We all know that John Bolton has never seen a clearance process he didn’t want to subvert or destroy. But as Mr. Bush ponders whether to make Bolton the latest addition to his already-too-long list of reckless recess appointments, the President would be wise to pay attention to what his close friend and confidant Condoleezza Rice is doing over at State.
At the same time that the President is promoting John Bolton as his UN crusader-in-chief, Condi Rice is doing everything she can to keep him in check. In fact, it looks like she’s building a cage to contain Bolton – even though she clearly knows that he hates any limit to his authority.
Let’s start at the top. Rice has made it clear that she intends to be a major player in debates over making the UN more effective. In that effort, she will in all likelihood rely on her handpicked Deputy, Robert Zoellick (whom she chose over Bolton). Both Rice and Zoellick will want to clear anything Bolton says, as Powell and Armitage did (or tried to do) when he was Under Secretary for Arms Control.
Add to the mix Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, the Department’s highest-ranking Foreign Service officer and an experienced and effective veteran of the bureaucratic wars. Burns recently testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the future of the UN. He so persuasively made the case for an effective UN that his statement could serve as a point-by-point rebuttal of every nasty thing Bolton has ever said about the world body.
But that’s just the beginning. Rice has taken steps to surround Bolton with people whose job descriptions will include tracking every move he makes. And give the Secretary credit – she’s put together a pretty good team.
Just four days after she announced Bolton’s appointment, Rice named Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who has a distinguished track record at both the NSC and State, as her Senior Advisor on UN Reform. According to the State Department, “Dr. Tahir-Kheli will report directly to the Secretary of State. She will engage the UN Secretary General and Secretariat on UN reform efforts.” If that’s true, you have to wonder what Bolton will do while Tahir-Kheli is making the rounds at Turtle Bay. But one thing you can count on: Tahir-Kheli shares her bosses’ views on UN reform.
Another person who will watch Bolton closely is his direct supervisor at State. Although every Ambassador – at least in theory – reports to the President, each in fact reports to the head of the bureau tasked with overseeing his or her work. And since President Bush does not regard the UN Ambassador as a cabinet-level appointment, that post now reports to the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.
You have to wonder how Bolton will feel about reporting to an Assistant Secretary given that in his past job as Under Secretary, such positions used to report to him. That must really get under his (already thin) skin.
And to whom will John Bolton report? Kristen Silverberg, who, as Steve has pointed out, is at 34 one of the youngest people ever appointed to such a position and who has no previous experience working on UN issues. But before we’re accused of ageism, let’s be clear: by all accounts Ms. Silverberg is both very talented and an experienced veteran of the political wars, having served as an aide to White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. And if you look at her statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, she obviously shares her superiors’ perspective when it comes to the UN. Mr. Bolton might want to be very careful about stepping on such well-connected toes.
Finally, there’s Anne Patterson, the current acting Ambassador to the UN, who will serve as Bolton’s deputy if he ever makes it to New York. A senior Foreign Service Officer whose distinguished career includes stints as U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and El Salvador, Patterson has done a superb job minding the store. Her State Department colleagues, UN officials, her staff, and her counterparts from other countries all love her. And she too has made strong statements in support of an effective UN.
So what happens when you insert someone like Bolton into this mix? And what if that someone has a record of politicizing intelligence and making inflammatory diplomatic statements? And to make it really exciting, what if that UN Ambassador can’t be approved by the U.S. Senate and has to be installed as a recess appointment? Well, you get messes like Bolton’s 2003 North Korea speech. The question isn’t whether Bolton will try to subvert the process, but rather whether Rice’s team will prove to be more effective than Powell’s was.
With luck, President Bush will withdraw Bolton’s name and nominate an Ambassador who can count on the support of not just the President, but also the Senate and, most importantly, the American people. Hey Mr. President, Madam Secretary, why not just make Anne Patterson’s job permanent? It sure would increase the chances that we’ll see a more effective UN on your watch.