WASHINGTON -- Why did Monday's Democratic assault on John Bolton at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have so little to do with how he would perform as U.S. ambassador at the United Nations and so much about Cuban biological warfare? It may be partially explained by tactical considerations. But the more significant reason is Sen. Christopher Dodd's long-range goal of normalized relations with Fidel Castro.
Coordinated Democratic grilling of Under Secretary of State Bolton avoided stigmatizing him as a conservative critic of the widely unpopular UN. Leading the attack on Bolton, Dodd even said he agreed with much of Bolton's criticism of the world organization. Only Sen. Barbara Boxer could not restrain herself from declaring how "outrageous" it was to put a conservative U.S. representative at the UN.
The other Democrats followed Dodd's lead in dwelling on a 2002 speech by Bolton alleging Cuba's development of germ warfare for export to rogue nations. The link to the UN was that another exaggerated weapons-of-mass-destruction claim would further undermine U.S. credibility there. However, Dodd was following his regular practice of attacking anti-Castro officials, having barred Senate confirmation of Otto Reich as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and driven him from the government.
Dodd's real problems with Bolton go beyond the UN. While Democrats temporarily controlled the Senate in 2001, Dodd helped delay for two months Bolton's confirmation as under secretary for arms control. Bolton was finally confirmed, 57 to 43, with Dodd voting no.
A year later on May 6, 2002, Dodd exploded when Bolton's address to the Heritage Foundation reported "at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort" in Cuba, sending technology "to other rogue states." This revelation, Bolton has said, was long delayed by the presence at the Pentagon of a Castro spy, Ana Belen Montes, as senior Cuban intelligence analyst.
Bolton's disclosure threatened efforts by Dodd and his longtime Foreign Relations Committee staffer, Janice O'Connell, to normalize relations with Cuba. Dodd demanded a hearing with Bolton in the dock, but Secretary of State Colin Powell would not make Bolton available.
Dodd renewed the fight when President Bush named Bolton to the UN, exposing grave disputes inside the national security bureaucracy. Bolton was accused of bullying State Department analyst Christian Westermann, who claimed Bolton exaggerated Cuba's germ warfare potentialities. Bolton has charged that Westermann went behind Bolton's back to undermine his case while his Heritage speech was being cleared by intelligence.
Bolton also came under fire from Dodd for questioning CIA officer Fulton Armstrong's assessment on Cuban arms. (The CIA had asked that Armstrong's name be kept secret because he now serves overseas, but his name was inadvertently divulged in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing by both Chairman Richard Lugar and Sen. John Kerry.) Dodd's theme that Bolton intimidated intelligence analysts was faithfully repeated by rote in questioning by other Democrats.
But should Armstrong have been free of criticism? During his tenure as assistant secretary of state, Reich on several occasions asked, without success, that Armstrong be removed. This CIA analyst was notorious inside the national security bureaucracy for faulty judgments on not only Cuba but also Haiti, Venezuela and Colombia. To his critics, Armstrong always favored positions of such anti-U.S. heads of state as Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. It is doubtful that Democratic senators questioning Bolton, other than Dodd, knew about Armstrong's background.
It is also doubtful most senators knew much about former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford when he testified against Bolton Tuesday. Although he characterized himself as a faithful conservative Republican, former CIA analyst Ford worked for Democratic Sen. John Glenn for five years. Federal Election Commission filings indicate he contributed to both Democrats and Republicans, to both John Kerry and George W. Bush. Ford, as President Bush's appointee, was giving funds to Democrats Jane Harman, Charles Rangel and Daniel Inouye.
In his testimony Tuesday, Ford was hardly questioned about Bolton's actual assessment of Castro's germ warfare capability. Chris Dodd was able to drive Otto Reich out of the government because he was anti-Castro. It remains to be seen whether that also is John Bolton's fate.