Politics & Policy

You’Re a Mean One, Mr. Bolton


Here is the undeniable, irrefutable truth of the whole controversy over John Bolton’s embattled nomination for the job as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. If John Bolton had been the nicest, sweetest, let-me-help-you-with-your-groceries, you-can-sleep-on-my-couch, I’ll-get-the-thorn-out-of-your-paw teddy bear to everybody he ever worked with or met, not a single Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee would change his vote from “no” to “yes.” And, if Bolton were an H. G. Wellsian lover of one-world government who believed that the United Nations was America’s last best hope, all those “no” votes would switch to “yes” votes–even if it turned out that Bolton had a Skipper complex that compelled him to swat every wayward staffer in the head with his hat.

#ad#In other words, all of the “controversy” of the last couple weeks is bogus. It’s a kabuki dance. Whether the allegations against Bolton are true or not is almost entirely beside the point, because if a completely unrelated set of facts were not in play, no one would care. In short, this is borking pure and simple.

This is all about desperation. John Bolton is a U.N. skeptic, as are most Americans and most conservatives. Democrats and liberals are very grumpy about this fact. They are also testy toward Mr. Bolton for a string of reasons: He’s effective. He’s an Iraq-war hawk who can be punished more easily than, say, George W. Bush (who won reelection) or Condoleezza Rice (who is far more formidable politically). What makes him even more annoying is that, unlike many of his colleagues, he is not a so-called “neoconservative.” He’s an old-fashioned, do-what’s-right-for-America-and-the-rest-of-the-world-be-damned type.

Bolton was all for invading Iraq, but building a democracy there was something he considered close to a fool’s errand. Once the decision was made, however, he followed his boss, the president. This, too, bothers the Democrats because it suggests that Bolton would follow the president’s agenda rather than kowtow to the cookie-pushers of the State Department bureaucracy and the expense-account nuncios of Turtle Bay.

And so the Democrats have cast a wide net in their race to derail Bolton. One thing dredged from the bottom was a letter by a woman named Lynne Finney. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), brushed aside the seaweed and old license plates to pluck this gem from the murky depths. Finney recounted in her letter that while she was working as a U.N. policy adviser for the State Department in 1982 or 1983, Bolton had asked her to persuade U.N. functionaries to loosen the rules on marketing infant formula in the Third World. When she refused, she alleges, Bolton threw a hissy-fit, tried to fire her and, when that didn’t work, transferred her to a windowless room somewhere. Sounds like hardball stuff, but nobody remembers it except her, and Finney’s judgment is a subject of some skepticism, to put it diplomatically.

Visiting her personal website is about as close as you can get to a visit to a crystal-and-candle store without leaving your desk. According to her bio, Finney is, among other things, a “life coach” who was “born into the madhouse of Hollywood’s fantasy factory.” In articles, she writes respectfully about Nostradamus’s predictions, and she admits to having some disturbing recovered memories about her father. A Democrat, she was a Carter-administration appointee.

Bolton’s other accusers aren’t as colorful, but they are usually just as partisan. The founder of the Dallas chapter of MOB–Mothers Opposing Bush–claims that 11 years ago Bolton threw a file at her in a Russian hotel lobby, or something like that. And this week she wrote a letter to the lefty-Democratic blog/bulletin board Daily Kos to rally the troops in her favor in anticipation of revelations she was a plagiarist a long time ago.

But then there’s Colin Powell, who, it’s becoming clear, has been one of the chief critics of Bolton behind the scenes. Powell didn’t like Bolton because Bolton was a Bush loyalist at Powell’s State Department while Powell was mostly loyal to the State Department bureaucracy.

And this gets us back to the heart of the controversy. Democrats understandably think people who like government should serve in government. Similarly, they think people who love the nuances and subtleties of the Japanese tea ceremony that is international diplomacy should be diplomats. This is the view that you have to love the smell of manure if you’re going to clean out the stables.

It is entirely possible that Bolton has been abrasive to bureaucrats, underlings, and lovers of diplo-talky-talk. He may even be a jerk to his staffs (though the evidence rarely survives close scrutiny). If his nomination is derailed, Bolton would be the first appointee to this job ever rejected by the Senate, which traditionally defers to presidents on such things. And if Washington is going to establish a new standard that says people who don’t treat their staffs with respect can’t hold high jobs, D.C. will become a ghost town.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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