WASHINGTON -- When the American Conservative Union (ACU) celebrated its 40th anniversary last May with a black-tie dinner at Washington's J.W. Marriott Hotel, the dais was filled with assorted right-wing activists -- plus one diplomat. It was John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security whose nomination last week as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations shocked the liberal foreign policy establishment.
The ACU is respectable enough to have been addressed that evening by President George W. Bush. But Bolton was the first diplomat ever seated at the organization's head table. He is the first U.S. senior diplomat called a "movement conservative" (who, furthermore, was close to Sen. Jesse Helms). That is why his UN nomination created consternation on one side of the ideological divide and delight on the other side.
Bolton's critics in the Foreign Service had hopes he would be swept out of Foggy Bottom in Bush's second-term changing of the guard. That he instead was nominated for the world's most visible diplomatic post suggests the president means business in confronting the UN's corruption. It also confirms that Bush is properly attuned to his conservative base.
It is no secret that Bolton had his eye on becoming deputy secretary of state and was strongly supported for that post by conservatives. But newly installed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wanted U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as her deputy, and got him. At that point, conservative leaders who were instrumental in re-electing Bush informed White House political chief Karl Rove that a place must be found for Bolton (who was a valuable Bush lawyer in the 2000 Florida vote count).
The story spread by Bolton's foes in the State Department is that Rove then forced Rice into giving Bolton the UN portfolio. The truth is the reverse of that. It was the secretary of state who first suggested the new assignment for Bolton. That would put somebody at UN in the tradition of Pat Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had zero tolerance for the hypocrisy rampant at the world organization.
That contrasts with Bush's preceding UN ambassador, former Sen. John Danforth -- a favorite of the media and the liberal establishment. Danforth's vote of confidence in UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal was not authorized by then Secretary of State Colin Powell and in fact ran counter to administration policy. Before resigning after only seven months on the job, Danforth told old Senate colleagues that this administration does not take the UN seriously.