Tuesday, August 2, 2005

John Bolton flew off to New York yesterday to take up his new job as the tough-guy ambassador nearly everybody agrees we need at the United Nations, and the geezers rocking on the front porch of the Senate Rest Home, waiting for the embalmer and stewing in the bitter juices of their own frustration, couldn’t think of a single new thing to say.

Teddy Kennedy, mired in the rubble of ruined ambition and drowning in blighted hopes (and having given his sound bite writer the day off), could only employ the half-remembered clichs of earlier outbursts. “The abuse of power and the cloak of secrecy from the White House continues … .”

Harry Reid of Nevada, the clueless leader of the disconsolate Senate Democrats, borrowed a clich from Teddy’s crib sheet: “[Mr.] Bolton arrives at the United Nations with a cloud hanging over his head.”

Dianne Feinstein of California predicts “dire consequences.” Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey deplores the “circumventing of Congress.” Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, searching for a Western Union office with a light in the window, is worried about sending “the wrong signal.” Barack Obama of Illinois, looking up from the little pocket mirror he carries with him for these occasions, thinks John Bolton’s “history of inflammatory statements about the U.N.” will make it difficult to work with the other delegates who are, as we all know, red-hot for “necessary reforms.” Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is at the mercy of his fears, “fear that we have lost an important opportunity to help re-establish the United States’ global role as a moral and responsible leader.” Only a plutocrat adrift in a bad dream could imagine the United States as so immoral and irresponsible as to need reclamation help from representatives of tin-pot tyrants and deep-fried despots at the U.N.

George W. Bush can enjoy this gong-show performance from afar, having made the appointment as if with the back of his hand, on his way out to Texas for the month of August to clear out brush, stomp on rattlesnakes and ponder the lack of water at Prairie Chapel Ranch. “This post is too important to leave vacant any longer,” he said, announcing his snub of the Democratic snarlers, “especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform.”

We can argue on a later occasion whether anything at the U.N. is too important to put off for another day, but the manufactured contretemps over the Bolton appointment were too trivial not to treat with the contempt of a recess appointment. The Democrats didn’t have the votes to deny the president his appointment, so they used a procedure available to willful minorities. The president used a procedure available to a president who won’t any longer abide a spiteful challenge to presidential prerogative by a willful minority.

The new ambassador arrived at Turtle Bay only five hours after the president dispatched him, and he was greeted with carefully calibrated warmth. No American ambassador arrives at any appointment anywhere with a cloud hanging over his head; the representative of the president of the United States makes his own weather. The notion — peddled by the Democrats, who knew they could delay the appointment only for a little while — that Mr. Bolton arrives in New York with “built-in handicaps” and “starts out as a lame duck” without “the stature that comes with Senate approval,” is merely media huffing and partisan puffing. In an editorial, the Associated Press called the appointment “brazen” and an “in-your-face gesture to Congress and the global community,” but the only puzzlement at the U.N. is over why the president allowed a tiny minority of senators, resigned to a self-assigned and probably semi-permanent role as knockers and grumblers, to frustrate policy aims with procedural delaying tactics.

The president, presenting his new ambassador, said Mr. Bolton would “speak for me on critical issues facing the international community,” which is of course what all ambassadors do. The Democratic senators who successfully blocked the majority of senators who wanted to confirm him have no genuine objections. He was merely the designated target of partisan bile backed up in the digestive tract of the donkey.

Senators of all flavors take themselves far more seriously than the rest of us do, and some of them imagine that a recess appointment is a snub of their glorious selves. But they brought this on themselves. “I think it’s unfortunate that he had to use this option,” said George Allen of Virginia. So it was, but the senators will get over it a long time before they get over themselves.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times

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