Politics & Policy

Boltin’ On Bolton

Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich rolled like a marble yesterday. After an hour of ranting by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats about the nomination of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador, Voinovich pronounced himself in need of more information about Bolton before he could vote, even though he didn’t attend either of the hearings related to the nomination last week and even though the committee has conducted extensive interviews about the (minor) controversies swirling around Bolton. If Voinovich still hasn’t gotten a chance to read the transcripts–we know how busy he is–he should check out the committee’s website at http://foreign.senate.gov/. Democrats figured if they did enough caterwauling yesterday and threw out enough new dirt on Bolton–including a decade-old charge from a woman who founded the Dallas chapter of “Mothers Against Bush”–maybe a Republican would roll. Voinovich obliged.

His refusal to vote gave Democrats a key procedural victory. All along their strategy has been, if they can’t defeat the nomination outright, at least to delay it as much possible, in the hopes of eventually coming up with something, anything to derail it. Ranking minority member Joseph Biden has pursued this course at the price of his own personal credibility. He had assured Chairman Richard Lugar two weeks ago that if Bolton’s hearing were delayed a week that both the hearing and the committee vote would take place last week. But when it came time to vote last week, Democrats objected. When it came time to vote yesterday, Democrats objected again, forcing Republicans to take extraordinary parliamentary steps to allow the committee even to meet. And when it finally did, Voinovich came to Biden’s rescue.

Committee chairman Richard Lugar had no choice but to put off the vote again, because otherwise–with Voinovich voting nay–the committee would have deadlocked 9-9, defeating the nomination. But we have no faith in the agreement Lugar cut with Democrats during the meeting to hold–after more questioning of Bolton–a vote three weeks from now. Given Biden’s bad faith to this point, this agreement is not worth the paper it’s not written on.

“Some Republicans

are acting shamefully.”

Democrats will use the extra time to pick away at every possible Bolton peccadillo to prove he lacks the “temperament” to serve at the U.N. They have been investigating a dispute Bolton had with a woman over her maternity leave when she worked for him at the Justice Department–in 1988. This is silly. Next we’ll hear that Bolton shoved someone during recess when he was a schoolboy. The attack on Bolton’s temperament is an obvious misdirection anyway. Democrats simply object to his kind of multilateralism that aggressively pursues international support for the goals of President Bush’s foreign policy rather than simply kowtowing to international institutions for its own sake. In other words, Bolton will “serve” the president rather than the U.N.

That some Republicans are willing to take at face value the Democrats’ personal attacks on Bolton is shameful. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Furrowed Brow) pronounces himself troubled by the allegations. But he supported John McCain for president in 2000–since when is a docile temperament his test of whether someone can be an important public servant? Hagel is a fairly reliable conservative vote on routine matters. It’s just when the chips are down that you can’t count on him.

In the key allegation against Bolton, he is said to have intimidated a State Department intelligence analyst who objected to Bolton’s supposedly too-dire assessment of Cuba’s bioweapons program. But Bolton aide Fred Fleitz has testified that the analyst in question, Christian Westerman, wasn’t straight with Bolton or his staff–giving Bolton plenty of reason to be upset. At issue was language in a speech Bolton was to deliver about Cuba. It was Westerman’s responsibility to run the proposed language by the CIA, but when he did so he attached his own prejudicial language dissenting from Bolton’s views. When Fleitz learned this, Westerman falsely denied having done it, leading to the infamous confrontation in Bolton’s office. Two of Westerman’s supervisors subsequently apologized for how he handled the matter. That Bolton is now the one being pilloried for this spat–Sen. Chris Dodd said his conduct should be “indictable”–is absurd. In any case, as Lugar pointed out in a statement earlier this week, in an environment characterized by contentious policy disputes–as Bush’s foreign policy team was in the first term–you can expect some personal contention.

Those policy disputes are at the bottom of the charges against Bolton. This is the revenge of the State department bureaucracy and its former servants Colin Powell and Dick Armitage. Contrary to former State department bureaucrat Carl Ford’s smear of Bolton as a “kiss up, kick down” kind of guy, Bolton repeatedly clashed with Powell and Armitage over substance. Now they are hitting back. It is difficult to believe that Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson would viciously attack Bolton on the record in the New York Times without Powell’s assent. Although perhaps we should be grateful for an on-the-record Times quote by a Powell loyalist for a change. If the Bolton nomination is beaten, it will be a lesson to conservatives that they dare clash with a recalcitrant Washington bureaucracy only at great potential personal cost. Which is one of just many reasons why President Bush should use every bit of leverage at his disposal to win Bolton’s confirmation.–The Editors

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