It is a fair question just what kind of ambassador the United States should send to the United Nations.
This country is, after all, by far the most powerful nation in the world -- militarily, economically and therefore politically. It has legitimate interests all over the globe, and, by virtue of its might, is a vital partner in any major international effort.
As for the United Nations, it is the principal international forum, where all the world's countries gather to argue, agree, disagree and conspire with one another. Inevitably, it has pretensions to be a sort of world government, but in fact, it has been a thoroughgoing disappointment in many ways, including the notoriously corrupt Oil-for-Food program.
So what sort of ambassador should the United States send to the United Nations? Should it be some smooth-talking diplomat, adept at schmoozing his fellow ambassadors, and thereby (perhaps) persuading them to go along with America's wishes? Or ought it to be a firm, outspoken advocate of America's interests? In nominating Foreign Service officer John Bolton to the post of our U.N. ambassador last year, President Bush deliberately opted for the latter choice. Bolton is an experienced official, but nobody has ever called him soft-spoken, let alone a smoothie. And quite aside from the matter of rhetorical technique, he had acquired a reputation over the years for having a sometimes outsized temper.
It was this reputation that the Democratic minority in the U.S. Senate seized on and decided to use as an excuse for refusing to ratify his nomination. Being in the minority was not a fatal handicap: the Democrats let it be known that they were prepared to filibuster the nomination, and it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster. The Republicans have only 55.
And it soon transpired that they didn't even, on the issue of Bolton, have 55. Ohio Republican George Voinovich decided, on the basis of the stories about Bolton's temper, that he would oppose him. Voinovich is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and without his support the Republicans couldn't even win approval for Bolton in the committee. So his nomination was sent to the floor without a recommendation, and there it was doomed.
President Bush, however, could and did give Bolton a "recess appointment" as ambassador to the United Nations -- an appointment that, under the rules, expires with the end of this session of Congress. Bolton promptly moved into our ambassador's suite in the Waldorf, and began representing the United States at Turtle Bay.
There, to the surprise of many, he has done a thoroughly effective job. So effective that, when Sen. Voinovich canvassed Bolton's colleagues there, most were quite complimentary about his performance. No temper tantrums: just firm and effective representation of American interests, and frank criticism of the United Nations when that was called for.
So, Sen. Voinovich announced that he has changed his mind, and will support Bolton in the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate when President Bush's renomination of him is voted on.
That puts the Senate Democrats in a tight spot. Having lost their bipartisan cover, they face the unappetizing prospect of mounting a filibuster by Democrats only. And while there are Democratic senators more than happy to oblige -- Sens. Kennedy, Dodd and Feingold among them -- others are visibly unhappy at that idea, including Hillary Clinton.
So it appears that John Bolton may win Senate approval after all, and continue giving the United States firm and effective representation at the United Nations.