WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Over lunch in New York two weeks ago, John Bolton told me he was thinking about abandoning his long struggle for confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and leaving government service. But he asked me to defer writing about his situation. The White House felt anything I wrote would undermine last-ditch efforts at confirmation.
That reflects continuing failure by George W. Bush and his team, six years in power, to perceive the implacable nature of Democratic opposition. The White House was still eager not to offend Sen. Christopher Dodd, the Democrat most determined to block Bolton. Furthermore, Bush aides to the end sought to bring around lame duck Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee to allow Bolton's nomination on the Senate floor during the lame duck session.
All such efforts were futile. Dodd and his colleagues were determined to get outspoken conservative Bolton, and they got him. Chafee kept showing contempt for his nominal party even after the White House saved him from defeat in the primary. The Democratic election victory on Nov. 7 sealed Bolton's fate, ending Republican efforts to find another two years for Bolton even without confirmation.
A senior White House aide told me the president had been "considering" an offer of deputy secretary of state (which requires Senate confirmation) or Cabinet-level counselor (which does not). When he decided last week he wanted out, Bolton had no interest in any alternative post. But neither job was even mentioned to Bolton. After serving four years as an under secretary, Bolton following the 2004 election asked for the deputy secretary's job. The new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said no, but offered him the U.N. post.
Dodd's campaign has been relentless and unfair. "He's been a very ineffective bully," Dodd has said in describing Bolton's performance at the United Nations as a recess appointee. In fact, the permanent U.S. staff there regards Bolton as President Bush's most effective U.N. envoy, his record climaxed by achieving a unanimous Security Council vote on the Korean question. Dodd's delight over Bolton's departure is shared at the United Nations by anti-American Third World ambassadors and U.N. bureaucrats.
The continuing Democratic rationale for opposing Bolton is the administration's refusal to turn over intelligence intercepts requested by Bolton as under secretary of state. But the liberal cabal that opposed him for the United Nations also voted against him in 2001 for the under secretary's post. That includes Sen. Joseph Biden, now returned as Foreign Relations Committee chairman. He tends to vote against Republican presidential nominees when there is any opposition.
But Dodd, striking a pose of smiling affability, has been the driving force behind the assault on Bolton. An ardent supporter of normalizing relations with Cuba, Dodd is inexorable in blocking any nominee hostile to Fidel Castro's dictatorship. He kept Otto Reich from getting confirmed as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and now has done the same to Bolton.
White House aides were living in an unreal world when they privately blamed Dodd's hostility to Bolton on me and blamed my hostility to Dodd on Bolton. In fact, I was scourging Dodd for his pro-Castro bias long before Bolton became an issue.
The fecklessness at the White House in managing Bolton's nomination is exemplified by the feeling there to the end that Chafee could be brought along. Having poured money into Chafee's Rhode Island Republican primary campaign against a conservative challenger, Bush in private is furious over betrayal by the maverick Republican. Chafee's fellow GOP senators believe that if he were re-elected, he would have permitted Bolton's name to go to the Senate floor. Quirky to the end, Chafee says the Democratic election victory is reason to block Bolton.
"It was a travesty," Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, in describing Bolton's demise, told me. "Bipartisanship is a two-way street." Coleman, who as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations probed U.N. corruption, believes Bolton "was the best" of Bush's U.N. ambassadors.
Now Coleman loses his chairmanship, and Bolton is gone. No wonder U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, a Briton who brazenly has interfered in U.S. politics, was caught smiling at Turtle Bay this week.