The Democrats just don’t get it. Their party is perceived as too weak on national security and too deferential to ineffectual international institutions like the United Nations. How are they going to address this political deficiency? By laying into John Bolton, President Bush’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N., for, among other things, being too critical of the U.N.’s weakness and corruption over the years. Bolton testifies this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Critics have launched a cut-and-paste campaign against him, representing his various comments lambasting the U.N. as the sum total of his thinking on the institution. There are two things to be said about this. First, Bolton’s criticisms of the U.N. have been amply vindicated by the series of disasters and scandals–from Oil-for-Food to sex abuse in the Congo–that have tarred the institution recently. Even Kofi Annan now pays lip service at least to the idea that the U.N. needs a thorough overhaul, which is a kind of implicit concession that Bolton was right in those prior critiques that his opponents now use against him. Second, a theme of Bolton’s work has always been that the U.N. needs U.S. leadership to work effectively. As ambassador to the U.N. he will be in a perfect position to help carry out the sort of leadership he has written about. And not a moment too soon.
The New York Times has said that Bolton never hid his disdain “for multilateralism and for consensus-seeking diplomacy in general.” This is an absurd caricature. It is an especially strange charge to make against someone who in the administration of the first President Bush was assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. He was the architect of the repeal of that blight on the U.N., the Zionism-is-racism resolution, and worked on the passage of all the Gulf War-related resolutions. He did pro bono work at the U.N. with James Baker from 1997 to 2000, when Baker was the secretary general’s personal envoy for the Western Sahara. As an admiring 2004 profile in The New Republic put it, Bolton understands the importance of multilateralism and of making multilateralism serve the ends of U.S. foreign policy. “Bolton, who once said that, if U.N. headquarters in New York `lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,’” Lawrence Kaplan wrote, “has spent the past three years working its corridors–to indisputable effect.”
He had an indisputably productive, and multilateral, turn as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in President Bush’s first term. He was instrumental in the passage, in September 2003, of U.N. Resolution 1540, urging countries to crackdown on WMD proliferation. He was central in the creation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a multilateral effort to block the transfer of WMD material and technologies. He was the lead U.S. negotiator in the creation of the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of WMD, to obtain international funding for Nunn-Lugar-style programs to secure and destroy Russian WMD materials. Bolton’s critics want to pretend that he has no appreciation of multilateralism only because they oppose the ends to which he applies alliances and the work of international institutions–namely, those of President Bush’s foreign policy.
Last week the charge surfaced that Bolton twisted intelligence in his current job and bullied intelligence officers with whom he disagreed. It has all the hallmarks of a smear. Former State Department official Carl Ford is slated to testify against Bolton on Tuesday. The former assistant secretary for intelligence and research reportedly claims Bolton intimidated intelligence analysts who wouldn’t agree with his assessment of Cuba’s pursuit of WMDs. In some reports, Bolton is said to have attempted to get them fired. At issue here is a Bolton speech to the Heritage Foundation in 2002 when he warned about Cuba’s biological weapons program. But two months prior to Bolton’s speech, Ford used nearly identical terms in a testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Cuba’s program: “There is substantial information about Cuba’s BW effort… We feel very confident about saying that they’re working and have been working on an effort that would give them a BW–limited BW offensive capability. And that’s serious enough to tell you about it.”
“We expect Bolton
will acquit himself
Indeed, Bolton’s language had been approved by intelligence officials. Ford was asked about Bolton’s remarks during Senate testimony two months after the Heritage speech. He said, “Secretary Bolton invited the intelligence community to provide him with some words he could use in a speech on BW. He was very careful I think not to suggest words to the community for clearance. He asked them, what do you think? What do you say? So that they came up with the lines in the speech and presented those to INR [the State Department’s intelligence arm] to take back to Secretary Bolton for his use… [T]hose were our words, the intelligence community’s words, not his.”
The controversy with the officials Bolton allegedly intimidated has its roots in a long-running dispute over how aggressive our Cuba policy should be, with elements of the State Department and intelligence-community bureaucracy resistant to further confrontation with Castro. Frankly, if Bolton didn’t make enemies among such people he wouldn’t have been a loyal servant to Bush’s foreign policy. In any case, the interviews that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has conducted in its investigation into the matter don’t appear to support the charges against Bolton. Yesterday on CNN, Wolf Blitzer asked committee chairman Richard Lugar, “If you discover that John Bolton tried to get fired two intelligence analysts…would you then reconsider your support for his nomination?” Lugar replied, “I might. But I’ve seen the transcripts of the interviews [of the witnesses], gone carefully over all of this. And I do not see evidence that that occurred.”
We expect Bolton will acquit himself well today, and hope that Chairman Lugar will hold the Democrats to the deal he cut with them last week. He delayed the hearings until this week (in light of Pope John Paul’s funeral), in exchange for an agreement from Biden & Co. that the committee would vote on the nomination this week too. Dilatory tactics should be unacceptable. John Bolton is eminently qualified for the job of U.N. ambassador and should be approved forthwith. He has plenty of work ahead of him in Turtle Bay.