Bolton Is Still Unfit to Serve

This Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Bolton was nominated to the post last year by President Bush but failed to win Senate confirmation after a series of problematic disclosures about his past, particularly a record of mishandling intelligence and a pattern of intimidating subordinates.

The timing of this week's hearings is no accident. The White House is attempting to rally support for the Bolton nomination by politicizing the escalating conflict in the Middle East, arguing that this moment of geopolitical peril requires a permanent representative at the U.N. But the truth is that Bolton's record over the past year has highlighted the desire of an individual who was sent to the U.N. not to make it stronger, but to undermine it. Bolton is no more worthy for the U.N. post now than he was a year ago.

Un-Diplomatic

Bolton has managed to offend many U.S. friends and allies in just over a year at the U.N. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) said, "Bolton's performance at the U.N. confirms my conviction that he is the wrong person for this job." Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) added, "Many ambassadors at the U.N. feel that he hasn't done a good job there. He's polarized the situation." Prior to being appointed to the U.N., Bolton was described by a former State Department colleague as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." Representatives of the U.N. member-states now appear to agree.

The New York Times reported that "many diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself." Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia who closely follows the United Nations, said Bolton's "confrontational tactics have been very dysfunctional for the U.S. purpose." After a confrontation with Bolton, Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Baali said the U.S. stance that "you take it or you leave it is not helping the Security Council, and is not helping the cause of peace in the Middle East."

An ambassador with close ties to the Bush administration told the Times that he originally tried to work with Bolton, but complained that, "all he gives us in return is, 'It doesn't matter, whatever you do is insufficient.' … He's lost me as an ally now, and that's what many other ambassadors who consider themselves friends of the U.S. are saying." "He is not an easy man to get close to," Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece said. "Some people have the possibility to build consensus. Others operate in other ways." Ambassador Oswaldo de Rivero of Peru said, "He lives in another world, with this belief that he is morally superior and the U.S. is more moral than all the countries around the world. It is a pity."

Undermining the U.N.

On many of the key issues before the U.N., Bolton has worked against the consensus of the international body. In March, the U.N. overwhelmingly approved the creation of a much-improved council to protect human rights. While the measure gained the support of 170 nations, the U.S. was one of only four nations to vote against it.

"The U.S. position ruffled feathers at the United Nations. Jan Eliasson, president of the General Assembly, had delayed the creation of the council for weeks in an effort to persuade the United States to support it." Mark Malloch Brown, deputy to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said when the "U.S. chose to stay on the sidelines, the loss was everybody's [PDF]."

Bolton also distanced the U.S. from its allies on the issue of Sudan. He insisted that a list of names proffered by the U.K. of individuals involved in genocide be whittled down, leaving only one mid-level Sudanese government official on the list. Bolton's actions were "responsible for failing to hold any senior member of the Sudanese regime accountable for their role in the genocide."

Also, the U.S. put up great resistance to a plan to restore the aging, dilapidated, asbestos-coated headquarters of the United Nations, a building that fails to meet New York state building codes because it lacks sprinklers and fire alarms. Bolton was the only representative to resist the renovation project.

Waning Influence

In an impassioned speech last month, Malloch Brown constructively criticized the U.S. approach to the U.N., arguing, "[T]he prevailing [U.S.] practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the U.N. one way or another." (The video is available on SecurityPeace.org.) Brown argued that the constant attacks against the U.N. have made its role "in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world."

Bolton has been part of the problem. He once quipped, "If [the UN Secretariat building] lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Demonstrating that he could dish it out but not take it, Bolton overreacted to Brown's comment, calling it a "very, very grave mistake" that would result in the U.N. being the "victim." In the wake of dissension between the member-states over the Iraq war, Brown argued that "what you needed was an ambassador who would heal, not deepen, rifts."

But the rift has indeed widened, causing the U.S.'s influence to wane. Bolton recently admitted that he could not disclose who he would support to replace Annan when his term expires at the end of the year because "it would probably be the kiss of death for that person."


Old problems continue to linger

Dodd said of the Bolton renomination, "This is going to be a bruising fight." He said, "I'm sorry the administration wants to go forward with this," given that "problems still persist" about Bolton that went unresolved last year.

Among the issues that arose was a revelation that Bolton requested 10 National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts of conversations between U.S. government officials and foreign persons. The Bush administration at the time refused Senate requests to turn over the intercepts. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) said Bush should have provided the disputed documents.

Since that time, the NSA warrantless surveillance program has been revealed, which Biden recently argued, "makes these intercepts even more relevant." He added, "Unless the Administration provides the Senate with the documents it is entitled to see, Mr. Bolton should not get a vote." Also, last year, the Senate was informed that Bolton once tried to replace two intelligence analysts that disagreed with him. Referencing this incident, Dodd said, "In my view, I don't care what the administration or what party, if a high official does that, you don't deserve to be confirmed for a high post."

Voinovich's flip-flop is old news

Bolton's nomination failed to gain Senate passage last year due largely to the opposition of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who poignantly asked: "[W]hat message are we sending to the world community when we…appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves? These are the very characteristics that we're trying to dispel in the world community."

Last week, Voinovich penned an op-ed in the Washington Post stating that he would now vote for Bolton and argued that merely questioning the nomination would "jeopardize" the U.S.'s national security agenda. Bolton has tried to leverage Voinovich's reversal to build support for his own nomination, representing the turnabout as "a fairly dramatic change in the political dynamic."

In fact, it is not a "dramatic change" at all; Voinovich publicly announced nearly four months ago that he had changed his perspective on Bolton and would consider voting for him. But Voinovich's eloquently-stated concerns about Bolton, expressed nearly a year ago, have proven to be accurate.

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