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.