Politics & Policy

A book and a half, &c.

Impromptus-ites, I hope you are immersed in your new NR — either in paper form or digital. It is filled with good things, I believe. Byron York travels with McCain. Rob Long analyzes the Sarkozys. John J. Miller reports on conservative think tanks at the state level — an important and perhaps surprisingly interesting subject. Terry Teachout revisits Atlas Shrugged, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Rick Brookhiser writes about dressing up, for Halloween and otherwise.

And Mark Steyn — gee, what a shock — has an offbeat, fascinating, and brilliant column.

There’s plenty more in there, too.

My own contribution is a review of John Bolton’s book, Surrender Is Not an Option. Bracing title, huh? As I say in this review, it reminds me a little of a title from the ’80s: Survival Is Not Enough. That was Richard Pipes’s book, on Soviet grand strategy and what to do about it. Indeed, Pipes’s title is one of the most haunting I know.

As for Bolton’s title: Of course, surrender is an option. Americans have exercised it before. They did so in April 1975, when Congress cut off South Vietnam. And from that act, unspeakable horrors flowed. It’s simply that surrender is not an option that John Bolton thinks very much of.

I do not intend to recapitulate my review here, but I’d like to do a little repeating, and to give you some additional information about the book. You know how, when you order a milkshake at a good diner, you get the milkshake in a parfait glass, and the spillover in a silver canister? Please consider this the silver canister.

Bolton’s father, Jack, was a firefighter — Baltimore — and his mother, Ginny, was a housewife. Neither had graduated from high school. But they were determined for John to succeed.

Bolton has something interesting to say about his father’s politics, and spirit:

[He] decided to register to vote, which he did, listing himself as a Republican. The City Hall clerk, reviewing the registration form, said there must be some mistake because Jack was a city employee, and yet he had registered Republican rather than Democrat. When my father said there was no mistake, the clerk explained to him again that city employees registered as Democrats, which my father was still not buying.

That city clerk is a familiar figure in American life, isn’t he/she? Even all these years later . . .

Bolton was admitted to Yale, on scholarship, and had to take a Trailways bus up — his father could not get the day off to take him there. When I read that, I found it poignant. Indeed, I was moved by it — not exactly sure why; just was.

Bolton was a “libertarian conservative” at Yale, and therefore, “given prevailing campus political attitudes,” a “space alien.” Student strikes were popular in those days, and you had to cut class — “boycott” class — or be an outcast. Bolton was never a bandwagoneer:

I didn’t understand or approve of students’ striking any more than my father had liked teachers’ striking, and I especially resented the sons and daughters of the wealthy, of whom there were many, telling me that I was supposed to, in effect, forfeit my scholarship. I had an education to get, and the protesters could damn well get out of my way as I walked to class.

I believe that last sentence is my favorite of this entire 486-page book.

What Bolton says about Yale may well be very familiar to you, wherever you went — or are going:

Apart from the particular issue of Vietnam, the incessant politicization of every aspect of Yale life was the most dangerous consequence of the late sixties. This really was the American version of China’s “Cultural Revolution.”

Class Day is part of Yale’s graduation exercises, and Bolton spoke at his:

I was greeted by hecklers, the only speaker to be so graced. I had faced this sort of thing many times from the liberals [sic] at Yale, who saw themselves as brave and oppressed dissenters from U.S. national policy, but who couldn’t stand encountering dissent in their own little sandbox. [Amen, amen.] “What you have over there,” I said, pointing to the hecklers, “is a typical example of liberal ‘tolerance.’” . . . I assured everyone that “the conservative underground is alive and well here; if we do not make our influence felt, rest assured we will in the real world.” I received a nice reception from the parents, and mostly silence from my classmates. Par for the course.

Bolton continues, “Both my mother and my father lived until the mid-1990s” — by which time Bolton had achieved considerable success and influence — “but I never had any doubt they thought my graduating from Yale justified all of the hardships they had been through.”

Our author went on to Yale Law School, where, one summer, he had three job offers that, to him, were “ideal”: an internship with Vice President Agnew; a research assistantship with Prof. Alexander Bickel; and an internship with National Review. Bolton snubbed us — and Bickel: He went with Agnew. But Bolton went on to do well, and so did NR; Vice President Agnew did less well.

Out of law school, he went to Covington & Burling, where his first case was . . . Buckley v. Valeo. He was on the Buckley side (of course); and the lead counsel was his former law-school prof, Ralph Winter. After it was over, Winter said to him, “How does it feel that your first case was the biggest case you’ll ever have?” And it was so.

Flash forward quite a bit: Bolton is in the State Department, in the administration of the first George Bush. And the secretary is wily Jim Baker — from whom Bolton learned a lot. Bolton is sharp on the bureaucracy, and how to deal with it:

While not exactly scintillating to outsiders, surviving and flourishing in a federal bureaucracy is often the difference between failure and success, which I define as implementing the president’s policies. [What an eccentric.] Since the bureaucracy defines success differently — who sat where at the daily morning staff meeting, whose name appeared first on the “from” line of a memo to the secretary, who went on what trip, and other such weighty questions — I often got what I wanted by giving the bureaucracy what they wanted. This approach was also consistent with Baker’s general rule to yield on process issues in order to hold the line on substantive questions. I thought it was like buying Manhattan for beads and shells.


While at State, Bolton had much to do with getting a notorious U.N. resolution repealed: the resolution that said Zionism equals racism. But, as he notes in his book, the spirit of that resolution lived on — and he had to deal with it when he was our ambassador to the U.N. Bolton is a rarity (in many ways): He might be thought of as a present-day Righteous Gentile. In this, he is like Paul Johnson and a band of others. (George W. Bush is another one, frankly — as many of his enemies on the right would be all too happy to tell you!)

Indeed, Bolton’s identification with Jews and Israel may have been partly responsible for his being blocked in the Senate. He writes that, at the end of last year, “Voinovich made a strong case that I was doing well, working closely with Rice, and reflecting U.S. policy, which Chafee accepted, although noting I was ‘too tied in with the Jewish community.’”


You might be interested in something President Bush — No. 43 — said when Bolton was confirmed as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. This was in 2001. Bush said, “The fact you were confirmed proves there’s justice in the world.” And what does the fact that he was not confirmed on two subsequent occasions prove? (Sorry, being rhetorical.)

By the way, I will give you my favorite piece of information about Bush, imparted by this book: In New York, in his limo, on the way to the U.N. — he waved at Falun Gong protesters.

Would the next president do even so little? Would the former have?

Remember about Bolton that he was instrumental in extricating the U.S. from the ABM Treaty. This extrication has largely been forgotten, in the long years of the Bush administration, and the long years of the War on Terror — particularly in Iraq. But it was a brave and far-seeing move. And I trust that this administration has done everything it can to progress in missile defense, because, if we get a Democrat in January ’09, our programs will almost certainly go dead.

Remember how the Left used to want a nuclear freeze? A freeze on missile defense is what they’ll probably impose — if they get in. (Thank me for not saying “when,” would you?)

While at State in the first GWB term, Bolton gave a speech in Seoul that told the truth about North Korea. For this, the Norks called him the “envoy of evil.” Bolton took great pleasure in that. Indeed, he took pleasure in subsequent epithets, too: The Norks further called him “human scum”; and some Chávezite, in Venezuela, called him a “sinister figure.” In his book, Bolton revels in all this.

His “happiest moment” at State was “personally ‘unsigning’ the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC).” He says, “The reaction from the High Minded was entirely predictable, but my only regret is that we didn’t unsign more bad treaties, like Kyoto and the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] . . .” That’s Bolton.

We learn this: In a conversation between George Bush and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister said, “We are a tiny country and Iran is a big country, and it doesn’t take much to blow up a tiny country.” Uh-huh.

Bolton is dead-on in his remarks about Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.). Here’s one of them: “Dodd was always on the alert for slights against Castro . . .” Too true. Incidentally, the Miami Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart once told me that Dodd had much to do with his becoming a Republican — with his leaving the Democratic party for the Republican.

We learn something sad about confirmation processes, and how the game is played — or rather, we relearn it. You may not remember this, but Bolton was accused by a woman named Melody Townsel of unprofessional behavior. She said he had thrown things at her, bawled her out, etc. This was all nonsense, of course. And — after the alleged (and fictitious) events — the woman was fired by her employer, International Business and Technical Consultants, Inc.

Anyway, that’s background. Here’s Bolton:

There was little doubt to me and others her accusations were payback. Once the witnesses were heard, especially IBTCI president Jay Kalotra, a bearded, turbaned Sikh naturalized citizen from India, the story evaporated. Kalotra laid out the many problems he and IBTCI had had with Townsel, and several others who worked for IBTCI at the time fully supported him. Not only was Kalotra entirely credible and truthful, there was no way Democrats were going to allow someone like him to defend me in front of the cameras. This pattern repeated itself again and again.

Really sickening, isn’t it?

Years back — early ’80s — many of us collected, and delighted in, Haigisms: utterances of Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Well, when Bolton was trying to be confirmed by the Senate, the old general spoke of “weak-kneed Republicans who flutter in the heart.”

I loved that.

And I loved this more: Here’s a vignette, featuring Bush:

After some additional desultory chatter, Bush went to the nearby office of General Assembly president Eliasson, for yet another annual courtesy call. Bush reiterated what he’d said to Annan about the lack of American public support for the UN, which prompted Eliasson, Swede extraordinaire, to explain American public opinion back to Bush. Bush just looked at him and said patiently, “If there were a referendum today, I don’t think the UN would win,” which pretty much ended that discussion, other than for Bush to say, “That’s why we sent Bolton up here, to get things fixed.” Bush visibly lost interest in further conversation with Eliasson . . .

You can see it.

Was glad to know this: Some bad boys refer to the IAEA, often known as the “U.N.’s nuclear watchdog,” as the “U.N.’s nuclear watchpuppy.” I don’t think I’ll be able to think of it another way again.

And Bolton is unvarnished about Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning head of that watchpuppy. For instance, he writes of receiving a report from IAEA staff, which turned out to be more helpful than the usual stuff, “since it was not subjected to ElBaradei’s typically heavy editing in favor of Iran.”


A little more Eliasson — Jan Eliasson, the president of the General Assembly, “Swede extraordinaire”?

I could see Eliasson wasn’t listening; he again discoursed on U.S. public opinion, so I told him to stop listening to Human Rights Watch and start reading National Review, although I was not sure he knew what National Review was.

Have a taste — a perhaps surprising taste — of the French ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte: “I tell you, having been Chirac’s adviser on the Middle East for five years, the Shi’ites lie all the time. We know that.”

Sacre bleu!

Here, Bolton is talking about yet another anti-Israel resolution in the U.N.’s “Human Rights” Council: “It passed with twenty-nine in favor and eleven against, with the Western Group all voting ‘no,’ except for Switzerland, repugnantly abstaining.”

I loved those words: “repugnantly abstaining.” Maybe my two favorite words in the book.

Want a look-in at the press?

Wang [the Chinese ambassador — of course] and I also posed for a photo together, and Colum Lynch of the Washington Post asked us what had “closed the deal.” I responded “good diplomacy,” and Lynch answered, “That might be true, but it’s not a good quote,” which tells you everything you need to know about the media mind-set at the UN. Needless to say, my quotation did not appear in the Post’s pristine pages.

You may recall that President Bush fired Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the day after the 2006 midterm elections — disastrous elections for the Republicans. Observes Bolton,

The Republican congressional reaction was outrage: If Rumsfeld was to be made the sacrificial lamb, why wait until after the election? Rumsfeld had offered to resign several times already, and had been very loyal to Bush, so making him walk the plank on November 8 looked to many simply like cratering to the new Democratic majorities before they were even sworn in. More parochially, I wondered what Rumsfeld’s going over the side meant for me, and the conclusions one could draw were not very happy ones.


That was a pretty sucky hour for Bush, if you ask me — small and beneath him, as I believe Mark Steyn wrote.

There’s a lot of fun and games in Bolton’s book — and I relished these parts — but it’s not all fun and games. To wit, “The fact is that Iran will never voluntarily give up its nuclear program, and a policy based on the contrary assumption is not just delusional but dangerous. This is the road to the Nuclear Holocaust.”

Ahem — yeah.

Well, there’s your spillover — the silver canister. Hope you enjoy the actual shake, in the magazine, too!

‐I don’t know if you read this, but Antioch College is going bust. (For an article, go here.) My question: If they’ve got pot, what else do they need? Or have things changed radically since the good ol’ days?

‐Have a letter from a reader in Detroit. He says,

I was in Seattle last weekend, and wandered into a “peace” rally. One of the display tables was selling T-shirts urging the freeing of “the Cuban Five.” Who are the Cuban Five? You can find out here. [They’re Castroite spies in U.S. prisons.]

Jay, I’m about to turn 59. There was a time when I would have politely asked the shirt saleswoman, “And by any chance do you have a T-shirt urging freedom for the Cuban Eleven Million?” But sometimes it’s just a waste of energy.

I know the feeling. And can anything be more depressing than a Seattle peace rally? Much of the time, such a rally really means: Capitulate to the tyrants. More than that, excuse and defend their tyranny! We had a million such rallies in dear old Ann Arbortown — practically my daily bread.

‐Was in a downtown-ish New York neighborhood yesterday. A man was wearing a pink button, which read, “Love the Troops, Stop the War.” You’ve got to give them this: They have learned something, tactically, since Vietnam, haven’t they?

‐Let’s retreat to a little music: For a review of the annual Richard Tucker gala, go here. For a review of Verdi’s Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. And for a review of the New York Philharmonic, under Semyon Bychkov, with Katia and Marielle Labèque, duo-piano soloists, go here. These reviews were published in the New York Sun.

‐Do you remember how, in Friday’s Impromptus, I was kvetching about an environmental appendage to e-mails? I’m talking about, “Please consider the environment before printing this email.” Gag me with a spoon.

Anyway, I received the following delightful note:


My company has added this same footnote to all outgoing emails. The other day, I had to print an email that had been circulated several times. The last line of the email, this footnote, was printed on its own sheet of paper. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

Too good.

See you.


The Latest