Senator Chafee seems lately to be an expert in sending mixed signals.
He has heard about patterned abusive behavior by John Bolton of subordinates and rivals — and has himself opened what is perhaps the most important line of questioning of Bolton and then acted like he was totally unaware of the issues he’s raised.
Specifically, Chafee engaged Bolton in an exchange over the Bush administration’s North Korea policy in mid-2003 and the scuffle between U.S. Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea Charles “Jack” Pritchard and Bolton. Bolton accused Pritchard of pursuing policies inconsistent with the Bush administration. Therein lies a key case where Bolton himself was the “loose cannon” as everything Pritchard did, according to those who worked with him, was steadfastly in line with the policy course set by the President of the United States and the Secretary of State. As one senior official in the State Department’s public affairs section recounted, “only the President and Secretary of State can pronounce U.S. foreign policy.”
Chafee has all the key material in front of him and has an exceptionally informed staff — so it will not be possible for him to later argue that he was not informed about Bolton’s one-man policy crusades, his blustery and vindictive intimidation tactics against those who tried to hold him within the administration’s policy grooves, or his tendency to both lie to and defy Congress.
Lying to Congress is a big deal. Chafee has not asked Bolton about his role in promulgating the Iraq-Niger-Uranium intelligence within the State Department after State Department and CIA analysts had vigorously and robustly rejected the Niger-related claims. State Departemnt officials denied any involvement by Bolton in this — and yet, an Inspector General’s report (and an internal investigation that seems not to have been publicly issued, according to sources) clearly specify John Bolton’s hand in making sure that the Niger-Uranium issue remained a key part of Bolton’s assault on reports from ElBaradei’s assessment of Iraq’s WMD programs.
Bolton lied about this. Henry Waxman has the information. It is public record. Call him, Senator Chafee.
The Associated Press reports these comments by Lincoln Chafee on John Bolton as of last evening:
“From the evidence we’ve heard, he’s a difficult man to work for,” Chafee said Wednesday. Bolton was characterized at Senate hearings this week as treating State Department subordinates harshly.
The soft-spoken Chafee said Bolton is “absolutely not” the best choice for the job. He compared Bolton’s temperament to that of bombastic New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
“It’s not my style. I don’t endorse it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful for some people,” Chafee said.
That vote, which could come next week, may be just a brief respite for Republicans who have watched Chafee, 52, straddle the political aisle for the past five years.
They know when the next hot issue strikes, he could be leaning left again. That is especially true as he fights for re-election in 2006 from his heavily Democratic state.
I have said before on this blog that I like Lincoln Chafee, Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel. All of these people represent the kind of leadership of which I wish the nation had more.
But Senator Chafee on this subject of John Bolton has been very disconcerting and confusing. I really don’t believe in simple-minded, single issue support or advocacy of politicians, not generally anyway. But John Bolton is the single most outrageously wrong nominee whom I can recall to a key diplomatic position that ought to represent the best of American aspirations and capabilities.
The President SHOULD generally have the team he wants to help him pursue his goals and objectives — but the Senate is there to prevent bad calls and to prevent the Presidency from slipping into monarchy when it comes to such really wrong-headed and deeply divisive appointments. And in this fragile global environment today, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations must be a CUT ABOVE the best possibilities, not a CUT BELOW.
Senator Chafee has already clearly stated that Bolton is not the best among those we could send. He has clearly thought about Bolton’s tendency towards “serial abuse.” Chafee has initiated himself one of the key areas of concern about whether Bolton can actually follow the President’s instructions collaboratively with other parts of the administration — which he did not do via Jack Pritchard on North Korea.
And there’s much, much more that Senator Chafee’s staff has on Bolton. Those who favor Bolton have precious little to support him actually. Senators Domenici and Fitzgerald, both Republicans, thought Bolton was delinquent on some of the most important aspects of his last job. Colin Powell won’t endorse him. Brent Scowcroft implied doubts about the ability of Bolton to follow instructions. And heavyweight Republican lobbyist, “conservative to the core,” and fellow political appointee at the State Department Carl Ford said he has never seen as poor a public servant as John Bolton.
Senator Chafee, the question arises as to what criteria you would have for ever turning back a nominee. Your job now — and frankly that of Senator Lugar, Hagel, Alexander, and others on the Republican side of the aisle on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — is to communicate to the White House and Secretary Rice that you gave Bolton a go, but he’s not going to make it. He shouldn’t make it.
They should assign Bolton elsewhere and SEND SOMEONE OF WHOM AMERICA WILL FEEL PROUD.
Chafee can’t feign ignorance later. He knows all of this stuff — but thus far has adopted a style of selective acknowledgement of issues regarding Bolton. And he has tried very, very hard to support Bolton despite mounting concerns and questions about this man.
And Bolton lied. Bolton said he did not do what Carl Ford said he did. Bolton not only denied it; he EMPHATICALLY and REPEATEDLY denied any effort to get Christian Westermann fired.
Bolton lied to Senator Lugar, to Senator Biden, to Senator Hagel, to Senator Dodd, to Senator Chafee. . .and others on the panel. The man lied to Congress. So, whether Senator Chafee thinks Bolton was abusive to one person — or whether this was regular behavior — is largely irrelevant to the issue that Bolton lied.
What does Chafee get for attempting to weigh this issues. Clearly, he gets some articles from people like me who like him, appreciate his balance, and yet frustration that he seems so disinterested in what is empirically known about John Bolton.
But from Trent Lott, a colleague in the Republican caucus, who commented yesterday on Chafee, he gets:
“He’s irrelevant,” snapped former Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., on Wednesday. “In every way.”
— Steve Clemons