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March 17, 2005

One-two punch of Bolton and Wolfowitz – but one’s worse than the other
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A week after the administration nominated John Bolton to become ambassador to the UN, it has put forward Paul Wolfowitz for World Bank President. The signal heard around the world is that the Bush administration intends to continue to do what it pleases in global affairs. But that comes as no surprise: even apart from recent strides in the Middle East that have reinforced President Bush’s already healthy sense of rectitude, the Administration was never going to correct mistakes that it could not admit to having made. While cordial appearances with foreign dignitaries may help the medicine go down, Bush’s prescription for world affairs has not changed.

Bolton once said he did not “do carrots” as part of diplomacy and Bush feels the same way: indeed these two nominees feel more like a stick in the eye. But there are important differences between the two appointments, and critics would be wise to hold their fire against Wolfowitz and train it on the Bolton appointment instead.

Most important, Wolfowitz is not an avowed enemy of the organization he has been tapped to lead. Bolton in contrast made his name with provocative, hostile pronouncements about the UN. While the choice of any staunch conservative would have troubled many World Bank supporters, Bolton’s appointment is singularly offensive to the UN community, since he has proclaimed himself number one opponent of the global organization. The Bolton pick is a much clearer case of Bush deliberately baiting the international community.

A second distinction involves the nature of the two jobs. Bolton’s task will be to represent the U.S. in deliberations with others, whereas Wolfowitz will be running a huge, multi-national organization.

Bolton’s defenders have remarked that given his ambitious, high-achieving personality, he will not want to see the UN fail once he is positioned there. But the success of the UN Ambassador to the UN is not measured by the health or vitality of the UN itself. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was viewed as an excellent ambassador – so good that the post propelled him to a successful bid for the Senate – because of his stalwart representation of U.S. interests against the General Assembly’s notorious “Zionism is Racism” resolution. Among Richard Holbrooke’s most notable victories in the UN post was ramming through a deal to settle U.S. arrears to the world organization, a bargain that was good for the UN only because it finally ended decades of financial abuse and neglect by the U.S. (at the behest of Bolton and friends). If Bolton is able to hold the line on the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and keep the UN out of the Middle East peace process, his tenure will be viewed by the administration as triumphant. It will not matter to Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bolton backers if his fellow UN Ambassadors find him impossible to work with, or even if his efforts leave the UN with an even more pronounced limp than it has now.

Wolfowitz is in an altogether different position. As Chief of the World Bank, simply defending narrowly drawn Bush Administration interests will not cut the mustard. The bank’s achievements are measured in hard data on development outcomes in the countries it serves. Moreover, not only American but other countries, whose nationals sit on the organization’s board and staff, evaluate the bank’s progress. These members are likely to demand, for example, that the bank be afforded a role in the reconstruction of Iraq. If Wolfowitz resists that demand, he will pit his own supervisors and staff against him, setting himself up for failure. In his case, its harder to see how a myopic approach to the position will be in Wolfowitz’s interest.

There are, of course, some common elements in these two designations. Both smack of the cronyism that has characterized Bush’s official picks for his second term. These are two consummate insiders with close personal ties to the tiny group of officials with whom Bush surrounds himself. Like the nominations of Alberto Gonzalez, Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes , these choices reinforce the idea that after coping with the unruly likes of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and White House Economic Adviser Lawrence Lindsay, Bush is determined to put all positions of power in the hands of those he can control.

An important common thread is that both appointments will reinforce the fears of countries and citizens around the world about Bush’s second term. More so abroad than at home, Wolfowitz has become a lightning rod because of his role in orchestrating the Iraq War. While Americans questioned the shortlisting of ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Carleton Fiorina for the World Bank post as an example of “failing upward,” the charge is in some ways more apt for Wolfowitz (though this now appears less true than it did before the Iraqi elections). The Deputy Secretary played a lead role in promoting the debunked WMD rationale for the invasion of Iraq, and made a series of what would turn out to be woefully naïve predictions about the post-war U.S. occupation (the line about sweets and flowers was his). Whereas to Americans the bank nomination takes Wolfowitz out of the running to succeed Rumsfeld, for the rest of the world the plum post looks like a spectacular reward for a string of egregious policy miscalculations.

Some administration critics might argue that drawing distinctions between the choices of Bolton and Wolfowitz is a waste of time, that neither pick bodes well for the administration’s foreign policy or America’s place in the world. But for Americans, at least one nuance unquestionably matters: whereas Wolfowitz’s officetaking requires only the ratification of an international board, Bolton needs the confirmation of the U.S. Senate. Wolfowitz’s fate is genuinely out of the American public’s hands. Stopping Bolton, however, though tough, is still possible. This is a distinction with a difference, and is a good reason not to let the news on Wolfowitz distract from the campaign against Bolton.


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This just from Senator Barack Obama's office on subject of Wolfowitz and Bolton nominations:

While there are some concerns about Wolfowitz, I am much more concerned about Bolton and the UN, which is a direct statement on how we're going to interact with the international community.
This is the guy who said that if you lop off 10 floors of UN building in New York, it wouldn't make a difference. Which, you know, is not the best way to make friends and influence people. [Sen. Obama, March 17, 2005]

Senator Obama has a key vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Now, more work to do. . .

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