May 12, 2005

Column 2005-5-12 Commentary

Today's Brooks column is slightly sad. He only actually wrote two-thirds or so of it, excerpting the rest from various interviews about John Bolton with random people at the State Department. And his conclusions are anti-climactic: Bolton's chances for nomination have improved because "Bolton has a professional sense of limits. He'd push his views, and push hard. But after he'd had his say, he would almost always bow to the dictates of the organization." So, basically, he'd push his wrongheaded views, which were completely unsupported by the available intelligence, as hard as possible, until the rest of the State Department sat on him, at which point he'd concede ungracefully. Sounds like just the man we need at the U.N. Or how about this piece of unqualified support from Brooks: "The speeches he gave on controversial subjects were generally cleared." Generally cleared, you say? Shouldn't ALL the speeches he gives on controversial subjects have been cleared, what with him being a fairly important guy and all? Brooks also points out that Bolton didn't cause anybody to be fired, which is another black mark against him, as it suggests that Bolton was actually fairly ineffective: he spent all his time in the State Department fighting with, well, everybody, but couldn't even get anybody fired? But all these are merely excuses: the real reason that Brooks backs Bolton is that "Often when Bolton was pushing back at his colleagues, he was trying to defend the president's policies from dissenters at State." Bolton was fighting the good fight at the State Department, "pushing back" against those traitorous career diplomats who didn't believe that Iraq had WMD's or ties to Al Qaeda, resisting those who would point out that there isn't any actual evidence that Cuba or Syria have bioweapons programs, and generally acting as the President's point man. Bolton's nomination to be Ambassador to the U.N. can probably best be regarded as a military promotion: Bolton is now graduating to a higher grade of diplomatic warfare (he's not necessary at State any more, anyway, now that Colin Powell has been discarded). Bolton is Dear Leader's man, and that's all his supporters care about. Unfortunately for them, there are some Republicans who still hold the quaint view that people should be qualified for the posts they are nominated for, so the pro-Bolton crew are forced to argue that Bolton is a good, professional man who just gets a little carried away. By contrast, the rest of us see him as a dangerous, possibly insane bully who should be kept as far away from American foreign policy as possible. But Bush has "enormous stakes" invested in Bolton, and he and Cheney are hammering away to force his nomination through. That's why the "tide is turning": Bush is burning his political capital to pressure Republican Senators to support Bolton, and so far, they're folding (although Sen. Voinovich (R-OH) has announced that he will oppose Bolton on the floor, if not in committee).

The question of whether or not Bolton should be the next ambassador to the U.N. is best addressed by going to and browsing the archives, but for those of you who are too lazy to do so, here are some interesting posts (yes, I'm being lazy, but so is Brooks, and anyway all the facts are at and there's no point in my simply transcribing them).

Bolton fiercely fought intelligence analysts when they objected to his attempts to claim that Cuba had a bioweapons program (more).

Bolton threatened the INR (the State Department's Intelligence and Research Bureau) when the INR disagreed with him on an analysis (more).

Bolton refused to disburse money to allies (members of the late coalition of the willing, even) if they wouldn't sign an agreement protecting U.S. forces overseas from the authority of the ICC, even though all the countries were excused, either because they were in NATO or the coalition of the willing or both, and then refused to give out the money for some months even after being overruled by higher-ups (more). I guess this is more of his professionalism.

Bolton fought and fierce and protracted battle with intelligence analysts when they refused to approve his exaggerated assertions about Syria's pursuit of unconventional weapons (more).

Bolton appears to have set up his own small intelligence bureau to produce intelligence to fit his preconceptions, similar to, though considerably smaller than, Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans (more).

Bolton lied under oath during his confirmation hearings, claiming that he had never sought to have an intelligence official fired, when he clearly attempted to do just that on at least two occasions (more and more).

Bolton regularly harassed underlings in the State Department, sometimes for trivial reasons (more).

Bolton upset senior State Department officials to the point that Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, ordered that Bolton not be allowed to give speeches or testimony unless Armitage had personally approved it first. The immediate cause of this seems to have Bolton's speech of July 31, 2003 that nearly broke off the six-party talks with North Korea (but since, according to Brooks, Bolton always defends Bush's policies, I guess Bush must not have cared that much about the six-party talks that much after all). That speech was approved, but the person who approved it was subsequently the target of Armitage's wrath. Bolton also attempted to prevent Mohammed ElBaradei from being reappointed as the head of the IAEA, and lied about the extent of his opposition to ElBaradei under oath. (more; more on ElBaradei; more on Bolton's controversial North Korea speech).

Bolton may have used NSA intercepts to spy on State Department colleagues who disagreed with him (more).

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw specifically requested that Bolton be left out of nonproliferation negotiations with Libya, and Bolton did practically nothing about A.Q. Khan proliferation network, even though arms control was part of his job description (more).

And finally, Bolton kept important information from Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell (more).

While a president should certainly have a certain amount of leeway in his appointments, a bare minimum of qualification is important, and it's unclear if Bolton could be any less qualified for this spot. Brooks, of course, could not be less qualified for his spot, but, sadly, we're used to that by now.