Tuesday, July 25, 2006

For a year, John Bolton has served ably as ambassador to the United Nations, bringing common sense to a badly dysfunctional organization at a time of significant upheaval in world affairs. He needs, and deserves, Senate confirmation status to continue his invaluable work. The confirmation process begins anew tomorrow when the Senate opens hearings on Mr. Bolton’s renomination, the completion of which should prompt a speedy confirmation vote.

So far, Mr. Bolton has surprised critics with his workmanlike performance — notably, Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who denounced the nominee as a “poster child” for undiplomatic behavior a year ago. Last week, he endorsed Mr. Bolton as “tempered and focused,” citing the ambassador’s recent handling of North Korea, Iran and the Middle East among his chief illustrations.

Now, Mr. Voinovich wrote, is not the time to undermine that good work. “I could not imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists — and to other nations,” he concluded, “than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives.”

There are other accomplishments. Mr. Bolton has advocated much-needed management reforms in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal; he has rightly shunned the new Human Rights Council as a tool of human-rights abusers, like Cuba and Libya, while simultaneously calling attention to genuine human-rights crises, like Darfur — over which he sharply criticized U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February; and he remains a lonely advocate for Israel in a forum famously hostile to the U.S. ally. Speaking about the recent volleys between Hezbollah, Israel and Lebanon on Fox News, Mr. Bolton said: “Syria doesn’t need dialogue to know what they need to do. They need to lean on Hezbollah to get them to release the two captured Israeli soldiers and stop the launch of rockets against innocent Israeli civilians.”

Some Democrats are promising a battle over Mr. Bolton. We won’t discount that possibility, but the numbers are against it. Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and incorrigible Bolton critic, promised “a bruising fight” over the nomination — but Mr. Voinovich’s switch gives Republicans the votes they need to get the nomination to the Senate floor. Once it arrives there, Democrats would either need to pick off Republican floor votes on Mr. Bolton or be willing to filibuster him. The first is all but impossible. The second strikes us as unlikely in a climate of significant world turmoil. Even anti-Bush Democrats should realize that they’re playing with fire if they undermine a standing U.N. ambassador as he handles Hezbollah, Iran and North Korea.

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