Forum: Ill Will Ambassador
Bush’s new man at the UN has made a career of ruthless attacks against the institution.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
In a breathtaking victory for the far right, President George W. Bush has nominated a die-hard unilateralist to become his next ambassador to the United Nations.
John Bolton is known as one of the most confrontational, combative, and humorless figures within the administration, having earned his formidable reputation as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during Bush’s first term.
‘’This is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Heather Hamilton, vice president of programs for Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association).
The Armageddon Nominee
John Bolton, Hamilton says, is the ‘’Armageddon nominee,’’ alluding to the words of former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who once admiringly described Bolton as ‘’the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world.”
Bolton began his career-long battle with evil under Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s, when—despite a notable lack of experience in developing countries—he was appointed to a series of posts in the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The highlight of his Reagan years was, however, his tenure as one of then-Attorney General Edwin Meese’s top aides, which he spent stonewalling the congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra affair, as well as Sen. John Kerry’s efforts to investigate the drug-running operations of the Nicaraguan Contras.
His performance gained him a promotion under Bush Senior to assistant secretary of state for international organizations, a post he held until 1993, when he joined first the right-wing Manhattan Institute and then the neoconservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
By the time former Secretary of State James Baker tapped him to serve as a senior member of George Bush’s legal team in Florida after the 2000 election, Bolton had become senior vice president at AEI. By then he had cemented his unilateralist credentials by advocating US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and railing against the grave threat posed to US sovereignty by the United Nations and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan. At one point, Bolton suggested simply halting US payments to the world body.
Bolton was well rewarded for this rich history of far-right advocacy with an undersecretary position at the State Department—an appointment forced on a reluctant Colin Powell by Dick Cheney. Within just a few months, Bolton emerged as a forceful advocate for policies favored by a coalition of neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists and the Christian right.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare, Bolton single-handedly sabotaged a UN meeting to forge an international verification protocol designed to put teeth into a treaty on bioweapons. On scuttling the agreement, he reportedly told his colleagues, ‘’It’s dead, dead, dead, and I don’t want it coming back from the dead.”
Within the State Department, Bolton led the drive to repudiate the United States’ signature on the 1998 Rome Statute that became the basis for the creation of a new International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. When Bush approved the move, Bolton prevailed on Powell to allow him to sign the formal notification to Kofi Annan, an act he later described to the Wall Street Journal as “the happiest moment of my government service.”
Powell frequently complained to his closest aides that Bolton was taking his orders from Cheney and the Pentagon hawks, deliberately undermining his own department’s policy positions.
Return to Unilateralism?
Bolton’s nomination comes at a time when many hope that Bush will pursue a more multilateralist policy in his second term—hopes that were fueled by his recent bridge-building trip to Europe. The appointment of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Rice’s own decision to pick long-time ‘’realist’’ Robert Zoellick as her deputy over Bolton was taken as a clear setback for the coalition of right-wing hawks that have dominated foreign policy since 9/11.
But Bolton’s nomination suggests otherwise.
‘’His nomination sends exactly the wrong message to the world about the Bush administration’s willingness to work with other countries and in multilateral institutions,” Hamilton says. “There’s no one who has a greater track record of offending other countries, including our closest allies.”
The “message” to the UN is equally worrisome given Bolton’s public and well-documented disdain for the institution. This is, after all, a man who once asserted, ‘’If the UN (secretariat) building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.’’
While many ranking Democrats in the Senate—including John Kerry and Minority Leader Harry Reid—have expressed reservations about Bolton, they are unlikely to scuttle his nomination. Since it’s Democrats who helped approve Bolton’s State Department appointment in a 57-43 vote in 2001, any hope for derailing his nomination lies with moderate Republicans such as Dick Lugar. So it’s no wonder that the Bush administration is already busy rewriting Bolton’s credentials as, in Rice’s words, “a tough-minded diplomat” with “a proven track record of effective multilateralism.” And, yes, the UN is planning to buy that bridge in Brooklyn.