- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Beware what you wish for, lest it comes true. That sentiment could well be echoing through the halls of the United Nations this week.

When he nominated Undersecretary of State John Bolton to the post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President Bush signaled that he was serious about engaging the errant world body. Bush critics have been clamoring for the administration to do exactly that, and what they are likely to get is engagement as tough love. But let’s face it; tough love is better than no love at all. If the United Nations is to have any relevance in the future, it desperately needs two things: American leadership; and serious house cleaning.

“This is just about the most inexplicable appointment the president could make to represent the United States to the world community,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy after Mr. Bolton’s nomination. Sen. Joseph Biden accused Mr. Bolton of lacking “diplomatic temperament.” They don’t get the point. Mr. Bolton is indeed not known for diplomatic diction. He speaks his mind plainly and clearly, and his is a sharp mind to boot. During the 1990s, he said some harsh things about the United Nations — which are now being quoted back at him — but there was much to criticize, particularly as the Clinton administration was about to farm out U.S. foreign police to the United Nations.

It is no wonder that fans of the U.N. status quo, be they diplomats or Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have been having fainting spells over his nomination. Mr. Bolton’s hearings were off to a bumpy start as Democrats lined up against him firing off tough rounds of questioning. Few have any doubt that Mr. Bolton will get the confirmation; after all, he was confirmed for the sensitive post of undersecretary of state for arms control. But critics of the war in Iraq want their pound of flesh. Mr. Bolton is in good company, though. Senate Democrats likewise held up the confirmation of Mr. Bolton’s boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in order to make points about the president’s policy in Iraq.

In both cases, critics have been eager to rehash events rather than look to the future, particularly the supposed politicization of U.S. intelligence. Forget about the fact that investigation after investigation, including the most recent intelligence report by the Robb-Silberman Commission, has exonerated administration officials of this oft-repeated accusation. Also in question is a speech given by Mr. Bolton at the Heritage Foundation in 2002, in which he asserted that Cuba had a biological weapons program. That, too, was in accordance with U.S. intelligence estimates, though it clearly rubbed some of Mr. Bolton’s subordinates in the State Department the wrong way.

Far more interesting is why Mr. Bolton would want this thankless job, and what he wants to do with it. He is taking a cut in rank by several degrees, and will report to the assistant secretary for international organizations, a position he himself held in the first Bush administration. Mr. Bolton knows what he walks into: In the early 1990s, he rewrote a reform agenda for the United Nations; he has done U.N. pro bono work in Africa; and as undersecretary for arms control, his valuable experience taught him what works and doesn’t work in multilateral regimes.

In his opening statement, Mr. Bolton stressed problems with anti-corruption efforts, the bloated U.N. bureaucracy and organizational structures, abuses by U.N. peacekeepers and a paltry human-rights record. Tellingly, however, his immediate focus was the international security challenges facing the world of the 21st century. This issue was also the focus of the report of the secretary-general’s high-level panel, published in November.

“If the U.N. is to play a role in fulfilling [its] mission, however, it is not enough to reform its internal structures. It must also clearly and forcefully address the new challenges we face. Rogue states, which do not necessarily subscribe to the theories and deterrence, now threaten the global community as both possessors and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Bolton said. He further stressed the nightmare scenario of a nexus between rogue proliferator states and terrorist organizations.

Rather than bicker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ought to seize the opportunity and confirm this tough-minded civil servant. If the United Nations can be redeemed, it will need someone like Mr. Bolton to take charge.

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