Sunday, April 17, 2005

Boy, this confirmation battle really heated up over John Bolton, the president’s plain-spoken nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. California Sen. Barbara Boxer, the Democratic Party’s comely obstructionist, charged Mr. Bolton needs “anger management lessons.”

I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me want to hurl a chair through the window and punch someone’s lights out like being told I need anger management lessons.

So I was interested to hear about the kind of violent Boltonian eruptions that led Mrs. Boxer to her diagnosis. Well, here it comes. (If you’ve got young children present, you might want to take them out of the room.) From the shockingly brutal testimony of Thomas Fingar, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Intelligence Research:

Q: Could you characterize your meeting with Bolton? Was he calm?

A: No, he was angry. He was standing up.

Q: Did he raise his voice to you? Did he point his finger in your face?

A: I don’t remember if he pointed. John speaks in such a low voice normally. Was it louder than normal? Probably. I wouldn’t characterize it as screaming at me or anything like that. It was more, hands on hips, the body language as I recall it, I knew he was mad.

He was “standing up” with “hands on hips.” Who does he think he is — Carmen Miranda? Fortunately, before Mr. Bolton could let rip with a “pursed lip” or escalate to the lethal “tsk-ing” maneuver, Mr. Fingar was able to back cautiously out of the room and call the FBI anger management team, who surrounded the building and told the deranged diplomat to come out slowly with his hands above his hips.

Well, I haven’t been so horrified since… well, since David Gest split from Liza Minnelli and launched a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, claiming she beat him up. As John Stewart of “The Daily Show” said, “There is no conceivable amount of money worth telling the world that you were beaten up by Liza Minnelli.”

Likewise, whatever one’s feelings about the U.N. and Kofi Annan and multilateralism, there’s nothing that could get most self-respecting men to appear before a Senate committee and complain John Bolton put his hands on his hips. At least, Liza allegedly beat David to a pulp. True, she had recently had two hip replacements, so if she had slapped her hands on her hips, she had have fallen to the ground howling in agony, and David could have run for his life. Or, indeed, strolled for his life, given she was overweight, barely 5 foot tall and a decade his senior. But my point is even David Gest might have balked at complaining about hands on hips.

Still, in the ever-accelerating descent into parody of the Senate confirmation process, nothing is too trivial. By the time Mrs. Boxer and company are through huffing about the need for anger management lessons, Two-Hips Bolton will be able to walk into every saloon in Dodge and the meanest hombres will be diving for cover behind the hoochie-koochie gals’ petticoats before his pinky so much as brushes his waist.

If the Senate poseurs and the media wanted to mount a trenchant critique of Mr. Bolton’s geopolitical philosophy, that would be reasonable enough. But there’s not even a pretense of any of that. Instead, his opponents have seized on one episode — an intelligence analyst in a critical position with whom Mr. Bolton and others were dissatisfied — and used it to advance the bizarre proposition that every junior official should be beyond reproach, and certainly beyond such aggressive “body language” as putting one’s hands on hips. Or as Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic, complained to the BBC the other night: Mr. Bolton was “disloyal to his subordinates.”

It has been obvious for three years that the torpid federal bureaucracies — that so comprehensively failed America on September 11, 2001 — are resistant to meaningful reform.

But Mr. Beinart, in demanding the executive branch swear fealty to the most incompetent underling, distills the “reform” charade to its essence: We’ll talk reform, we’ll pass reform bills, we’ll merge and demerge and remerge every so often, we’ll change three-letter acronyms (INS) to four-letter acronyms (BCIS) just to show how serious we are, and a year or four down the line we may well get real tough and require five-letter acronyms. But in the end we believe underperforming bureaucrats in key roles should be allowed to go on underperforming until retirement age. And, if you happen to show you’re just the teensy-weensiest bit upset with one of them, we’ll blow it up into a month of hearings on TV.

So vast battalions of America’s “public servants” sit around all day cross-examining each other about some guy’s unacceptably aggressive body language. He put his left hand in. His left hip out. In, out, in, out, he shook them all about. It’s the hot dance craze we all do at the Sinister Neocon Conspiracy Initiation Ceremony:

Ev’rybody’s doin’ a brand

new dance now

C’mon, baby, do the


If he doesn’t get the nomination, he has the makings of this summer’s novelty hit, Neoconga #5:

A little bit of fingering of

my hips.

A little bit of sneeriness

on my lips

A little bit of rolling of my


A little bit of fingering of my hips

A little bit of sneeriness on my lips

A little bit of rolling of both my eyes

A little bit of petulance in my sighs

A little bit of starting to almost mock

A little ‘You so totally do not rrock’

A little bit of memo on your desk

A little bit of you makes me Hulk-esque.

And, if an underperforming bureaucrat winds up getting Atlanta or Dallas nuked — tough. Better that than have out-of-control nutcakes rampaging around with hands on hips. After all, as National Review’s John Derbyshire put it three years ago, deftly summing up this new war’s philosophy: Better dead than rude.

As for the job John Bolton’s up for, what would make Mrs. Boxer and Joe Biden put their hands on hips? Child sex rings run by U.N. peacekeeping operations? Sudan sitting on the Human Rights Commission while it licenses mass murder in Darfur? Kofi Annan’s son in a $30,000-a-year job but somehow having a spare quarter-million dollars to invest in a Swiss soccer club?

There are tides in the affairs of men when someone must put his hands on his hips and toss his curls. If the present depraved state of the U.N. isn’t one of them, nothing is. Unlike most of the multilateral blatherers, John Bolton is hip to that.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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