The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is ready to vote on President Bush’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Democrats have lined up to oppose Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s appointment. Committee Republicans are expected to support it.
For two weeks, however, the former have hoped to pick off one or more of the latter by subjecting Mr. Bolton to a series of allegations and charges that call into question his judgment, integrity and conduct.
As the votes on the Bolton nomination are cast, Senators should bear in mind the following:
John Bolton is eminently qualified. He has worked for years — including in the first Bush administration and through the current presidency, as well as the years between — on matters directly relevant to his future assignment. Even his critics acknowledge Mr. Bolton is deeply knowledgeable about the organization and reform of the U.N., coalition-building diplomacy and some of the most pressing problems confronting this country and the U.N. — notably, state-sponsorship of terror and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Mr. Bolton’s intimate understanding of these subjects has given him strong views about them. He occasionally has expressed those views forcefully and with a measure of rhetorical hyperbole. While some have seized upon his choice of words to disqualify Mr. Bolton, he is indisputably correct in arguing that the U.N. has rarely been united in the way and for the purposes its founders envisioned. He is also correct in noting the international community has generally been most effective in dealing with international crises when led by the United States. It would serve U.S. interests well to have the man charged with shaping efforts to reform and revitalize the United Nations guided by these insights.
John Bolton has been a steady and effective advocate for President Bush’s policies inside often-hostile bureaucracies. That should hardly be a disqualifier for his promotion given that agencies like the State Department are supposed to be part of an executive branch led by the president.
There is no getting around it, though: In advancing Mr. Bush’s agenda inside a State Department often overtly hostile to it, Mr. Bolton has made many enemies. A few have come forward publicly; others have talked to the press off-the-record.
The sum and substance of the charges leveled by such individuals seem to come down to this: For the past four years, Mr. Bolton has tirelessly worked to use diplomatic and other tools to call attention to and ameliorate pressing national security problems. Doing so has required him to overcome considerable institutional inertia, ideologically motivated opposition and chronic bureaucratic skullduggery.
Along the way, Mr. Bolton has clearly bruised some egos. But he did not manufacture or distort intelligence, get people fired for actions that even their supervisors considered inappropriate or engage in punitive measures that could conceivably be accurately characterized as “serial abuse” of subordinates.
At the eleventh hour, the Bolton opponents have come up with a heretofore unknown charge: According to The Washington Post yesterday, unnamed State Department sources claim the undersecretary deliberately withheld information from his superiors related to diplomatic and other aspects of Iran’s proliferation of WMD.
There is a certain irony in this accusation, the timing of which smacks of a last-gasp bid to derail the Bolton nomination: It ostensibly rests on information “back-channeled” to those superiors by Mr. Bolton’s subordinates to circumvent him and the normal reporting channels. At the same time, Mr. Bolton is being taken to task for allegedly circumventing similar channels to secure information from the Central Intelligence Agency. He is said to have done so to ensure intelligence information he relied upon was not distorted by analysts with their own agenda in Foggy Bottom’s Office of Intelligence and Research.
Generally speaking, government works best given an abundance of information. Intelligence analysts are seconded to agencies like the State Department — and not just John Bolton’s office — precisely to facilitate the timely sharing of relevant data with policymakers. And, while senior officials are entitled to make decisions about which of the countless memos generated every day they deem worthy of passing up the line and when, Secretaries of State generally rely as much on direct contacts with counterparts as staff memoranda to keep them apprized of allied views about pending issues.
Mr. Bolton’s experiences and conduct under clearly very difficult circumstances in the State Department in the last four years are, if anything, evidence he is right for the U.N. job.
After all, he is accustomed to dealing with institutions hostile to President Bush, his administration and its security policies. He has demonstrated the necessary diplomatic and bureaucratic skills needed to overcome myriad obstacles thrown in his way by opponents, foreign and domestic. And he has displayed the sort of principled tenacity that will certainly be even more necessary to truly reforming the United Nations than it has been to trying to get, and keep, the State Department on the president’s team.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.