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April 27, 2005

Not Anti-Bulldog, Just Anti-Bolton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I stand by my earlier prediction that John Bolton will not make it, but I'm also awfully glad that people like Steve Clemons at thewashingtonnote and Laura Rozen at warandpiece are not so confident and are keeping up a relentless fight to get important information aired.

I want to weigh in on one point:

Conservatives are pushing the line that progressives don't like Bolton's toughness. Bill Kristol says that Bolton's critics will only allow girlie-men in the job of UN Ambassador. Never mind that this statement (besides being demagogic and sophomoric) ignores all the other criticisms of Bolton, and sidesteps the fact that his intemperance matters mainly because it has reared its head when he's tried to suppress bona fide intelligence and retaliate against its messengers. All that aside, Kristol's remark is just plain false.

The proof in the pudding is Richard Holbrooke. He is as tough as they come - just ask any one of the 188 ambassadors whom he muscled into agreeing to cut U.S. dues to the UN during the longest period of sustained prosperity in U.S. history. Holbrooke (for whom I worked) said that when it came to dues reform, we realized the membership would not accept an American diktat. But the truth was that, since it was enshrined in the national law of the UN's largest Member State and Host Country, the mandate to lower our dues was about as close to a diktat as the UN had seen. The membership knew it, and they resented it. But Holbrooke was smart enough not to rub it in people's faces, and to craft an approach that allowed our edict to pass by consensus.

The approach we took was actually similar to the one Bolton used in getting the UN's Zionism-is-racism resolution overturned in 1991. We refused to take no for an answer, mobilized skeptical U.S. embassies around the world, and traveled door to door to UN missions in New York, many of which no UN ambassador had ever visited before. Holbrooke did the same thing on subsequent fights to get Israel admitted for the first time ever into a UN regional group, and to prevent Sudan from being seated on the UN Security Council. 

Holbrooke was also one of the toughest critics the UN has seen. His mantras were that the organization was "flawed, but indispensable" and that we had to "fix it to save it." This is not far from Condi Rice's assertion that the world body must reform if it is to survive. Holbrooke launched a self-proclaimed "attack" UN's Department of Public Information, calling it bloated, wasteful and ineffective. 

Holbrooke was no softie when it came to employees either. I worked for him and lived in fear of making a mistake. I once got chastened for bringing then-former Senator Frank Lautenberg to a lunch late, after accidentally pushing the wrong button in the elevator (Holbrooke was standing at the elevator door when I got out, wanting to know what why we had gone to the 22d floor. To this day I cannot figure out how he knew where the elevator had been). 

But I and many others loved working for Holbrooke because he was open-minded, creative, committed to using his platform to make the UN work better and because he was indisputably effective as Ambassador (as Jesse Helms conceded at the end of his tenure). We are not afraid of a tough Ambassador. On the contrary, we need an ambassador who is forceful enough to effect change, but also one who is effective enough to realize that change at the UN cannot be forced. 

For more details, see my article on Retail Diplomacy published in The National Interest (which almost titled it Multilateralism for Conservatives). 

Hasta la Vista, Bill.


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Your next-to-last paragraph about Holbrook is the reason why he was good and Bolton never will be. A demanding boss who expects nothing but the best from his employees because he expects nothing less of himself first is a leader. An ignorant asshole who kisses up and kicks down is just a worthless martinet. It's the difference between "first-rate" and "also-ran."

Here's hoping you are right, Suzanne!

Very nice post. Were you at the UN when Helms made his trip there?

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