The Bolton vote

Posted: Apr 18, 2005 12:00 AM
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is ready to vote on President Bush?s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Democrats have lined up to oppose Under Secretary of State John Bolton?s appointment. Committee Republicans are expected to support it.

For two weeks, however, the former have hoped to pick off one or more of the latter by subjecting Mr. Bolton to a series of allegations and charges that call into question his judgment, integrity and conduct. As the votes on the Bolton nomination are cast, Senators should bear in mind the following:

O John Bolton is eminently qualified. He has worked for years ? including in the first Bush Administration and throughout the current presidency, as well as during the years between ? on matters directly relevant to his future assignment. Even his critics acknowledge that Secretary Bolton is deeply knowledgeable about the organization and reform of the United Nations, coalition-building diplomacy and some of the most pressing problems confronting this country and the UN ? notably, state-sponsorship of terror and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

O Secretary Bolton?s intimate understanding of these subjects has caused him to have strong views about them. On occasion, he has expressed those views forcefully and with a measure of rhetorical hyperbole. While some have seized upon his choice of words to disqualify Mr. Bolton, he is indisputably correct in arguing that the UN has rarely been united in the way and for the purposes its founders envisioned. He is also correct in noting that the international community has generally proven most effective in dealing with international crises when led by the United States. It would serve U.S. interests well to have the man charged with shaping efforts to reform and revitalize the United Nations guided by these insights.

O John Bolton has been a steady and effective advocate for President Bush?s policies inside often-hostile bureaucracies. That should hardly be a disqualifier for his promotion given that, in our government, agencies like the State Department are supposed to be part of an executive branch led by the President.

There is no getting around it, though: In the course of advancing Mr. Bush?s agenda inside a State Department often overtly hostile to this administration?s security policies, Mr. Bolton has made many enemies. A few have come forward publicly; others have talked to the press only on an off-the-record basis.

O The sum and substance of the charges leveled by such individuals seem to come down to this: For the past four years, Secretary Bolton has worked tirelessly to use diplomatic and other tools to call attention to and ameliorate pressing national security problems. Doing so has required him to overcome considerable institutional inertia, ideologically motivated opposition and chronic bureaucratic skullduggery.

Along the way, Mr. Bolton has clearly bruised some egos. But he did not manufacture or distort intelligence, get people fired for actions that even their supervisors considered to be inappropriate or engage in punitive measures that could conceivably be accurately characterized as ?serial abuse? of subordinates.

At the eleventh hour, the attack on Secretary Bolton has come up with a heretofore unknown charge: According to Monday?s Washington Post, unnamed State Department sources claim that the Under Secretary deliberately withheld information from his superiors related to diplomatic and other aspects of Iran?s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

There is a certain irony to this accusation, whose timing smacks of a last-gasp bid to derail the Bolton nomination: It ostensibly rests on information ?back-channeled? to those superiors by Mr. Bolton?s subordinates in order to circumvent him and the normal reporting channels. At the same time, Secretary Bolton is being taken to task for allegedly circumventing similar channels to secure information from the Central Intelligence Agency. He is said to have done so in order to ensure that intelligence information he was relying upon was not being distorted by analysts with their own agenda in Foggy Bottom?s Office of Intelligence and Research.

Generally speaking, government works best when there is an abundance of information. Intelligence analysts are seconded to agencies like the State Department ? and not just John Bolton?s office ? precisely in order to facilitate the timely sharing of relevant data with policy-makers. And, while senior officials are entitled to make decisions about which of the countless number of memos generated every day they deem worthy of passing up the line and when, Secretaries of State generally rely as much on direct contacts with their counterparts as staff memoranda to keep them apprized of allied views about pending issues.

Mr. Bolton?s experiences and conduct under clearly very difficult circumstances in the State Department over the past four years are, if anything, evidence that he is the right man for the UN job. After all, he is accustomed to dealing with institutions hostile to President Bush, his administration and its security policies. He has demonstrated the necessary diplomatic and bureaucratic skills needed to overcome myriad obstacles thrown in his way by opponents, foreign and domestic. And he has displayed the sort of principled tenacity that will certainly be even more necessary to truly reforming the United Nations than it has been to trying to get, and keep, the State Department on the President?s team.