The Bolton Dirtfest

Rich Lowry
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Posted: Apr 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Whatever else you think of him, John Bolton is a serious person. Democrats could have acted on their disagreements with President Bush?s pick to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by making Bolton?s confirmation battle a discussion of, among other things, his well-formed views on enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention, or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or the International Criminal Court. Instead, they have gone after him with innuendo and misrepresentations.

Leading the way has been Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking minority member Joseph Biden, one of the Senate?s foremost authorities on taking himself seriously. He has been willing to shred his own credibility in taking the ax to Bolton. Consider his bad faith on procedural matters: Biden had assured Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar two weeks ago that if Bolton?s hearing was delayed a week for Pope John Paul II?s funeral, both the hearing and the committee vote would take place last week. But when it came time to vote last week, Democrats objected. When it came time to vote again this Tuesday, Democrats objected again, forcing Republicans to take extraordinary steps to even allow the committee to convene. When it did, Democrats caterwauled for an hour until Ohio Republican George Voinovich buckled and supported another three-week delay on the vote.

This gives Democrats more time to smear and jeer. On Tuesday, Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd said of Bolton?s conduct in a routine bureaucratic dispute a few years ago, ?This ought to be indictable.? How ridiculous. Can we make senatorial hyperbole a federal offense? Biden at one point asked for a private hearing to air the allegations in a letter from a woman who said Bolton was abusive of her. Biden said he didn?t want to harm Bolton?s reputation ? but according to the New York Sun, Biden?s staff had already e-mailed the letter to journalists days earlier.

The main charges against Bolton are de minimis. He is said to have intimidated a State Department intelligence analyst who objected to Bolton?s supposedly too-dire assessment of Cuba?s bioweapons program. But Bolton aide Fred Fleitz has testified that the analyst in question, Christian Westerman, wasn?t straight with Bolton or his staff. It was Westerman?s responsibility to run language for a 2002 Bolton Cuba speech by the CIA, but when he did so he attached his own prejudicial language dissenting from Bolton?s views. When Fleitz learned this, Westerman falsely denied having done it, understandably leading to a confrontation in Bolton?s office. Two of Westerman?s supervisors subsequently apologized for how Westerman handled the matter.

Democrats have made a scandal out of the fact that Bolton asked ten times in four years to get the names of Americans ? routinely blacked out ? captured on National Security Agency intercepts of foreign conversations. It is perfectly legitimate to make such requests. During the same four-year period, other State Department officials made roughly 400 similar requests.

Finally, Democrats are retailing a charge from a partisan Democrat ? founder of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Opposing Bush ? that Bolton chased her through a Moscow hotel 11 years ago, throwing things and acting like a ?madman.? Bolton was working for a company for which the woman, Melody Townsel, was a subcontractor. The head of the company, Jayant Kalotra, says he doesn?t believe it happened and that Bolton was always professional. Townsel?s boss at the subcontractor, Charlie Black, also says he didn?t hear of it at the time, even though Townsel was never shy about complaining.

As the Bolton-nomination fight drags on, even more criticisms of him will surface from the State Department. Bolton vigorously supported Bush?s foreign policy at the incorrigibly weak-kneed department, earning him the enmity of its bureaucrats and their former servant Colin Powell, who appears to be feeding some of the anti-Bolton attacks. And the Democrats are willing to float any trash they are given ? anything, anything to avoid discussing the substance of Bolton?s views.