A case for John Bolton?


Steve Clemons has been actively—some might say obsessively—following Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to the ambassadorship to the UN. A post today brings up some interesting tidbits about Bolton’s past:

One of the more interesting tidbits I picked up in these conversations — with several people — is that John Bolton regularly and frequently defied command and control within the State Department. The first major example of this flamboyant disregard for authority above him — disregard for Secretary of State Powell and the White House — was Bolton’s August 2001 announcement to Russian media that Russia had a deadline of November 2001 to accomodate the U.S. position on ballistic missile defense testing or the U.S. would initiate abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Several sources report that Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were livid that Bolton had threatened (intentionally or unintentionally) the Russians with a deadline — and more importantly, had taken the lead himself (without vested authority) to argue under what terms the United States would abrogate the ABM treaty. According to insiders, Bolton had gotten ahead of the process and had spoken too early — particularly when Bush was trying to “play nice” with Russia.

Hm. This actually brings up a possible case for the Bolton nomination, though only a tentative one. Follow me here. One of the most noteworthy things about the Bush administration over the past four years is that the public hasn’t heard a lot of dissent within the administration over various issues. Certainly dissent exists—the gridlock over how to deal with North Korea and Iran was largely the result of feuding between the hawks around Dick Cheney and the diplomats in the State Department—but we don’t hear much about it. As a result, the Bush administration’s foreign policy can often seem more moderate than it really might be. Most people, at least here at home, think an attack Iran would never happen, but more than a few “mid-level Pentagon officials” think that that’s the likely course of action.

So what if these feuds were all made public? Isn’t it possible that the hawkish Bolton might end up using his UN bully pulpit to embarrass the hawk camp, and weaken their hand? Or, to put it another way, having John Bolton as the loud, angry, public face of administration policy could force the White House to moderate its stances behind the scenes. Imagine, after all, if during the run-up to the Iraq war our UN representative was boasting that we were going to invade Iraq, set up permanent bases, and break the back of OPEC. A bit of evil laughter here and there. Obviously no one would ever say that, not even Bolton, but you can see how too much wingnuttery might bog down the war party.

At any rate, this all seems quite frivolous, and it would no doubt be better for all involved if Bolton’s nomination went down in flames, but there’s at least a potential case for having our hawks overly loud and cartoonish.

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