John Bolton To Be Confirmed?

How the Bush administration will exploit the present Middle East crisis to finally see Bolton confirmed as U.N. ambassador.

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 2:00 AM EDT

Article created by The Century Foundation.

Ever alert to exploit tragedy to achieve longstanding goals, political strategists inside the White House see the current deadly spiral of violence in the Middle East as their opening to press for John Bolton’s belated confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

This became clear in a Washington Post opinion article Thursday by Ohio senator George Voinovich, the sole Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to have voted against Mr. Bolton last summer. Rumors that Mr. Voinovich had struck a deal with the White House to vote for Mr. Bolton’s confirmation before his recess appointment—and possibly Republican control of the Senate—expire at year’s end have been flying for weeks.

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But no one expected a renewed effort to legitimize the administration’s brash and polarizing ambassador to be wrapped in the mantle of combating Hezbollah and terrorists everywhere. Once again, its critics underestimated the chutzpah of the administration’s political operatives.

In recent years the White House has compiled a notably tawdry track record of squeezing political advantage from death and destruction. The leveling of the World Trade Center by a handful of Saudi nationals armed with boxcutters became, in its skilled hands, the administration’s pretext for renouncing the antiballistic missile treaty, embarking on a crash program of “Star Wars” deployment, and launching an invasion of Iraq. Hurricane Katrina became an opportunity to abrogate union-scale wages on federal projects.

Now, with hundreds of civilians being killed in the Middle East strife—and the bankruptcy of administration policy in the region becoming plain for all to see—the administration launches the effort to lock in Mr. Bolton before a new Senate might lock him out.

Without embarrassment, Senator Voinovich has laid out “the deteriorating situation in the Middle East” as the rationale for his reversal. So much does Hezbollah fear Mr. Bolton that “I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists than to drag out a possible renomination process.”

In rhetoric richly redolent of the 2002 attack on war veteran and amputee Senator Max Cleland’s alleged cowardice in confronting the nation’s enemies, Mr. Voinovich’s White House script adds, “to now question a possible renomination would jeopardize our influence in the United Nations and encourage those who oppose the United States.”

Ironically, it is Third World representatives habitually opposed to the United States who profess the greatest satisfaction that Mr. Bolton represents it. It is much easier to outmaneuver an American envoy who does not bother to conceal Washington’s supposed arrogance of power behind talk of shared values. Mr. Bolton takes pride in confronting them with red lines: “They enjoy dealing with someone who tells them exactly what he thinks.”

It is fair to say that no one has done more to isolate the United States in world councils than Mr. Bolton, who has virtually alone opposed, time and again, the path-breaking reform initiatives that have passed the U.N. since he arrived. He vociferously opposed the hard-won reform of U.N. human rights machinery, marshalling just three client states to vote with him against the new Human Rights Council.

Virtually alone, he opposed the reform resolution allowing the United Nations to expend its approved budget after June 30.

Alone, he insisted on striking from last fall’s world summit statement every mention of long-agreed Millennium Development Goals, stirring such an uproar that President Bush himself had to repudiate the effort. But the President’s ambassador succeeded in forcing deletion of any reference to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons.

So Mr. Voinovich’s professed concern that getting a new, more effective ambassador at the U.N. would embolden Islamist terrorist groups seems quite misplaced. It is, of course, ludicrous to think they care who represents the United States at the U.N. Indeed, Mr. Bolton would be the first to insist that the United Nations is all but irrelevant, useful mainly as “a target-rich environment.”

Sadly, it seems the administration‘s real fear is that Senate review of Mr. Bolton’s performance as emissary in New York will not just “drag out” the appointment process, but put the spotlight on the consequences generally of Washington’s aggressively confrontational foreign policies. No one more embodies the soul of those hard-line policies, save the Vice President himself, than Mr. Bolton.

Senators of both parties who are concerned about America’s shriveling global leadership should insist on full committee hearings about Mr. Bolton’s performance before allowing this nomination to move to a vote. And they should not shrink from sustained debate if they conclude, as most of the world concluded long ago, that America can do better in New York.

Mr. Voinovich sets the right standard in arguing, “I do not believe the United States, at this dangerous time, can afford to have a U.N. ambassador who does not have Congress's full support.” A figure as partisan and confrontational as John Bolton certainly does not have Congress’s full support, and America can ill afford to have such an ambassador at the U.N.