Monday, April 11, 2005

When President Bush nominated John Bolton last month to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, we applauded the president’s pick for precisely the reason that Democrats oppose it: Mr. Bolton is a very vociferous and very smart U.N. critic. In an era when the world body is beset with corruption, peacekeeping malfeasance and weakness (as is evident in the ongoing genocide in Darfur), having a reform-minded ambassador in the mode of a Jeane Kirkpatrick or a Daniel Patrick Moynihan is an inspired choice.

All of which was lost on Senate Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday as they grilled Mr. Bolton during his confirmation hearing. The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden, expressed his concern about the nominee’s “diplomatic temperament.” If Mr. Biden was referring to the ways in which Mr. Bolton has successfully negotiated with foreign governments, he shouldn’t bother, as the nominee’s record speaks for itself. During his diplomatic career, which has spanned three Republican administrations, Mr. Bolton has overseen the implementation of two highly successful non-proliferation treaties; the Security Council resolution opposing Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait; and the repeal of the U.N “Zionism is Racism” resolution. The United Nations has a tendency to pass resolutions like that when it is full of ambassadors who do not possess Mr. Bolton’s “diplomatic temperament.”

Today, the committee plans to hear from Carl Ford, a former assistant secretary of state for intelligence, who has worked with Mr. Bolton in the past and opposes his nomination. The witness apparently will allege that Mr. Bolton deliberately distorted intelligence on Cuba at a Heritage Foundation speech he gave in May 2002, when he said that Fidel Castro was developing biological weapons. Even though intelligence agencies had cleared the speech, the information is now considered false. But, as has been widely reported, Mr. Ford had made the exact same allegation to the Senate Select Committee two months earlier.

The second charge Democrats hope Mr. Ford will substantiate is that Mr. Bolton intimidated two subordinates who did not agree with the nominee’s 2002 analysis of Cuba. One of the subordinates, Christian Westermann, is also expected to testify against Mr. Bolton. It must be clarified that Mr. Bolton did not try to have either subordinate fired, just removed from his “job portfolio,” which is State Department speak for reassignment. During yesterday’s line of questioning, Mr. Bolton asked that all classified documents pertaining to the charge of intimidation be made public, in effect calling the Democrats’ bluff.

Committee Democrats are hoping that by focusing on these minor issues they will convince Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Republican, to oppose Mr. Bolton’s nomination. Mr. Chafee should not fall for this obvious smear campaign. In a letter to Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, five former secretaries of state urged the Senate to confirm Mr. Bolton. If that’s not enough support, there’s always the endorsement of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Bolton hasn’t even been confirmed and already the United Nations is paying attention.

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