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April 20, 2005

Bleeding Hearts for Bolton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Heather's concern is shared by Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly who writes:

However, one thing that occurs to me after yesterday's dramatic events is that I'm getting increasingly uneasy about the focus on Bolton's "abuse" of subordinates. Don't get me wrong: the guy sounds like a prime grade asshole, and it might do a world of good to send a message to ambitious DC bureaucrats to rein in that kind of behavior. On the other hand, let's be honest here: if everyone who abused subordinates were blackballed from senior positions in Washington, the city would be a ghost town. I'm a little fearful that this line of attack could end up accomplishing little except elevating the politics of personal destruction — on both sides — to ever pettier and more vicious levels.

This is not a trivial point, but - putting aside everything I've outlined below about why he is the wrong man for the job - let's focus just on the question of abuse of subordinates.  There are at least four kinds of bosses in this world:

1. Those who don't abuse subordinates at all - The best

2.  Those who abuse, but only with a valid justification - Understandable at times, but not very nice

3.   Those who abuse for no reason at all - I think most of the people Kevin is talking about actually fit into this category.

4.  Those who abuse for an invalid justification - for example race, gender, sexual orientation, disability OR for whistle-blowing to uncover fraud OR retaliation for putting forward valid intelligence information.

I don't think the stance taken on Bolton can be extended to anyone apart from those who fit into category 4,

Now my husband and I have been debating tonight whether someone's status as a sexual harasser ought to ipso facto disqualify them from high office.

I guess I am hesitant about citing certain shortcomings as blanket disqualifiers without regard to individual circumstances and competing facts, qualifications and attributes.  Now I did say last week that I agreed with Senator Dodd that Bolton's attempts to get intelligence analysts removed for taking positions that differed from Bolton's own should be grounds for disqualifying him from the UN post. 

But as set out here, I feel this way because questions of biased intelligence, inappropriate political influence over intelligence, and unwillingness to tolerate dissenting views within the intelligence community have emerged as such glaring problems with grave consequences.  In this context, with broad agreement that these serious problems must be addressed immediately and thoroughly, I do see Bolton's conduct in this regard as a disqualifier.  So its a qualified disqualifier.

I honestly don't think we face a dilemma here over whether to take the high ground.  Heather's right that Bolton's essentially done himself in.  But the question will come back when the Senate grapples with judicial nominees; do we stoop to a "whatever works" sort of mudslinging to tar nominees whose views we find repellent?  Or do we take the high ground, knowing that the result will be (in the case of judges, lifetime) appointments for people bent on circumscribing and up-ending principles and values we hold dear (and that the favor will never be returned)?

Those are hard questions.  But as Heather points out, we can thank John Bolton for the fact that his nomination does not raise them.


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BOLTON AND THOSE NSA INTERCEPTS....So what's the deal with those NSA intercepts that John Bolton wanted to get his hands on? Laura Rozen quotes "someone close to the investigation":Bolton was running his own counterintelligence operation, was using the... [Read More]

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"I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton". -- Senator George Voinovich, R-OH, speaking last week. Regular readers know that, perhaps not with the greatest of enthusiasm, I have counted myself a Bolton supporter... [Read More]


I agree with Heather and Suzanne's hesitancy to telescope our critique of Bolton into nothing more than an objection to his character. But I would go much further. The problem isn't even that Bush proposes to have this world-class asshole function as one of our most important diplomats, or that his pattern of distorting and stove-piping intelligence is exactly the thing we've all been decrying since 9/11.

For me, Bolton is dangerous because his character is one of a piece with his substantive view of international relations. Personally, he is the ultimate egotist: cross me and you're toast. Politically, he is the ultimate nationalist: cross the US and you're toast. Disagree with our policies, create a court that might, some day, judge our citizens, draft a treaty that might limit our absolute sovereign discreion -- do any of these things and we will crush you. Both politically and personaly the facts are irrelevant and the consequences are damned: it's all about his side never being criticized about or losing at anything. It's striking that Bolton venerates US power but without any of the Wilsonian messianism that seems to animate the neo-cons. He just loves power and will do anything to keep it, personally and for the US.

So if Bolton were just an ivory-tower intellectual who thought treaties weren't legally binding and the UN is a joke, that would be one thing. But he is someone who believes those things and will fight to the death to make sure they become policy. That makes him qualitatively more dangerous. I wish people like Barbara Boxer, who did begin this whole process by challenging Bolton on the substance, would make this connection.

I agree with Kevin and Heather on Bolton's dysfunctional personality being the wrong focus. I was frankly dismayed tonight on News Hour with the correspondent hitting a bunch of GOP Senators, who replied that being a cranky boss was no disqualifier. The allogations by the USAID worker, sensational and odious has he appears, only box critics into this box.

The dems need to keep the focus on his manipulation of intel to support a preconceived agenda, as well as (possibly) his own machinations with the NSA intercepts. Monday's WaPo mentioned that Bolton withheld information from Rice and Powell: this is another important item to investigate. And don't forget the loose cannon mantra on that North Korean speech. I understand they have the former US Ambassador to Korea coming in on that. This could reinforce his totally unsuitable demeanor for the UN post.

As my great-uncle Jim McKelvey - who was a staffer and a trusted confideant to Harry Truman from the time he was Captain Truman's First Sergeant in the Missouri National Guard during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in September 1918 - told me at an early age:

"The only good Republicans are pushing up daisies."

Whatever it takes to turn Bush's nominees for dog-catcher or anything higher into a "good Republican" as defined above, is just fine with me. In fact, kicking them in the teeth after you kicked them in the balls to put them down is damn satisfying.

former professional political operative

The reason to focus on Bolton's ugly behavior is simple: it helped loosen Voinovich's support. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, people.

Greg has I think the right approach here. The Senate Panel should make on single point over and over again: Bolton's behavior is what he did. Distorting intelligence to fit his own corrupt ends is why he did it.

"whether someone's status as a sexual harasser ought to ipso facto disqualify them from high office"?
it apparently hardly rated a mention re Schwarzenegger's election - and that was in a workplace context...

what's been overlooked in bolton's abuse of intel analysts is this: if you were going to make important public pronouncements, wouldn't you want to get your facts right? even colin powell edited questionable intel from his u.n. speech about iran's wmds.

bolton is reckless with the facts and with america's reputation. doesn't that disqualify him from consideration?

So, liberals have fallen so far that defeating this neonut will be a grand victory. God, this is so sad.
It just doesn't fucking matter.

What are the rules for a knife fight? There are no rules for a knife fight.

The only limits on what we do to the Rs should be:
1. Don't do to them what they don't do to us. This is a narrow category. Abuse of criminal process and threat of violence are two candidates, although I can think of times the Rs have done both. But it is not their SOP.
2. Don't create too much collateral damage for too little gain. I don't think that this applies to the Bolton case, or indeed any other confirmation fight.

"The reason to focus on Bolton's ugly behavior is simple: it helped loosen Voinovich's support. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, people."


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