The Abysmal Ambassador

Good news! If there is a distinct possibility a Bush nominee is a vile-tempered, lying, ineffective bully, the U.S. Senate is willing to hold off on the vote for two weeks.

John Bolton was an amazingly bad choice for ambassador to the United Nations from the beginning. He has a long record of expressing contempt for and distrust of the United Nations. You may or may not consider that a reasonable position, but it is highly inadvisable in a diplomat. In addition, he was a notable failure as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

The problem of proliferation simply deteriorated under his guidance. Fewer weapons-grade nuclear materials were secured in the two years after 9/11 than in the two years before the attack. North Korea, which then had two nuclear weapons, now has as many as eight. After dealing with Bolton, the North Korean government called him "human scum" and "a bloodsucker," and declined to recognize him as an official of the United States. No one is claiming North Korea has a rational government, but any halfway-skilled diplomat could do better than that, and many have -- including Bill Richardson.

Bolton also pushed to cut funding for the Nunn-Lugar program to halt the nuclear proliferation of materials and failed to conclude a Plutonium Disposition Agreement with Russia to eliminate 70 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Russia has more dangerous unsecured nuclear material than any other country.

Many of Bolton's problems in the Senate hearings stemmed from his effort to drum up a "Cuba has biological weapons" scare. He tried to fire two intelligence officers who had the temerity to disagree with him. Under oath, he denied trying to have the men fired, but seven intelligence officials contradicted him. In a typically intemperate statement, Bolton had dismissed the opinion of the chief bio-weapons analyst at State as that of "a mid-level munchkin."

Perhaps Bolton's most dangerous mischief was repeatedly withholding information from Secretary Colin Powell and at least once from Secretary Condoleezza Rice. The Washington Post broke that story, including Bolton's failure to advise Rice before her European trip on the unpopularity of Bolton's campaign to oust Mohammad El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the United Nations. El Baradei had the gall to be right about WMDs in Iraq and is respected around the world.

Bolton is also the man who pushed to have the fake claim about Saddam's supposed Niger uranium put into the president's 2003 State of the Union Address. Truly, it is difficult to understand why the administration didn't nominate him for deputy assistant undersecretary of the place where they stash embarrassing failures.

The official record is bad enough, but what emerged clearly at the hearings is that the man has a vicious temper. Former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford, a conservative Republican, said Bolton is a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy," who "abuses his authority with little people." He said Bolton is a "serial abuser."

Repeated testimony as to his nasty temper and unpleasant way of dealing with subordinates was heard, with more coming in all the time. Bolton, according to Washington Post journalist Richard Cohen, became furious and abusive when questioned by our Italian allies on why no WMDs had been found in Iraq. Cohen said, "From what I saw, a bucket of cold water should always be kept at hand."

Perhaps the funniest comment on this controversy came from Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. After the decision to postpone the vote, she said: "This is a disgrace, the idea that temperament is suddenly important. There are legions who have gone before John, as well as members of Congress, who have behaved appallingly." So true. In fact, that's what Bush ran on twice, calling it "character." Diplomacy, like judging, requires a certain temperament.

Neither Colin Powell nor his top deputy, Richard Armitage, have spoken publicly about Bolton, but Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Powell's chief of staff, told The New York Times: "But do I think John Bolton would make a good ambassador to the United Nations? Absolutely not. He is incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views. He would be an abysmal ambassador."

The right wing has gone nuts on this subject and is flaming all over the internet about what a traitor Ohio Sen. George Voinovich is for saying he isn't ready to vote. Frankly, keeping the furor going over this crank Bolton is the best thing that's happened to the Democrats politically since Tom DeLay, another interesting example of the character issue.

But the prospect of Bolton at the United Nations is so appalling -- that is, assuming the Bush administration has any interest at all in: A) getting anything done there, and B) our reputation around the world -- I rather think it's time to forget politics and unite for the good of the country.

So far, the White House is sticking with the story that all of this was invented by nasty Democrats. But hey, even George W. Bush has admitted he can make mistakes. Maybe he'll be able to think of one now.

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