In a breath-taking victory for right-wing hawks, President George W. Bush has nominated a die-hard unilateralist to become his next ambassador to the United Nations.
John Bolton is best known as one of the most confrontational, combative, and humorless figures within the administration, having earned his formidable reputation as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during Bush's first term.
''This is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Heather Hamilton, vice president of programs for Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) (formerly the World Federalist Association).
The Armageddon Nominee
John Bolton, Hamilton says, is the ''Armageddon nominee,'' alluding to the words of former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who once admiringly described Bolton as ''the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world."
Bolton began his career-long battle with evil under Ronald Reagan in the '80s, when – despite a notable lack of experience in developing countries – he was appointed to a series of posts in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The highlight of his Reagan years was, however, his tenure as one of then-Attorney General Edwin Meese's top aides, which he spent stonewalling the congressional investigation into the Justice Department's role in the Iran-Contra affair, as well as efforts by Sen. John Kerry to investigate drug- and gun-running operations of the Nicaraguan Contras.
His stellar performance gained him a promotion under Bush Senior to assistant secretary of state for international organizations, a post he held until 1993 when he joined first the right-wing Manhattan Institute and then the neoconservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
By the time former Secretary of State James Baker tapped him to serve as a senior member of George Bush's legal team in Florida after the 2000 election, Bolton had become senior vice president at AEI. By then Bolton had cemented his unilateralist credentials by advocating U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and railing against the grave threat posed to U.S. sovereignty by the United Nations and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan. At one point, Bolton suggested simply halting U.S. payments to the world body.
The Undersecretary From Hell
Bolton was well rewarded for this rich history of far-right advocacy with his undersecretary position at the State Department an appointment forced on a reluctant Colin Powell by Dick Cheney. Within just a few months, Bolton emerged as a forceful advocate for extremist policies favored by a right-wing coalition of neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists and the Christian right.
In the summer of 2001, he shocked foreign delegations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons when he announced that Washington would oppose any attempt to regulate the trade in firearms or non-military rifles or any other effort that would "abrogat(e) the constitutional right to bear arms."
Soon after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare, Bolton single-handedly sabotaged a UN meeting to forge an international verification protocol designed to put teeth into a treaty on bio-weapons. On scuttling the agreement, he reportedly told his colleagues, ''It's dead, dead, dead, and I don't want it coming back from the dead."
Within the State Department, Bolton led the drive to repudiate the United States' signature on the 1998 Rome Statute that became the basis for the creation of a new International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. When Bush approved the move, Bolton prevailed on Powell to allow him to sign the formal notification to Kofi Annan, an act he later described to the Wall Street Journal as "the happiest moment of my government service."
During the same time, Bolton was also embroiled in a lengthy row with U.S. intelligence agencies over his public charge that Cuba had an offensive biological warfare program. His assertion became a source of embarrassment for the administration after anonymous intelligence officials and retired senior military officers, including the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, dismissed the charge and accused Bolton of twisting intelligence to promote political ends.
Bolton's shoot-from-the-hip style and penchant for incendiary, unsubstantiated allegations made him increasingly unpopular among his colleagues. In July 2003, for example, he was forced to cancel plans to testify to Congress about Syria's alleged plans to develop weapons of mass destruction because of a ''revolt'' among U.S. intelligence analysts, who insisted that there was no evidence to warrant such a conclusion.
Powell frequently complained to his closest aides that Bolton was taking his orders from Cheney and the Pentagon hawks, deliberately undermining his own department's policy positions.
For example, just as Pyongyang agreed to the U.S. demand to enter multilateral talks on its nuclear program, Bolton delivered a sharply-worded speech that described life in North Korea as a ''hellish nightmare," and accused its leader, Kim Jong Il, of being a ''dictator'' or ''tyrant,'' running a ''dictatorship'' or ''tyranny'' no less than a dozen times.
Many onlookers agreed that the speech appeared specifically designed to provoke Kim to boycott the meeting. Indeed, the North Korean media described Bolton as ''rude human scum'' and a ''bloodthirsty vampire'' and demanded that he be withdrawn from the delegation that was to take part in the talks.
Return to Unilateralism?
Bolton's nomination comes at a time when many hope that Bush will pursue a more multilateralist policy in his second term hopes that were fueled by his recent bridge-building trip to Europe. The appointment of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Rice's own decision to pick long-time ''realist'' Robert Zoellick as her deputy over Bolton was taken as a clear setback for the coalition of right-wing hawks that have dominated foreign policy since 9/11.
But Bolton's nomination suggests otherwise.
''His nomination sends the exactly the wrong message to the world about the Bush administration's willingness to work with other countries and in multilateral institutions. There's no one who has a greater track record of offending other countries, including our closest allies," Hamilton says.
The "message" to the UN is equally worrisome given Bolton's public and well-documented disdain for the institution. This is, after all, a man who once asserted, ''If the UN (secretariat) building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''
While many ranking Democrats in the Senate including John Kerry and Minority Leader Harry Reid have expressed reservations about Bolton, they are unlikely to scuttle his nomination. Since it's Democrats who helped approve Bolton's State Department appointment in a 57-43 vote in 2001, any hope for derailing his nomination lies with moderate Republicans such as Dick Lugar. So it's no wonder that the Bush administration is already busy rewriting Bolton's credentials as, in Rice's words, "a tough-minded diplomat" with "a proven track record of effective multilateralism." And, yes, the UN is planning to buy that bridge in Brooklyn.