Almost everyone agrees that the Democrats are viewed as too soft on national security. How is the party addressing this deficiency? By making its rallying cry, "Please, don't be mean to the United Nations."
This is the gravamen of its attack on President Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Bolton's chief offense is having been harshly critical of the U.N. through the years. The toughest Bolton quote is that the U.N. headquarters could lose ten stories and no one would notice. The notable thing about this statement is that it is indisputably true. A ten-story subtraction would still leave 29 stories to house the planet's most hellishly impenetrable and inefficient bureaucracy.
The outraged-at-Bolton caucus has a problem, which is that anything Bolton has said about the U.N. appears mild given recent U.N. malfeasance. He never said that U.N. peacekeepers would rape children in the Congo. He never said the U.N. would engage in insider dealing to rip off its own Oil-for-Food program in Iraq. He never said the U.N. would institute what appears to be a cover-up of its Oil-for-Food wrongdoing. But this all happened, which is why even Kofi Annan says the U.N. needs a thorough overhaul.
Democrats who oppose Bolton are in effect more deliriously pro-U.N. than even the secretary general. Bolton has always said that the U.N. needs strong U.S. leadership in order to work as an institution. This is Bolton's key disagreement with those Democrats who are content to have the U.S. led by the nose by the lowest common denominator of recalcitrant foreign actors. This attitude is the international version of the old definition of a liberal as someone who won't take his own side in a fight.
The New York Times has led the way in caricaturing Bolton as someone who has disdain "for multilateralism and for consensus-seeking diplomacy." On the contrary, Bolton's career can be seen as one long catalog of robust multilateralism. As assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs in the administration of the first President Bush, he was the architect of the repeal of the Zionism-is-racism resolution, bolstering the U.N.'s credibility. He worked on passage of all the Gulf War-related U.N. resolutions, giving the U.N. a key role in the fight against Saddam Hussein.