bolton, though I recognize his abilities and past accomplishments, would not have been my choice for the UN post. Unlike Voinovich I don't think the case against him is strong enough to justify denying the President his choice. I did not support Bush during the 2000 Republican primaries, after all, and my evaluation of his administration (even just the foreign policy part of it) would be considerably less enthusiastic than Greg's posted here last Thursday. I have thought Bush's nominees were the best available perhaps a third of the time. But he is President, and barring something disqualifying in a nominee's background or grounds to believe mjaor damage will result from his appointment I incline toward giving a President the team he wants.

I was frankly a little disappointed to see a couple of things about Voinovich's participation in this controversy. The first was the way he sprang his doubts about Bolton on the Foreign Relations Committee just before the scheduled committee vote back on April 19, after not having spoken up in hearings the preceding week. This I thought was less than considerate of committee Chairman Richard Lugar, whose job between this administration and hostile committee Democrats is difficult enough without surprises of this kind from his own side.

The main thing for me, though, is the need for timely decision on important nominations. If Bolton gets blocked in committee, the President can get started on another nominee. If he gets approved, he can get right to work -- provided of course he doesn't run afoul of Sen. Frist's plan to make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, starting next week. How about if Bolton stays in limbo for another month or two, during which time the United States will have no ambassador to the UN? What kind of message does that send about how America regards the United Nations, and if Bolton does finally get confirmed after such a protracted ordeal how effective is he likely to be?

Frankly, I could see Bolton's opponents going to the lengths they have to block his nomination only if they expected that upon confirmation he would go to New York, seize an axe, and start bashing in the UN's front door while yelling "here's Johnny!" But if Voinovich believes all the things he said about Bolton yesterday, then he ought to have voted that way, killed the nomination, and let everyone move on so this position could get filled in a timely manner. If not, he should have voted for it -- back in April, actually -- with whatever reservations, and confirmed Bolton for what after all is only an ambassadorship the holder of which is charged with implementing policy made in Washington. I've noted before that the Bush administration has a tendency to leave important posts unfilled at inopportune times. Usually it has itself to blame, as with the embassy in Baghdad and the public diplomacy position at State, but not this time.

"I'm not so arrogant" said Voinovich on Thursday, "to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues." Sorry, boss, but a United States Senator is liable to find himself imposing his judgmemt on his colleagues during any close vote. It's part of the job description. You either accept the responsibility, or you don't.

Posted by at May 13, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack (12)

In defense of Voinovich ---

First, I think that asking each senator to be fully familiar with every issue he must deal with is asking too much of any human being. There is a natural tendency to vote for a President's nominee, and assume that opposition is "political" rather than substantive. In April, when the Democrats deliniated the substantive reasons why Bolton was wrong for the UN post, Voinovich did the right thing, and asked for more information --- this is especially true because Lugar tried to rush the nomination through, rather than fully investigate all of the questions regarding Bolton.

Secondly, its entirely unfair to blame Voinovich for his decision to not support the nomination while allowing it to go to the Senate floor. There is no question that Voinovich (and at least three other Senators) would have voted against the nomination if they were allowed to "vote their conscience", and that the fault lies with the tremendous pressure brought on Voinovich and the others by Lugar and the White House.

This pressure is completely inappropriate --- the Constitution says "advice and consent", not "acquiescence", and responsibility for any damage that is done to the US because of any delay in getting a UN ambassador must be placed solely at the door of the White House. The Bush regime clearly sees imposition of its own will as a higher priority than what is best for the United States, and its unwillingness to withdraw the nomination early on in deference to the substative objections of all eight Democratic members of the SFAC is evidence of how craven and venal Bush and his minions are.


The bottom line on Bolton is that he is professionally and tempermentally unsuited to any "diplomatic" post. He lacks the key trait of self-effacement that is required of diplomats, whose job it is to communicate official policy in all its nuance and complexity without any attempt to superimpose his own opinions. This trait is especially critical in a forum like the UN, where the ability to "thread the needle" is essential when dealing with policies that affect nations that are in opposition to each other on various issues.

Bolton also does not seem capable of communicating the nuanced and subtle views of other diplomats to his "superiors." He shows a strong tendency to interpret evidence in a manner consistent with his own preconceptions, and his reading of conversations with other diplomats will inevitably lack nuance and accuracy.

Most critically, the Bush regime's opposition to "internationalism", combined with Bolton's own extreme opposition to "internationalism", makes him the absolute worst choice in terms of reforming the UN, and making it a more effective organization. Nothing Bolton says with regard to the UN will be considered credible by the UN, because there will always be an underlying assumption that Bolton's purpose is to undermine the United Nations, not to strengthen it.

Only someone with a clear and unambiguous commitment to "internationalism" --- someone who has shown a commitment to the purpose and potential of the United Nations --- could act as a catalyst for appropriate change in the UN. When it comes to UN reform, a Bush UN ambassador must be someone who is perceived as an "honest broker" between the "American hegemonists" who dominate the Bush administration, and the rest of the international community.

And if there is one thing John Bolton will never be accused of, its being an "honest broker."

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 14, 2005 11:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The line "I am not so arrogant...." just slays me. Yes he is, I just think that his pollsters told him his position was a losing proposition if he want to be president, and I believe he does.

Posted by: David at May 14, 2005 06:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I simply don't understand the case for Bolton. His boosters say that we need someone "tough" to reform the UN. However, any competent diplomat can be tough, if so ordered by his or her superiors. That being the case, why do we need Bolton?

Posted by: Les Brunswick at May 14, 2005 10:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Voinovich -- he's trying to split the middle between the President and the Democrats, and not offend the Commentariat and bureaucrats who make up most of Washington. Plus the big fight over Bolton may be really about Castro. Some in Washington are ideologically committed to normalizing relations or even supporting Fidel. Dodd, Biden, Kennedy, Boxer, and Feinstein come to mind. Others have economic reasons (farm states wanting to sell food to starving Cubans) to make their backers happy. Bolton threatens all that, so they want to torpedo his career.

The other notable thing is that the State Dept. and CIA are essentially in open revolt against the President's policy and agenda. They are desperately trying to push the Chirac/Schroeder agenda, a return to the Powell Doctrine explicity rejected by the Bush policy, and construct a policy that looks much like Clinton's impotent "fire a few missles and forget" nuance of the late nineties.

We "need Bolton" because he's the ONLY ONE who will actually follow the policies of the President. Others will follow the policies of the permanent bureaucracy which is in open revolt against the President.

We either delegate the proper authority to the Executive AND hold them accountable in elections, or we get to the current mess where any Republican running for President in 2008 can point to the confluence of the Commentariat, Democrats, and "have it both ways" Republicans allied with the permanent bureaucracy (epitomized by the loathesome/hapless Scheuer, Clarke, and Sandy Burglar) to hamstring the implementation of the President's policy.

If I read luksiaks argument right, his principal objection to Bolton (and the disastrous reading by the public for the Democrats) is that he favors the US national interests and the President's policy over that of other countries or the UN's. Furthermore, it seems that the next objection is lack of "nuance and subltety" which is code word for he stands up for America's interests. Kruschev banging his shoe on the podium, Arafat strutting around with a Browning High Power on his hip were not sublte, but everyone understood their message. This is the last REAL objective about Bolton: he was effective in overturning the Zionism is Racism resolution which earned him the undying emnity of the Left, most Democrats, and ESPECIALLY the Europeans.

If you accept Luksiaks' assumption that there exists an independent UN set of interests that must be met by compromising the US's interests ... that right there is a loser. The record of the UN even just during the post-Cold War period is pathetic lending credence to Bolton's assertion that the institution only matters when the US drives it. Certainly Kofi Annan ordering Dalliare to "preserve the neutrality of the UN" and leave the Rwandan Tutsi and moderate Hutus to be hacked to death or burned alive makes Bolton's point in spades. As does the French complicity in the whole genocide. Or continued French/Chinese/Russian support for the genocide in Darfur and refusal to refer it to the Security Council.

Another EXCELLENT reason to push Bolton: the UN, Kofi Annan personally, and most of the senior staff seem caught up in the web of financial profitting from Saddam's ongoing oil for bribes scandals, implicating payoffs to Chirac, George Galloway, and others. Bolton shouting for the UN to let out the truth about who got paid off by whom and for how much would bring some much needed sunshine into one of the most corrupt organizations in the world (based on press reports).

Posted by: Jim Rockford at May 15, 2005 03:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How often does the bureaucracy revolt against a president?

Posted by: fling93 at May 15, 2005 08:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We "need Bolton" because he's the ONLY ONE who will actually follow the policies of the President. Others will follow the policies of the permanent bureaucracy which is in open revolt against the President.

It would be helpful to know what Bush's policies were, wouldn't it? For instance, what is Bush's plan for UN reform that Bolton is supposedly going to try and carry out? What is Bush's policy on Iran---is it to provoke a confrontation that places American troops in Iraq at risk, and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East? What is Bush's policy on North Korea? Is it to provoke NK into unleashing a few nukes on population centers in South Korea, Japan, and possibly the West Coast of the United States?

From what I can tell, the best word to describe the Bush regime policy is "infantile". An infant knows when it wants something, but other than screaming and thrashing about has no means of achieving its goals. It cannot articulate a reason for what it wants or how to achieve it, is impervious to logic or information, insists upon immediate gratification, and has no conception that "others" have needs that must be met as well.

A "policy" is more than just an overall goal --- it is a specifically delineated goal, and includes the means to achieve that goal, and those means must pass the "reality based community" test. Wingnuts love to talk about the "Oil for Food" scandal --- but the US always had the absolute ability to monitor that program, and stop any "corruption" --- and probably chose not to because the corruption didn't really have an impact on the program itself, and involved relatively small amounts of non-US taxpayer dollars. (These same wingnuts are AWOL when the discussion turns to the lost BILLIONS of American taxpayer dollars in Iraq. ) The wingnuts love to point to the "sex scandal" involving UN peacekeeping personnel --- but when Americans abuse and torture detainees, its always just a "few bad apples" despite the fact that we know that the White House sought and received a legal rationale for torture and abuse.

The fact is that wingnuts don't live in the "real" world, but in a fantasy world where Kofi Annan, Jacque Chirac, and George Galloway personally profit from the "Oil For Food" scandal --- and the Democratic Party is actively and deliberately involved in ensuring that these people continue to receive their payoffs. They don't have articulated goals and policies --- they simply scream and thrash about when they don't get what they want, just like an infant does.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 15, 2005 11:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The first was the way he sprang his doubts about Bolton on the Foreign Relations Committee just before the scheduled committee vote back on April 19, after not having spoken up in hearings the preceding week.

It wasn't that he didn't speak up in the hearings, it was that he couldn't even be bothered to attend them.

Posted by: R C Dean at May 15, 2005 12:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tell us again how long it took to get Holbrooke confirmed? How much of that time was delays for things completely unrelated to the nomination? And how upset were you about it?

Unless you were pushing the Republicans to speed along President Clinton's nominees, any whining now about delay is just laughable.

Posted by: Doug at May 17, 2005 10:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know about laughable, Doug. I guess that depends on what one's sense of humor is like.

At the time of Holbrooke's nomination I believe I was pretty wrapped up in my (private sector) work, and barely noticed what was going on. That was the case with most people then, and is the case with most people now. In general, though, I 'm a big fan of orderly procedures and filling prominent government positions in a timely manner. The UN ambassador's position is certainly one of these, though as I wrote some weeks ago I don't think it's as important as either the Baghdad embassy or the State Dept.'s public diplomacy office.

As for being upset, well, that doesn't happen with me as often as you might think.

Posted by: JEB at May 17, 2005 04:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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