Harry Reid’s mediocrity as Senate Democratic leader was on full display in the vote Thursday on the nomination of John Bolton to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In one of the most bizarre political performances in memory, having promised not to filibuster this nominee, he announced–immediately after his party voted to do just that–that Democrats were not filibustering Bolton’s appointment.
When, minutes later, Majority Leader Bill Frist made the obvious point that the Democrats’ votes “looked” and “quacked” like a filibuster, Senator Reid reversed himself. He acknowledged that it was indeed “a filibuster” and, therefore, yet another example of his party’s deliberate effort to deny President Bush the people he wants to place in key judicial and now executive-branch positions.
Unfortunately, Senator Reid’s short-lived lie was but the latest example of the political prevarications used to smear, demean, and try to defeat Bolton. For example, since President Bush tapped his undersecretary of state for arms control and international security to represent him and us at the United Nations, Democrats have accused Bolton of manufacturing intelligence, trying to “fire” intelligence analysts who opposed such efforts, describing correctly–but undiplomatically–the nature of the North Korean regime, withholding information from his superiors, bullying his subordinates and others, abusing a woman in a Moscow hotel decades ago, denying another woman maternity leave in the Department of Justice some 20 years ago, and, most recently, improperly accessing the names of American citizens whose phone calls with foreign nationals were intercepted by the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA).
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar has repeatedly declared with respect to these purported charges that there is no there there. Only two Republicans have joined the Dems. Ohio’s former governor Sen. George Voinovich actually broke down on the Senate floor, declaring that he had been persuaded that the future safety of his children and grandchildren depends on preventing the U.N. from being afflicted by the caricature of John Bolton drawn by his critics. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is evidently voting against Bolton as retaliation for the administration’s closing of the Ellsworth Air Force Base in his state.
Democrats have not peeled off any other Republicans, however. It would appear that that is because despite the minority’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, its true motivations for opposing this nomination are policy differences–differences they have not just with Bolton but with the president he has served so ably for the past four years. John Bolton is, as Sen. Joseph Biden once famously put it, “too competent.”
Republicans disagree with Democrats who do not want someone as principled, intelligent, effective, and competent advancing policies with which they adamantly disagree. Such policies are rooted, notably, in the proposition that the U.N. really does need to be “reformed.” For Bolton’s critics, this appears to be simply a dissembling politician’s obligatory throwaway line.
Like George W. Bush, Bolton believes that unless the dysfunctional ways that have made the U.N. a cesspool of corruption, malfeasance, and anti-Americanism can be corrected, the United States will continue to have to work around it, more often than with it, in order to safeguard our interests and promote international peace.
Like President Bush, John Bolton does not agree with those like Sen. John Kerry, who famously insisted last year that U.S. actions must pass a U.N.-administered “global test” in order to be legitimate. And neither, we now know, do the American people, who gave 3.5 million more votes to President Bush than to his challenger, who ran explicitly on the global-test platform. (The Center for Security Policy has produced a web ad to clarify the real, policy reasons the Democrats oppose the Bolton nomination.)
Perhaps the most insidious of the lies leveled against Bolton is a striking omission. Sen. Christopher Dodd, an indefatigable champion of normalized relations with Fidel Castro, has led the charge with respect to allegations that Bolton wanted wrongly to accuse the Cuban dictator of having biological weapons (BW) capabilities, then retaliated against a State Department analyst and the CIA’s national intelligence officer for Latin America who had the temerity to resist his efforts.
Missing from this pro-Fidel reconstruction of events is a singularly important point: The two analysts acted in unauthorized and unprofessional ways when Bolton and his staff dared challenge unduly benign assessments of Castro’s BW potential–assessments that had been skewed by one of their colleagues, a senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who turned out to be a Cuban spy.
It is entirely appropriate that a policymaker challenged the products of the spy’s disinformation. It is also understandable that he would lose confidence in, and seek the reassignment (not firing) of, individuals whose attachment to such products was so great as to prompt them to attack him personally and viciously outside of official channels (including, in the case of the NIO, to Senator Dodd and two of his colleagues).
The Democrats’ most recent, manufactured excuse for filibustering the Bolton nomination is that the Bush administration is improperly withholding from the Senate information about sensitive intelligence intercepts. This gambit permitted the stop-Bolton campaign to be cast, yet again, as something completely different from the policy fight it really is–namely, as an institutional battle between the executive and legislative branches of government over access to classified data.
As with their other misrepresentations, the truth of the matter is inconvenient to the Democratic case. In keeping with established practice, the administration has shared the sensitive intercepts (minus the names of the Americans involved)–whose disclosure could irreparably harm intelligence sources and methods–with the appropriate senators: the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
These legislators, Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, respectively, in turn advised their colleagues in separate letters that Bolton’s efforts to ascertain the names of the Americans cited in these intercepts was appropriate and obtained in complete conformity with the established procedures. As Sen. Biden says he suspected would prove to be the case, these intercepts offer no basis for opposing the Bolton nomination.
The administration has, moreover, sound policy and legal reasons (including the Privacy Act) for not acceding to the minority’s demands. Not the least of these is the fact that Democrats’ leaks of virtually every other piece of information supplied them in the course of the Bolton nomination fight suggests that this data too could be compromised, possibly causing material harm to U.S. intelligence.
Unfortunately, a sufficient number of Democratic senators–including Diane Feinstein (who had declared the day before that she would vote for cloture on Bolton), Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Evan Bayh–nonetheless bought this pretext and went along with Kerry, Biden, and Dodd’s bid to prevent Bolton’s confirmation for at least another ten days.
Despite falling three votes short on cloture (the 56-42 vote would have been still closer to the necessary 60 had Sen. Arlen Specter not been receiving chemotherapy treatment), it is now clear that there are more than enough votes to confirm Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. The Senate’s failure to do that yesterday makes as hollow as Harry Reid’s ephemeral claim not to be filibustering the Bolton nomination the pretense that bipartisan mavericks on judicial nominations have restored comity to the chamber and consigned the use of filibusters only to “extraordinary circumstances.”
Those who believe the United States needs a competent and deeply knowledgeable advocate at the United Nations–one who agrees with and will aggressively advocate President Bush’s policies–must use the Memorial Day recess, when many Democratic senators are in their constituencies, to press them to abandon the spies, lies, and intercepts that have already wrongly held up this nomination for too long.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a contributing editor to National Review Online.