Almost everyone agrees that the Democrats are viewed as too soft on national security. How is the party addressing this deficiency? By making its rallying cry, "Please, don't be mean to the United Nations."
This is the gravamen of its attack on President Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Bolton's chief offense is having been harshly critical of the U.N. through the years. The toughest Bolton quote is that the U.N. headquarters could lose ten stories and no one would notice. The notable thing about this statement is that it is indisputably true. A ten-story subtraction would still leave 29 stories to house the planet's most hellishly impenetrable and inefficient bureaucracy.
The outraged-at-Bolton caucus has a problem, which is that anything Bolton has said about the U.N. appears mild given recent U.N. malfeasance. He never said that U.N. peacekeepers would rape children in the Congo. He never said the U.N. would engage in insider dealing to rip off its own Oil-for-Food program in Iraq. He never said the U.N. would institute what appears to be a cover-up of its Oil-for-Food wrongdoing. But this all happened, which is why even Kofi Annan says the U.N. needs a thorough overhaul.
Democrats who oppose Bolton are in effect more deliriously pro-U.N. than even the secretary general. Bolton has always said that the U.N. needs strong U.S. leadership in order to work as an institution. This is Bolton's key disagreement with those Democrats who are content to have the U.S. led by the nose by the lowest common denominator of recalcitrant foreign actors. This attitude is the international version of the old definition of a liberal as someone who won't take his own side in a fight.
The New York Times has led the way in caricaturing Bolton as someone who has disdain "for multilateralism and for consensus-seeking diplomacy." On the contrary, Bolton's career can be seen as one long catalog of robust multilateralism. As assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs in the administration of the first President Bush, he was the architect of the repeal of the Zionism-is-racism resolution, bolstering the U.N.'s credibility. He worked on passage of all the Gulf War-related U.N. resolutions, giving the U.N. a key role in the fight against Saddam Hussein.
In his current job as undersecretary of state for arms control, he worked on the Moscow Treaty, which codified steep reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He was instrumental in the passage of U.N. Resolution 1540, urging countries to crack down on WMD proliferation. He was central in the creation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a multilateral effort to block the transfer of WMDs. He was the lead U.S. negotiator in the creation of the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of WMD, an attempt to secure Russian WMD materials. Just how multilateral can one guy get?
But there are two flaws in Bolton's approach for his critics. The first is that his multilateralism isn't indiscriminate. If an international agreement, like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, is hopelessly outdated, he supports scrapping it. If a treaty ? like the one creating the International Criminal Court, which would potentially expose U.S. troops to international prosecution ? doesn't serve U.S. interests, he opposes it. It isn't enough to affix the words "multilateral" to any initiative for it to win Bolton's assent, whereas many Democrats are Pavlovian in their panting after anything that is a treaty, agreement, protocol or otherwise cooked up in the Hague or Geneva.
The second is that Bolton's multilateralism is always in the service of advancing Bush's foreign policy. Since Democrats oppose that foreign policy, they pretend Bolton rejects international cooperation altogether. His version of multilateralism vitiates what for many Democrats should be its chief purpose ? frustrating Bush goals abroad. Alas, John Bolton is determined to be Bush's ambassador to the U.N., rather than the other way around, making him the kind of diplomat the Democrats just can't abide.