Truth in advertising. I consider myself a friend of Eli Lake. He’s a hard-working journalist whose sympathies are with the neoconservatives, but he doesn’t let them get away with vapid thinking or positions that are completely beyond sensibility.
That said, Lake has a piece in the New York Sun on the Lincoln Chafee-Stephen Laffey race that could have been much better, and he used the Bolton battle as a major hinge in his article.
Lake paints Chafee to be the Republican’s version of Lieberman, i.e., somewhat politically ambidextrous.
But unlike many of Eli Lake’s on-target articles, he makes two whopping errors in journalistic judgement.
Eli Lake reads this blog — and he knows what Chafee did to Bolton in his late July hearings. Chafee’s position on Bolton was rooted in his concerns about America’s Middle East policy and his belief that Bolton was better at undermining alliances rather than forging them. Chafee showed his father’s spunk in that meeting and mopped up the floor with Bolton (not literally, though the pipes above the hearing room had burst and water did pour in).
I wrote about this and repeatedly noted that Chafee’s vote was not secure. How could Eli Lake not have known this and not have given Chafee some credit for doggedly and consistently pursuing his conscience on these matters and maintaining consistency from the last hearing to the cancelled Thursday vote? Shouldn’t the White House be criticized for not seeing this coming? Shouldn’t the leg staff at State be criticized for not tending to Chafee’s clearly articulated concerns well before the day of the vote?
Secondly, Eli Lake is no push-over for over-the-top gesticulating by any pundits — and yet, he lets two statements creep into his article with no reality check, or at least an alternative view check.
First, he quotes State Department spokesman Shaun McCormack:
On Friday, State Department spokesman, Shaun McCormack, said Ms. Rice would get back to Mr. Chafee by phone or by letter. Ã¢â‚¬Å“She absolutely thinks that he is the right man for the job. She fully supports this nomination and she thinks that John is doing an extraordinary job up there in New York,” Mr. McCormack said.
Eli Lake’s contacts with people around Condoleezza Rice are just as good as mine, if not far better. Eli is right that McCormack made the statement — but kick the tires Eli.
Do you believe for a second that Rice REALLY believes this? An easy call can be made to any number of Rice circle insiders, and any number of them will roll their eyes when Bolton’s name comes up and give you body languange and some cryptic response that Rice’s enthusiasm is only a manifestation of political realities — not from the heart or even the mind. Eli Lake doesn’t need to be told this — he knows it already.
Second, he gives the kicker paragraph in his piece to one of Bolton’s chief advocates and a partner with the neoconservative wing of the foreign policy establishment, Clifford May. Lake reports May’s celebration of Boltonism at the UN:
“John Bolton has been among the greatest ambassadors to the united nations that this country has had,” the president of the foundation for the defense of democracies, Clifford May said. “It is extraordinarily disappointing that Lincoln Chafee fails to understand and this and it raises very serious questions about his judgment.”
One of the greatest ambassador to the United Nations that this country has had? What single thing has John Bolton delivered on? What American objectives has this Ambassador succeeded in securing? Why has Rice repeatedly sent Nick Burns into sensitive negotiations at the UN, sidelining Bolton?
John Bolton is about the most brilliant guy out there at setting up the UN for failure, but he regularly chooses not to pursue success.
Chafee knows this. Hagel and Lugar do too.
Eli Lake does not actually state that Bolton is polarizing among Republicans, even before you get to Democrats. George Voinovich sank him the first time. John Thune joined up later. Lisa Murkowski voted for him — but in her gut wanted to belt him after tears nearly came to her eyes as she read her statement last year when Bolton failed to successfully support the endorsement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lamar Alexander wishes he would just go away. Richard Lugar is embarrassed and undermined by the Karl Rove’s insistence on trying to send through such a flawed candidate. Eli Lake has access to all of these people and their close advisors — and all are Republicans.
Realist Republicans — of whom there are many in Washington — and who until September 2001 were the dominant force in US foreign policy circles are dismayed by Bolton and the President’s continued support for a guy who is not delivering. None of this appeared in Lake’s piece.
The battle over John Bolton is not one between Democrats and Republicans alone — it is also among Republicans. Eli Lake’s article captures this tension between Laffey and Chafee, but he neglects to tell his readers that in fact there are many, many Republicans who share Chafee’s perspective — and that much of the support for Bolton that Lake reports is cosmetic and politically forced.
Eli Lake is a great commentator and reporter, but I do hope that even if he doesn’t call me about Bolton because of my own obvious biases, I am fair-minded. But skip over me and reach more deeply than the ever-available Cliff May for a more fair assessment of the Republican internal skirmish over Ambassador John Bolton.
— Steve Clemons