Politics & Policy

The Disappearing Case Against John Bolton

Senator George Voinovich has told people that he did John Bolton a favor by agreeing to a Democratic demand to delay the committee vote on his nomination to be United Nations ambassador a few weeks ago. This is chutzpah, since Voinovich waltzed into the committee unprepared and rolled out after an hour of Democratic table-thumping. His buckling gave the Democrats additional time to dump every possible accusation on Bolton’s head. But Voinovich is right in this sense: With the passage of time, the case against Bolton is looking ever weaker.

During that fateful committee meeting, Sen. Joseph Biden cited a letter from Melody Townsel, who accused Bolton of abusing her in a Moscow hotel room, as if the letter might be the dynamite to blow up Bolton’s nomination. We don’t hear so much about Townsel anymore, since her credibility has been shaken. By her own account, she is “an extremely liberal and vocal Democrat.” In her own interview with the Foreign Relations Committee staff, she qualified her most lurid accusations, saying she “felt” chased by Bolton rather than actually was chased by him in the hotel, as she had alleged previously. A man named Kirby Jones who was supposed to corroborate her tale of Bolton throwing things at her and generally acting like a “madman” provided no corroboration whatsoever in his committee interview. Others involved at the time have said there was no way any such things could have happened in the hotel without their knowing about it. So it is little wonder that Democrats have dropped talk about Bolton’s “abusive” behavior and instead claim that he routinely distorted intelligence.

“This has been a vexing

process and one deeply unfair

to John Bolton.”

This charge, too, is meritless. Bolton in many ways was a model consumer of intelligence as undersecretary of State for arms control. He read everything, but never accepted anything without asking probing questions. Intelligence is not received from on high. It is almost always subject to interpretation, and if Bolton brought (appropriately) hawkish assumptions to his reading of the data, some of the analysts with whom he clashed brought different assumptions. The fact is that even Bolton’s critics agree that the things he said in public were supported by the intelligence. Take his controversial Cuba biological-weapons speech to the Heritage Foundation in 2002. Bolton critic and former State Department bureaucrat Carl Ford used nearly identical language in describing the state of Cuba’s bioweapons program. Former intelligence officials Jamie Miscik and Robert Hutchings have said in interviews with the committee that Bolton’s oft-criticized testimony before the House international-relations committee about Syria and WMDs was cleared by the intelligence community.

The charge that Bolton sought to have people who disagreed with him fired has similarly fizzled. The most-discussed instance involves an analyst named Christian Westerman, who engaged in subterfuge while trying to undermine Bolton’s Cuba speech, but wasn’t fired or even reassigned as a result. Bolton had these sort of clashes because he was the State Department’s foremost Bush loyalist, working in a hostile bureaucratic environment. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff at State, has said that invariably when other department officials came to see him about a problem, it had to do with Bolton. Good. We wouldn’t have expected anything different, and if there had been more Boltons at the State Department, perhaps it wouldn’t have been the sullenly unhelpful institution it was for much of President Bush’s first term.

Once all the nonsense is stripped away we are left with this: Democrats oppose Bolton because he loyally served President Bush in his current job and will continue to do so at the U.N., unapologetically seeking to reform the world body and, to the extent possible, push it into serving U.S. interests. We can’t believe that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican weak sisters–Voinovich, Lincoln Chafee, and Chuck Hagel–will, at the end of the day, say that Bush cannot have the nominee he wants at the U.N., especially one whose manner (blunt) the president has compared to his own. This has been a vexing process and one deeply unfair to John Bolton. The sooner he is confirmed, the sooner he can begin to make some good of it at Turtle Bay.


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