Monday, April 25, 2005

In Defense of Bolton

Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State and a veteran diplomat, has written an interesting column in defense of John Bolton and his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the UN:

President Bush's nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has generated a bad case of dyspepsia among a number of senators, who keep putting off a confirmation vote. That hesitation is now portrayed as a consequence of Bolton's purported "mistreatment" of several State Department intelligence analysts. But this is a smoke screen. The real reasons Bolton's opponents want to derail his nomination are his oft-repeated criticism of the United Nations and other international organizations, his rejection of the arguments of those who ignore or excuse the inexcusable (i.e., the election of Sudan to the U.N. Human Rights Commission) and his willingness to express himself with the bark off.

As to the charge that Bolton has been tough on subordinates, I can say only that in more than a decade of association with him in the State Department I never saw or heard anything to support such a charge. Nor do I see anything wrong with challenging intelligence analysts on their findings. They can, as recent history demonstrates, make mistakes. And they must be prepared to defend their findings under intense questioning. If John pushed too hard or dressed down subordinates, he deserves criticism, but it hardly merits a vote against confirmation when balanced against his many accomplishments. ...

It is clear that the future of the United Nations and the U.S. role within that organization are uncertain. Who better to demonstrate to the member states that the United States is serious about reform? Who better to speak for all Americans who are dedicated to a healthy United Nations that will fulfill the dreams of its founders?

Eagleburger includes specific examples of Bolton's previously successful work with the UN which I suspect most people are not aware of.

I have to say that, in my experience, if every senior government leader/manager who sometimes lost his temper and yelled at subordinates were judged to be unfit for service, most top jobs would be empty. Ditto if every complaint from subordinates were taken as seriously as those that have been dug up from Bolton's past. My understanding of the corporate world indicates that it isn't much different; top jobs usually aren't the place to find shrinking violets.

I'll admit that Colin Powell's reported doubts about Bolton give me pause. Powell's views always deserve serious consideration. In any case, the Senate should give or deny consent to Bolton's nomination based on factors other than character assassination.

Personally, I'd like to see Bolton at the UN. Contrary to what die-hard supporters of the UN think, he might actually end up helping improve and strengthen a highly dysfunctional organization. A little more steel in the spine and a little less swish in the walk may be just what's needed.


Blogger carla said...

With all due respect, Bolton is a disaster.

The problems with subordinates are the very least of Bolton's problems, as I've outlined at PK.

He's withheld crucial information from superiors. He's had at least two very serious foreign policy screwups that he's responsible for. The British actually kicked him out of negotiations with Libya because he was messing it up so badly.

The guy has zero respect for the UN and what it stands for. Agree or disagree with the UN, it's highly counterproductive to send someone there as an ambassador who doesn't even agree with it's existence.

3:22 PM, April 25, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Tom, I'm troubled by what I have read about Bolton and the seeming groundswell of opinion against him. I'm not confident of my own opinion, though, and I found Eagleburger's support very interesting, because he was at one point harshly critical about the Bush administration's posture on Syria.

I do think someone who is blunt and purposeful will be needed at the UN to keep pushing for democratization and liberalization in the ME. Whoever it is will be controversial, especially in Europe. Whoever is picked will have to be able to stand up to that sort of pressure. A person who needs to be liked won't be able to do that.

I don't know if Bolton is the person who will be most effective, though.

4:58 PM, April 25, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carla, to repeat the comment I left at Preemptive Karma:

It may turn out that Bolton isn't the right man for the job, and in that case at least 51 senators will vote against him. That's the way the system is supposed to work.

If it isn't to be Bolton, however, we need to find someone who shares his hardnosed, realistic opinion of the UN. Many of the UN field organizations I've worked with in various countries have been very good (UNHCR, WFP, etc). However, they often have to do their jobs in spite of the UN bureaucracy. The UN itself is a failed, corrupt organization run by grossly overpaid third-world mendicants. We need someone up there who places U.S. interests first and who is tough enough to successfully insist on reform. Those who support the continued existence of the UN, as I do, should want the same thing because without effective reform it's doomed. And it should be.

MOM, good comment. The more I read and hear about Bolton, the more I tend to agree that he might not be the right guy. Whoever we pick, though, he needs some of Bolton's qualities to get the job done.

2:49 AM, April 26, 2005  

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