What’s a president to do? John Bolton–a good man, a distinguished and capable public servant, a knowledgeable and tenacious advocate for President Bush’s policies–is being smeared, savaged, and otherwise demeaned in what passes for Senate deliberations on his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The strategy adopted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats is an obvious one: Obscure the true character of what is a rankly partisan attack on Mr. Bolton–one that is motivated by profound policy differences with this president over the nature of the U.N. today, its appropriate role in international affairs and, most especially, the degree to which the United States must defer to the anti-democratic “world body” in matters bearing on American security and other vital interests.
Toward this end, Senate Democrats, led by committee ranking minority member Joseph Biden, Senators Chris Dodd, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer, have made the focus of their attacks on undersecretary of State Bolton a number of real or alleged altercations the nominee has had over the course of a distinguished career in public office, legal practice, and think tanks in Washington spanning more than two decades. Their contention: Those disagreements and Bolton’s comportment in their course is evidence of wrongdoing or at least of a temperament that should disqualify him from further service in high office.
Set aside the question of whether there is anything to these charges; Bolton’s side of the story has either not been presented or suggests legitimate grounds for frustration and even irritation with those who accuse him of getting angry with them.
The Democrats’ campaign against Bolton compels one to ask: Are senators really prepared to make displays of anger from time to time, whether directed at subordinates or others, a disqualifier for high public office? After all, several of Bolton’s most strident critics have notoriously ugly tempers. For example, John Kerry’s quest for the presidency last Fall was marked by repeated allegations of his contemptuous, abusive, and high-handed treatment of campaign staff, Secret Service personnel, journalists and even ordinary citizens. Democratic members of the Foreign Relations Committee have been known to dress down staffers in open hearings for their perceived failings. And a hardy perennial of the Clinton White House years were tales of now-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s penchant for throwing lamps and the like in the Residence.
The truth of the matter is that few, if any, of Bolton’s accusers can safely cast the first stone when it comes to “anger management.” By trawling for weeks for anecdotes from self-declared aggrieved parties, they have invited similar campaigns to be mounted against them. It is hard to believe that the quality of political discourse–let alone its products–will be enhanced by further travel down this road.
Unfortunately, the tactic paid off Tuesday when Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich, who had not troubled to attend the previous hearings on the Bolton nomination–or, it appears, otherwise exposed himself to the Democrats’ line of attack–was rattled by the virulent assault mounted by Sens. Biden, Dodd, et al. His declaration that he was unprepared to approve the nominee gave two other Republicans, Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the daylight they had been desperately seeking to avoid casting a recorded vote, either.
Confronted with members of his own party balking at taking a recorded vote, Committee Chairman Richard Lugar was compelled to postpone further efforts to confirm Bolton until after an upcoming Senate recess during the first week in May and further staff investigations into allegations that the nominee is a “serial abuser.” It would hardly be surprising if such efforts do not encourage still others who would like to see John Bolton run out of town on a rail to come forward with anecdotes of their own, however implausible or undocumented. This is especially so since Senate Democrats’ official efforts are being augmented by a campaign against this nominee undertaken by George Soros and others on the radical Left, who were unable to defeat George W. Bush last Fall but relish the chance to bloody him by attacking proxies like Bolton.
So the question recurs: What is a president to do? As a practical matter, given the stakes, President Bush really has only one choice: Promptly, publicly and personally reaffirm his strong support for John Bolton; declare that he has complete confidence in this nominee’s qualifications, judgment and temperament; and announce that the United States needs to be represented at the United Nations without further delay by someone in whom he has such confidence. This is, after all, a moment when–in the wake of outrageous UN scandals and misconduct–there is unprecedented agreement that historic and possibly far-reaching decisions must be taken, decisions that may determine not only the future course but the very character of that organization. It is unacceptable to have the U.S. ambassador’s seat there remain unfilled at such a time.
Consequently, President Bush should serve notice on the Senate: Complete whatever further investigations now indicated and vote the Bolton nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee and on the floor of the Senate before the upcoming May recess. Or face a recess appointment of Bolton that will enable him to get to work at the United Nations while senators are engaging in constituent services and other important matters outside of Washington.
Perhaps President Bush can make this bitter pill less difficult for committee Democrats to swallow. The president could offer to provide anger-management classes to senators who might be infuriated by their inability further to defame so estimable a public servant as John Bolton and to prevent him from advancing at the U.N. the president’s policies–policies that are, in the end, their real reason for their efforts to deny him this post.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributing editor to NRO.