Robert Novak

The focus temporarily is on Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a frequently unfathomable maverick Republican, as the days dwindle down for this Congress to permit John Bolton to continue as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But Bolton's two-year struggle to get confirmed can be directly traced to a determined Democratic senator and the vengeful UN secretariat.

Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell sat down Tuesday for a heart-to-heart talk with Chafee, pleading with him to permit Bolton's nomination to reach the Senate floor. The reason Chafee is in this pivotal position can be attributed to Sen. Christopher Dodd's fierce open opposition to Bolton, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's stealthy sabotage, executed by his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown.

Bolton's ordeal provides a cautionary tale for any foreign policy conservative who wants to serve his country in Washington. Nobody can deny Bolton's intelligence and vigor in a lifetime devoted to public service. Nor can anybody deny that Bolton has been faithful to the program of any president he served even when official policy conflicted with his own views. But those views have caused him no end of trouble.

Indeed, some of Bolton's colleagues in the State Department (where he was an under secretary in George W. Bush's first term) were backstabbing when the president named him UN envoy. Bolton's overriding defect was his anti-Castro views, which collided with Dodd's goal of "normalizing" relations with Communist Cuba. Dodd was able to mobilize Democratic colleagues in a deadlock -- creating demand for executive branch documents involving Bolton.

Republican Sen. George Voinovich did not like Bolton's blunt answers to his Democratic antagonists in last year's Foreign Relations Committee hearings. He unexpectedly voted against Bolton but permitted the nomination to reach the floor without recommendation. That did not help find the 60-vote supermajority to cut off a Dodd-managed filibuster.

Bolton's vigorous UN performance under a recess appointment made Aug. 1, 2005, when the Senate was not in session, convinced the fair-minded Voinovich to change his position. But Sen. Chuck Hagel, second ranking Republican on Foreign Relations and a thoughtful critic of Bush administration foreign policy, indicated he might drop his support and vote no when Bolton again came up for confirmation. In a conversation with Hagel after Labor Day, Bolton won a yes vote.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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