Bad faith pays. That’s the lesson of the Democratic campaign against the nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. At the beginning, Joe Biden strung the proceedings along with serial false promises to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar to agree to have a committee vote . . . after just one more delay. He wanted to buy time for the Democrats to dig up and pass trash on Bolton to willing recipients in the press, especially Douglas Jehl of the New York Times. With the nomination finally out of committee, the baton of false assurances was passed from Biden to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who apparently told Bill Frist last week he could get 60 votes for a cloture vote on Bolton. Those 60 votes didn’t materialize, as Biden and fellow anti-Bolton crusader Chris Dodd raised a stink about the administration’s unwillingness to release, among other things, documents related to certain National Security Agency intercepts.
In a few cases, Bolton requested the names of U.S. persons caught on intercepts. The names are redacted for privacy reasons from the intercepts read by policymakers. But sometimes it is impossible to make sense of them without the names. So policymakers will request to be told the identities. Bolton made ten such requests during his time as an under secretary of state. There were 498 other requests made by State department officials during that time. There is an elaborate process for approving the requests, which are processed by the State department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the NSA. All of Bolton’s requests were approved per the normal process. Former director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden has told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Bolton’s requests were routine.
Bolton critics have suggested–in a leap of gross speculation–that his requests perhaps had something to do with his disputes with certain intelligence analysts. But Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts and the committee’s ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller have reviewed intelligence reports based on the intercepts. Although they haven’t seen the names, they would be able to tell by the context if the intercepts had anything to do with those controversies. But both have indicated nothing was amiss with Bolton’s requests. Roberts has defended them in a long, detailed letter and Rockefeller has pronounced the requests “pure vanilla.”
There has been an attempt to make something of the fact that Bolton congratulated one his aides who was mentioned in one of the intercepts. The identity from an un-redacted intercept is not supposed to be revealed to anyone, so as to protect the person’s privacy and intelligence sources and methods. Those concerns did not apply in this instance, as Roberts explains in his letter: “This person worked directly for Under Secretary Bolton, possessed the necessary security clearances, received and read the same intelligence report in the course of his duties, and understood that he was the U.S. person referred to therein.”
All of this goes to show that Democrats are looking for any possible reason to put off Bolton’s confirmation. The White House is standing firm against the latest Democratic document request, as it should. If it were to provide the intercepts to the Democrats, it might as well be handing them directly over to Doug Jehl. But in the absence of an agreement over the documents, it is unclear that the logjam will break over Bolton. The cloture vote last week failed 56-42. But Republicans have 58 votes, because Frist voted “no” for technical procedural reasons and Arlen Specter was not in attendance. The White House strategy seems to be to hope that the sour Senate Democratic mood will somehow brighten next week, dislodging a couple of Democrats to get to 60 on cloture.
“ John Bolton deserves to serve
at the U.N.”
Maybe the White House is right. But we are skeptical. In fact, the Democratic strategy seems more realistic–delay, and hope for further erosion in Bolton’s Republican support. The first to go was George Voinovich, and now John Thune has gone south. Who’s next?
In these circumstances, the best option is a recess appointment. John Bolton deserves to serve at the U.N. None of the many, many arguments advanced against him over the last two months have any merit. And at this time of international flux, the U.S. shouldn’t go without an ambassador to the U.N. while Democrats manufacture their newest objection to Bush’s nominee. If the White House acts now, it can argue that Bolton had majority support in the Senate, but was blocked by filibustering Democrats. With a recess appointment, Bolton can serve through end of the Senate session in 2006, and there is no reason that he can’t be confirmed by the Senate at a later date. The non-scandals of the last few weeks will fade, and the case against Bolton will weaken as he performs–as we have every reason to believe he will–effectively at the world body.
The games over this nomination have stretched on too long already. It’s time to give Turtle Bay the medicine it deserves, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.