Extreme Unilateralist or Strong Leader?

The confirmation hearings for John Bolton -- Bush's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- began Monday in Washington.

Bolton has worked in federal government -- mostly in the State Department -- for the past 25 years. He presently serves as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs. Bolton's nomination stunned many in Washington because he has been one of the Bush administration's fiercest critics of the U.N.

Every Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reportedly plans to reject his nomination and Senate Republicans have also expressed concern over whether Bolton is the right man for the job. In addition, a group of 59 former U.S. diplomats have signed a letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling for the Senate to reject Bolton's nomination.

Phyllis Bennis and Peter Brookes join Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! in debating Bolton's credentials. Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies specializing in the Middle East and the United Nations. Brookes, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a New York Post columnist, has a column in today's paper ("The Right Pick") supporting Bolton's nomination.

Amy Goodman: Here is a look at John Bolton from more than ten years ago when he was speaking at an event called the Global Structures Convocation. It was held Feb. 3, 1994, in New York.

The point that I want to leave with you in this very brief presentation is where I started is: there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along, and I think it would be a real mistake to count on the United Nations as if it's some disembodied entity out there that can function on its own. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will lead. When it does not suit our interest to do so, we will not, and I think that is the most important thing to carry away tonight.
Amy Goodman: Also on that panel, 11 years ago, was Phyllis Bennis. She joins us today on the phone from Washington. We're also joined on the phone by Peter Brookes. Peter, can you talk about why you think John Bolton is the right man for the job?

Peter Brookes: Well, first and foremost, he's the president's pick. I mean, this is a choice for the president to make. He obviously probably holds the views of the president, and he also has the president's confidence. So this is very important. When we have differing administrations, they get to pick their people, just like Bill Clinton got to pick Madeline Albright and others. The other thing is that one of the major challenges at the U.N. coming up is reform. It's going to require strong American leadership. I think we all can agree, perhaps, that the U.N. needs reform. There has been a number of scandals recently, the Oil for Food Program, the problems with the peacekeepers in Congo, the sexual abuses and things along that line. And John Bolton has been a champion of reform for a long time. I think one of the things that's misunderstood about John is that he is criticizing the U.N. because he wants to make it better and a more effective and transparent organization. He certainly can't disassemble it, as some people would suggest. In fact, when he was assistant secretary of state for international organizations, the organization that is responsible for U.S. policy at the U.N. in Washington, he championed management and budget reforms. The other thing, I think, [is that] the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is coming up, a review conference, and he is an expert of proliferation and this is one of the major challenges where the U.N. can play a role. So I think, for a number of reasons, that John Bolton is the right man at the right time.

Amy Goodman: Phyllis Bennis, your response?

Phyllis Bennis: Well, I would certainly agree with Peter that John Bolton does in fact represent President Bush's policy. I think it would be a mistake to see that this is something outside of the broader policies of the Bush administration. What is clear is that John Bolton represents the most extremist interpretation of what is already an extremist, unilateralist and militarist foreign policy. You know, when we talk about the position of John Bolton, vis-à-vis the United Nations, this is somebody who is not only opposed to the U.N., but he actually also is opposed to international law. In an article that Bolton himself wrote in the Wall Street Journal back in 1997, he said that "Treaties are 'law' only for U.S. domestic purposes. In their international operation, treaties are simply political obligations."

What he is saying is we're not obligated by a matter of law to implement even those treaties that we have signed and ratified, something that flies in the face of the global understanding of international law. This is also a man who has had no compunction against interfering directly in the internal workings of the U.N., not in the interest of reform, as Peter would have us believe, but in the interest of undermining. [An example is] his leadership in engineering the expulsion of the widely popular Jose Bustani, former director of the U.N.'s Chemical Weapons Agency. [Bustani] was trying very hard to pull more countries into the chemical weapons treaty and, very specifically, was trying and succeeding at making that agency into something that was even-handedly imposing its regulations on all countries with chemical weapons capacity, including the United States. Bolton, according to Bustani, telephoned him directly and gave him orders about placing Americans in very specific positions and in making the inspections, "more friendly," and when he refused to play along, within days Bolton had orchestrated the expulsion of Bustani. Forty-seven countries who were members of the agency abstained, afraid to vote 'no' because they were afraid of retaliation from the United States. This is the kind of activity directly aimed at undermining the capacity of the U.N., not allowing the U.N. and its agencies to function, but rather seeing the U.S. legitimacy, because it is the most powerful, most wealthy and most armed country in the world to act in defiance of the U.N. and to make it an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

Amy Goodman: Peter Brookes?

Peter Brookes: Well, I mean, there's a number of things that Phyllis talked about there. First of all, her claims about unilateralism. Those are fallacious. I mean, especially when it comes to John Bolton. In 1990, when John was the assistant secretary, as I mentioned before, at the State Department for international organizations, he led the effort to get the resolution that ultimately led to Saddam Hussein being pushed out of Kuwait. That took a lot, and it ended up being a major, major coalition.

The other thing he's done at the State Department is the Proliferation Security Initiative. This is a proliferation program that now incorporates over 60-plus nations that is fighting proliferation. This has been a major failure of the United Nations, and this is something hopefully John will be able to bring to the United Nations and make them stronger on proliferation issues. Another thing to his credit, while he was Undersecretary he led the negotiations on the Moscow Treaty, which reduced nuclear weapons on the United States and Russian sides by two thirds, and in fact in 1991, he led the overturning of a U.N. resolution that called Zionism 'racism,' which was a terrible, odious, ugly thing that was put in place in 1975, and after 16 years on the books, John had that removed. So he is a guy who gets things done.

I mean, Phyllis seems to think that we should subordinate our interests to the United Nations, and I don't think that that's the case. We have to do what's in America's best interest, and we want somebody up there that has the president's confidence and holds the president's views representing the United States in this international body. And I think the other thing is that I don't see the United Nations as being a very effective organization. The United States spends over $1 billion a year to the United Nations both for operations of the U.N. itself, as well as its affiliates, the International Atomic Energy Agency and others. I think that is over 20 percent of the operating costs of the U.N. and its organizations. The United States needs to get its money's worth, as well. We need somebody up there who is going to provide strong leadership, especially when the U.N. needs reform. The United States is a leading member -- permanent -- of the U.N. Security Council, and it's going to require very strong leadership up there. John Bolton can provide that.

Amy Goodman: Phyllis Bennis, what about this quote of John Bolton that it was the happiest day of his life when the U.S. pulled out of the ICC, the International Criminal Court?

Phyllis Bennis: Well, John Bolton is a man who has never met a treaty that he liked. As I said earlier, this is somebody who has said that treaties are law only for U.S. domestic purposes. He doesn't support international law. When we talk about unilateralism, as Peter did a moment ago, the examples are very telling both on the question of unilateralism and on the question of disarmament. This so-called Proliferation Security Initiative is specifically designed as a non-U.N. initiative. Essentially, it is a U.S.-led pirate operation, led by the U.S., and the countries that join it have to agree to operate under U.S. command and under U.S. rules to board any ship anywhere they choose on the theory that it may be carrying weapons to somewhere, whether or not it is in violation of actual international law.

The Moscow Treaty, which Peter has just said John Bolton was responsible for, does not in fact reduce nuclear weapons by either the U.S. or Russia; it reconfigures existing nuclear weapons and leaves them intact in the exact same numbers. So we have to be very clear what kind of disarmament we are actually talking about.

The same thing is true on the issue of U.N. reform. I agree, the U.N. is desperately in need of reform. The question is what kind of reform. When we refer to the recent horrifying sex scandals among peacekeepers in Congo, would Peter suggest, as I have over the years, that what we really need is a standing international U.N.-run military force, which trains its own soldiers in international standards, not recruiting soldiers out of national armies in which all over the world, including our own, issues of abuse, sexual abuse, etc., are rampant? The U.N. has no authority over those peacekeepers. The most it can do is to send them home and request that their own governments hold them accountable.

I have a proposal for dealing with that. I don't think it is the same one that Peter or certainly John Bolton would agree with. The kind of international obligations that the U.N. would have would be zero if John Bolton had his way. The kind of international collaboration and cooperation that he would support is the kind that we see in the U.S. war in Iraq with the coalition of the coerced, countries that are forced by U.S. pressure, whether it is economic pressure, diplomatic threats, etc., to join coalitions under pressure, under coercion, what we might call "the coalition of the killing," and that coalition is even [dissolving] as countries respond to their widespread public demand that they get out of Iraq. But it was specifically in violation of the United Nations resolutions, the U.N. charter, that that coalition was put together. It is a substitute for international law.

Amy Goodman: Phyllis, let's let Peter Brookes respond.

Peter Brookes: Amy, I don't know where to start. Let me start with this list. Phyllis has touched upon a number of things. First of all, if John doesn't like any international treaties, why would he have signed the Moscow Treaty, or why would he have been involved in it? And I disagree with her characterization of it. It does reduce the number of nuclear weapons from very, very high levels and will reduce it by two thirds over a number of years. I think it is through 2012. On the Proliferation Security Initiative (P.S.I.), she is completely wrong. The P.S.I. in its early stages led to the seizure of centrifuges [used for enriching uranium], which were going from Malaysia to Libya under A.Q. Khan's guidance. [The centrifuges were] seized by Italian authorities on a German ship in an Italian port that led Libya to decide to give up its WMD program. That is a significant success. Libya is a very vile regime. It's changing its stripes, I wouldn't say it has changed its stripes. It has accounted for itself on international terrorism. And it has given up its weapons of mass destruction programs. And the international community is taking integral steps. That came under the Proliferation Security Initiative. You can't argue with that sort of success.

The other thing is that it uses national laws. In other words we had permission from the German flagship and the German government to board the ship in an international port. It was boarded by Italians. These are existing national laws that prohibit the proliferation of these materials, whether they are chemical, biological or nuclear materials, or perhaps in some countries the case might be missiles. It is not international law. It would be great if this could be spread to international law, where we could make seizures on the high seas, but unfortunately right now it is just at the national-law level that includes 60-plus nations and a whole host of very important nations, including some nations we didn't agree over Iraq on, such as France and Germany.

On U.N. reform, I guess Phyllis and I both agree that the U.N. needs reform. The Oil for Food Program is a tremendous scutching on the reputation of the United Nations. In fact, I don't think Kofi Annan, even though he has a few years left on his second term as U.N. Secretary General, I don't think he can move this forward. He is lame after these sort of things, and in fact, I think that the accusations of cronyism and corruption and nepotism says that he should step down. I think we are going to need strong American leadership up there, like John Bolton can provide, to move any of these reforms off dead center.

Amy Goodman: Finally, Phyllis Bennis, what do you expect to see [in the confirmation hearings]?

Phyllis Bennis: Well, I think there is going to be very sharp questioning. I hope that the Democrats take very seriously the specific allegations about John Bolton's work, particularly in the run-up to the Iraq war, where he was involved in pressuring -- his was, in fact, the only public name that surfaced within the Bush administration for those who were charged with pressuring analysts, intelligence analysts, when they didn't agree with his ideologically driven assessment about where weapons of mass destruction might be found. I hope that there will be sharp questioning about that. I hope that there will be questioning to see [whether he has] repudiated his views when he said, for example, that treaties are law only for U.S. domestic purposes. Is that still his view as it was in 1997 when he wrote it in the Wall Street Journal? When he said in 1994, "There is no United Nations," does he still believe that, or has he changed his views? This is an extremist, and I think that while he does represent the Bush administration very well, he represents the most dangerous edge of the Bush administration, and it goes against what people in this country believe. We don't want to be part of a rogue state that stands in defiance of international law.

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