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April 19, 2005

Bolting from Bolton?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Alright, Heather, I'll take the bait like a first class fish.

I think its just possible that Secretary Bolton is nearing his Linda Chavez moment.

But for the life of me I cannot understand how you can call the attacks on Bolton ad hominem.  A nice definition of ad hominem appears here.   The essence is that the attack must be on a basis that is irrelevant to the merits of the attacked's assertion (or, in this case, his candidacy), and must purport to be evidence of the invalidity of the claim (or in this case, the fitness to serve).

Virtually everything (I would say everything, but maybe I'm forgetting something) negative I have heard about Bolton goes directly to his fitness for the job.  The website you reference, stopbolton.org focuses on Bolton's disdain for the UN and for international cooperation as grounds for defeating his nomination.  You may not agree with the point, but its hard to argue that his attitude toward the UN is irrelevant to his suitability for service there. 

All the other arguments against Bolton, including my 10 Reasons Bolton Should Not Be Confirmed, Bolton's indifference to genocide, his lack of respect for independent intelligence and dissenting views, his insubordination, his alleged abusiveness toward junior staffers, and his alleged lack of decorum and willingness to smear others (what am I missing . . .) all go directly to his ability to effectively represent the U.S. at the UN.  The job of Ambassador is not one of ideologue, it is one of diplomat, policy shaper and manager (of the 100+ person U.S. Mission).   All the charges are germane to one or more of these key roles. 

I'm speculating that you might think the stuff on Bolton's treatment of CIA analysts and AID staffers is beside the point.  But it really isn't.  The UN is an important U.S. intelligence outpost, both formally and informally.  While the CIA won't go through the U.S. Ambassador, a lot of intelligence is gathered day-in-and-day out by USUN officers through the relationships they build with foreign counterparts.  If Bolton stays true to pattern and misrepresents that information, punishing messengers whose messages he doesn't like, that valuable system will break down, taking our diplomacy along with it. 

You ask what Bolton's opponents want in a UN Ambassador.  Progressives recognize that President Bush is not going to choose someone who shares our viewpoint on the UN, and we can accept that.  But there are certain criteria that an ambassador should meet, regardless of party lines. 

How about this for starters - -   We need someone:

- With a genuine commitment to reforming the UN by making it more effective;

- Who acknowledges the UN's limitations and failings, but also appreciates its promise;

- Who can build effective working relationships among people with varied backgrounds and interests;

- Who can win international support for U.S. policies through persuasive diplomacy;

- Who is open-minded enough to find creative solutions and ways to break through impasses;

- Who can command the respect of, and elicit good work from, staff;

- Who can be relied upon to faithfully implement the policies of the United States.

From what has been revealed since his nomination, I don't think Bolton meets any of the above criteria.  I think Negroponte met all or most of them.  There might be a case that the attacks against him based on his work in Honduras were ad hominem (though I'd probably argue not), but I don't see how you can say the same about Bolton.

But the better I get to know you, the smarter I realize you are.  I have no doubt there's something I'm missing here - looking forward to reading it.

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» Bolton Blogging from Political Animal
BOLTON BLOGGING....I've been trying since yesterday to figure out what I think of the whole John Bolton affair. I haven't blogged about it much because, frankly, ambassador to the UN isn't that important a position these days. What's more, in... [Read More]

» Bolton Blogging from Political Animal
BOLTON BLOGGING....I've been trying since yesterday to figure out what I think of the whole John Bolton affair. I haven't blogged about it much because, frankly, ambassador to the UN isn't that important a position these days. What's more, in... [Read More]

» Bolton Blogging from Political Animal
BOLTON BLOGGING....I've been trying since yesterday to figure out what I think of the whole John Bolton affair. I haven't blogged about it much because, frankly, ambassador to the UN isn't that important a position these days. What's more, in... [Read More]

Comments

I have the same question. Given that Heather is indeed very smart, I figure we should actually interpret her literally: the attacks on Bolton aren't fallacious, but they are ad hominem, against the man. Perfectly defensible given that, after all, people -- not logical arguments -- serve as UN ambassadors. But no substitute for arguments on the issues.

But then I'm still stumped, because I still don't see how we could get much more of an argument on the issues during a confirmation battle than we have as it is. Maybe I'm thinking too tactically.

May I add one revealing account -- quite on the record -- about this "kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy"? Eight years ago the United Nations Association of the United States organized a lunch briefing for U.N. correspondents on the deepening crisis of unpaid U.S. dues to the United Nations. The program featured the then-Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Princeton Lyman, and the last Republican predecessor in the post, John Bolton.

After Princeton had described the Clinton administration's wide-ranging consultations with the Congress on the matter, John said it really didn't matter: "The issue is not the amount of money. The issue is the legitimacy of the United Nations."

And then the guy who would now claim to represent America at the U.N. added:
"We are not going to negotiate our contribution level with the other member states. We are going to decide that among ourselves, and then we will come here and tell them. They will complain, but they will accept it -- because at the United Nations, the United States is the sun, and the other member states are the planets, the moons, and the asteroids."

This kind of astronomical arrogance is what got us into a solitary war in Iraq. And with such bristling disdain in its "representative," the U.S. could never have gotten Security Council approval for the resolution demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Putting John Bolton in charge of American diplomacy at the United Nations would be like putting Dr. Kevorkian in charge of Medicare. It is folly to send a factional infighter from an extreme current in one political party to represent America at large to the world community.

good post. And JL, wow. I hadn't heard that quote. It's kind of true in a way, but that doesn't mean Bolton has to be such a dick about it. Also, it's becoming less true every day.

Praktike, Bolton's assertion -- that the US is so central that it has the power to issue diktats in which everyone else will whiningly acquiesce -- is actually NOT true. Suzanne Nossel, who worked 80 hour weeks for well over a year with then-US Amb. Richard Holbrooke to negotiate a reduction in the US dues level to the United Nations, can attest that it wasn't even true on the dues issue that Bolton was addressing in the press briefing quoted above.

His approach was also put to the test on the Kyoto Protocol in the Bush-Cheney team's second month in office. They expected their announcement that Kyoto was dead to be a 48-hour news story: Bush kills, Europeans whimper and acquiesce. Instead, the Europeans successfully organized the rest of the world to ratify Kyoto and put it into effect around Washington.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan's comment in response to Senator Voinovich's pulling the plug on the Bolton steamroller made me laugh. "John Bolton is exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations. The United Nations is in need of reform, they're moving forward on reforms, and John Bolton is someone who understands the importance of making sure that multilateral organisations like the United Nations are effective and that they get things done." John Bolton demonstrated his convictions about reforms in the U.N. a dozen years ago, when UNESCO was making dramatic changes in program, finance, and personnel to win back the United States, which had pulled out in a political dispute in 1984. John Bolton consistently denied that anything had changed at all.

Tellingly, the one structural change he endorsed at UNESCO -- replacing the supposedly eminent individuals in science/education/culture elected as the agency's Executive Board (admittedly, nominated for election by their governments, but with a trace of independence and personal authority) with governments directly -- was intended to tighten statist control over UNESCO's work in the intellectual sectors. And alas, as predicted, it has further degraded the competence and vitality of UNESCO's governance.

For that matter, one of the issues that has not gotten much play in the Bolton debate is his determination to exclude the citizen sector from any involvement in international fora. NGOs, he has emphasized in public appearances, are persona non grata in U.N. policy bodies. What does that say about commitment to democracy?

JL, I think that Bolton thinks of power more narrowly than you do -- in strictly military terms. When you broaden the definition, yes, Bolton's comment breaks down.

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