Filling the Void After Nick Burns Departs: For Two Years, Burns was the Anti-Bolton to John Bolton’s Bolton

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r nicholas burns the washington note.jpg
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns speaking at New America Foundation/American Strategy Program Salon Dinner, 2 July 2007 (photo credit: Samuel Sherraden)
R. Nicholas “Nick” Burns is a stunningly effective diplomat. There is Dean Acheson DNA in the kind of work he does — but also a little John Foster Dulles. He is part Kennan and Scowcroft and also has the moral integrity of a Cyrus Vance. Henry Kissinger and Paul Nitze would be comfortable with Burns’ methods of achieving the country’s national security objectives. He is both realist and idealist, a hybrid — and he is one of the few who may have saved this country from another self-destructive war in the Middle East.
I happened to be on the US Airways shuttle flying back from New York to DC a while back — and Nick Burns was on the plane. He had literally just finished the negotiations with the UN Permanent-5 on what the requirements would be for a third round of toughened economic sanctions against Iran. He had succeeded in securing an agreement on an Iran track with China and Russia — but at a substantial price. They insisted that the IAEA and European efforts then underway, and seeming to have new vigor, with Iran play out before a new sanctions drafting effort. Beneath his affable facade, I could see he was exhausted. But what he fixed with a P-5 was a win for him — and he intimated to me — that this “gives us more time.”
I am not exactly sure what he meant about wanting “more time” — but my best hunch is that what Nick Burns meant is that it gave Condi Rice, John Negroponte, Mike McConnell, Bob Gates, Mike Hayden and him more time to maneuver the environment around Iran to compel it to suspend enrichment and negotiate in good faith — before Cheney’s wing of the national security establishment succeeded in convincing Bush to launch a strike.
I had just written a somewhat high profile Salon article outlining why Bush would not strike Iran, and I told Burns my throw away line in the piece was that Ahmadinejad was Iran’s Dick Cheney. Nick Burns stiffened up — and in a friendly way — admonished me for saying such a think. He said “Cheney is no Ahmadinejad. No. No way.”
Burns is respectful and serious — and he was right on Cheney, and I was a bit too full of myself. But this is a small peek into the world in which Burns worked. Vice President Cheney’s team did all it could to undermine Secretary of State Rice and her effective globe-trotting Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the diplomatic efforts to prevent yet another war from breaking out in the Middle East, while simultaneously addressing Chinese and Russian ambitions in the world, trying to maneuver North Korea into a more collaborative place, trying to strike a historic new partnership with India, dealing with tensions inside NATO regarding Afghanistan deployments and objectives, and helping out in the effort to move Israeli-Palestinian peace forward.


On nearly all of these subjects, except perhaps Afghanistan, Nick Burns and Co. have been on one side of constructive efforts to stabilize global affairs and push forward positive “American global engagement” — and Cheney’s acolytes have been on another.
John Bolton — who is actively marketing a revived recipe of Jesse Helms-concocted pugnacious nationalism and contempt for international engagement — sought to undermine Burns and the internationalists at every turn during Bolton’s tenure at the UN.
For two years, Nick Burns was the anti-John Bolton to Bolton’s Bolton.
Bolton lost Condoleezza Rice’s confidence — and she stopped using him for any of the serious and delicate negotiations with Russia and China at the UN. Burns successfully for the most part blunted the worst damage that Bolton was doing to not only America’s prestige but to its interests and objectives in the international organization.
As one person close to Burns and who knows Bolton well told me this morning, “Nick Burns wanted to achieve some degree of UN Reform, wanted a Human Rights Council that would be worthy of the name, wanted the UN to operate more effectively towards the goals that the major powers had outlined and committed themselves to. But John Bolton sought to undermine the United Nations and its legitimacy and worked ‘over-time’ to make sure that the Human Rights Council effort failed.”
Bolton did do real damage at the UN — but for the most part, R. Nicholas Burns contained the worst damage — and in the end it was Bolton who never got a vote supporting his nomination in the Senate and it was Bolton who had to leave government only to fire away then at the President he served, the Secretary of State to whom he reported, and to others like Nick Burns who far outclassed, outperformed, and outflanked Bolton on any measure of diplomatic effectiveness.
Bolton’s gruffness and irritability — his manhandling of young analysts — his brinksmanship against rivals in government would all be assets in my book if he achieved results. On the whole, Bolton didn’t — although dispassionate observers give Bolton credit or blocking the “Zionism is Racism” resolution at the UN and for at least not getting in the way (though he took far too much credit) for the Proliferation Security Initiative — something his successor at the State Department International Security and Arms Control perch Robert Joseph probably deserves the lion’s share of credit for.
R. Nicholas Burns is reportedly leaving his position because he has three daughters about to begin college, all of whom requiring private tuition payments, and he simply needs to shore up his family’s financial position which he can’t do in his current spot.
Burns was previously Ambassador to Greece and to NATO, served as State Department Spokesman, was on the National Security Council staff of both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and was picked by Condoleezza Rice to help manage an extraordinarily complex set of diplomatic challenges in Northeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Burns legacy — and perhaps a legacy shared with Rice, John Bellinger, John Negroponte, and other of his colleagues at the State Department — is that he prevented John Bolton from resurrecting Jesse Helmsian disdain for the world as the defining feature of the Bush administration and showed that shrewd diplomacy — carrots and sticks and rationality — could achieve results with North Korea, India, and hopefully Iran.
Nick Burns gave a talk recently at a New America Foundation salon dinner and emphasized that America needed to be an effective global power and needed to lead persuasively in addressing challenges that faced not just the US but many other nations around the world. Burns constantly pushed principled American engagement in global affairs as the key dominant feature of US foreign policy; he rejected unilateralism — and he spoke out strongly against any in the administration who flirted with unilateralism as strength. Burns correctly pointed out that unilateralism — particularly when there were better choices and partners — was a sign of weakness.
A quick tally showed that despite the Bush administration’s stewardship of a national security portfolio that has eroded dramatically — Burns has helped achieve far closer relationship with European allies than was the case three years ago. Some close to Burns tell me that the Europeans are going to stick with the U.S. on Iran — and that Burns is actually working right now in drafting the third round of economic sanctions to impose on Iran for failing to suspend nuclear enrichment.
Most think that the once-thought dead US-India nuclear deal will now survive and be ratified in both countries. The deal, according to its supporters, will help regional democracy promotion, help foster regional peace in South Asia, establish a new partnership to help stabilize Afghanistan, and will forge a new, vital strategic partnership between the United States and one of the world’s most important emerging powers, India.
Burns will continue to serve in his current role until March and will remain with the Department through the end of May to help oversee the successful ratification of the US-India Nuclear Deal by both countries.
Also Burns will get credit for American recognition of Kosovo which will happen virtually any day now. To some degree, Burns and Rice have outflanked Russia by taking the Kosovo independence effort out of the UN and not allowing the Russians a veto. Kosovo, in the next few days or weeks, will declare independence and be recognized by the United States. What remains to be seen is whether Russian anger about these Balkan developments will drive Putin to thwart American interests in other areas. Dimitri Simes and Anatol Lieven have written persuasively about Russia’s next moves, and this should be considered when calculating wins and potential losses.
I am on the Advisory Board of the Clarke Forum at Dickinson College — and recently Nick Burns gave a commencement address at Dickinson. In his speech, he said that America cannot afford to be isolationist and can’t be unilateralist. He said America needed to resist these temptations that been part of America’s political culture for more than 230 years. He said that America is great when it is engaged globally, and when it pays attention to alliances and to its friends.
Here is a clip from R. Nicholas Burns’ important address or (watch it here):

In a globalized and interdependent world, Americans have been given the baton of leadership. We need to maximize the promise of the positive forces at work in the world and minimize the dark side.
And, to be an effective global leader, we also need to reject the twin illusions of isolationism and unilateralism.
For much of our national history, we have swung wildly between periods of isolation from the world and intense bursts of engagement in it. Well, those days are over. If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that America can never again isolate itself from the great challenges of the day or avoid the mantle of leadership. We Americans now know that we cannot live apart from the world or turn away from its challenges or pull the covers over our heads on stormy mornings.
But, we also need to reject isolationism’s twin evil — unilateralism. There are some in our county who still believe that we can go it alone in the world. I fear that theirs is a one-way road to failure for our foreign policy. We should not want to be the lone global cop. Our soldiers should not do all the fighting. Our taxpayers should not foot the entire bill for the world’s troubles. We should not and cannot go it alone in the world.
Instead of turning away from the world as the isolationists want to do or go it alone as unilateralists wish, we need to commit ourselves, as our government is doing, to a stronger and wiser policy of rebuilding the united nations, nato and other international organizations to help America succeed in the world.
The United States must also demonstrate a concern for all the world’s problems. If we communicate to the rest of the world that we don’t really care about its problems, then it won’t believe in our leadership. Simply put, our global gameplan can’t just be about us — it has to be about the rest of the world too.
That means that those of us who live lives of wealth and luxury relative to the rest of the world — and that is nearly all of us here today — must identify with those less fortunate and build bridges to them.
We can’t be satisfied with the status quo when 700 million Indians live at poverty levels, or millions languish in despair in the slums of Brazil and Haiti. Or when the health care we enjoy here in America is non-existent in most of the rest of the world.
If your generation of Americans is to provide global leadership that is convincing to the rest of the world, then we need to speak out forcefully for the most deeply felt human dreams — to end poverty and injustice and end war. We need to see over the horizon to reach for these goals.

I couldn’t agree more with him. Burns will leave a void in America’s diplomatic team at a fragile time.
Some tell me that Burns and his collaborators successfully fought against the unilateralists in the administration who wanted to strike Iran. While things are in balance now — and not likely to change with Burns’ departure — the shrewd calculation is that while there is not likely to be military action against Iran, there is not likely to be any breakthrough as well.
US Ambasador to Russia William Burns — former Assistant Secretary for the Middle East — is probably the best single choice to fill Nick Burns’s shoes — and no, they are not related.
Burns was allegedly involved in secret efforts to get Syria on a Libya-like track out of the international dog house, something that would have been a huge achievement but which may have been undermined by not only some recalcitrant Syrian players — but John Bolton. He’s a realist in Middle East issues and doesn’t believe in false choices between our alliances and interests with Israel and Arab states. He has also seen how Russia is flexing its strength and new oil wealth and “attitude” in global affairs.
And perhaps most importantly, Bill Burns is disliked by John Bolton just about as intensely as Bolton feels about Nick Burns. And that’s a major plus for the new nominee for Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in my book.
Best of luck to Nick Burns who we all owe a great deal to for doing as much as he did to get this country off of the precipice of a truly serious foreign policy debacle. We still aren’t out of the woods — but we are far from the very worst of situations due to Nick Burns’ diplomatic fortitude and vision.

— Steve Clemons

Comments

41 comments on “Filling the Void After Nick Burns Departs: For Two Years, Burns was the Anti-Bolton to John Bolton’s Bolton

  1. Gerald Loftus says:

    Steve – When you say that Nick Burns (whom I have known since we served in Egypt more than twenty years ago) has Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Cyrus Vance DNA — and I would agree — are you also intimating that he might be a candidate for Secretary of State in a post-Bush administration?
    Nick, we are agreed, has what it takes. He has served in a number of key regions, including in his pre-ambassadorial phase. His public diplomacy skills are legendary (how many State Department officials are interviewed by French media in flawless French?) worldwide. And to leave on a diplomatic high note after serving in one of the most internationally tone-deaf administrations is quite a feat.
    Aside from the irony of the number three person at the State Department having to leave because the job can’t pay his daughters’ tuition bills (if he can’t afford it, how about the poor slobs who are even further down in the bureaucracy?), there is much to be said about leaving when Bush and Rice are at the height of their lame-duckness.
    Nick may see that the Israel-Palestine Peace Process is going nowhere in this final year, and that Iraq is going to be “solved” by the next administration, not this one. And one year of a high paying job (we all hope) might give him sufficient distance from this radioactive White House to appeal to a new (Democratic, we hope) administration.
    With all his diplomatic prowess, Nick has a keen Washington sense too: he served in the Bush-Clinton transition in 1992/3, and was named Ambassador by both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It would be fitting for a new president to name someone as Secstate who could credibly be called a “consummate professional.”

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  2. Steve Clemons says:

    Matthew – do a search in the ‘search function’ of this blog for my commentary on Cheney. I don’t believe he is a patriot, though I believe he sees himself as a patriot — and those are different things. I think you are overstating or misperceiving what I wrote. But take a look at my line on Cheney, and I think any concerns you have about my views will be satisfied.
    Best to you — and thanks for posting,
    Steve Clemons

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  3. Matthew Lenoe says:

    Steve: Your assertion that Cheney is a patriot who honestly has America’s best interests at heart and is “no Ahmadinejad” exemplifies the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of huge swatches of the American elite. The continuing insistence by “insiders” such as yourself that guys like Cheney are serious patriots, rather than serial liars full of pathological hate that makes them utterly incompetent policy makers is sinking us. Howard Dean, who was dead right on the war, is still treated as a crazy guy, as are all the “niave” peaceniks who stood up and opposed the Iraq invasion. Meanwhile we’re supposed to treat Cheney, whose vindictive streak and ideological blinkers (and financial conflicts of interest) have been public display for years, is a “serious patriot”. The man is responsible for the deaths quite probably of hundreds of thousands.
    Your historical imagination is really lacking if you cannot see that Hitler, Stalin, and yes, Ahmadinejad, all conceived of themselves as true patriots. And those around them thought of Hitler and Stalin as ultimately “serious” real-politicians and true patriots.
    Your commentary on Burns, and Burns’ defense of Cheney go right to the heart of the moral rot in the centers of power in America.
    Moral rot eventually leads to the inability to even make decisions in one’s own or one’s community’s self-interest. We passed that point with the Iraq invasion, which was a desperately foolish blunder.

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  4. Ajaz Haque says:

    Steve
    It is a bit naive to think that Burns is leaving for personal reasons. The likes of Burns have contributed to the disaster that is Bush Administration. Now that he cannot milk it anymore, he is jumping ship to write books and make money on lecture circuit. The question is, what have people like Burns contributed to world peace. The answer is ZILCH. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz & Burns are all of same mindset – agression pays. Ask the 150,000 Iraqi families who have lost their family members as to what havoc have these guys reaked on them?
    And yes PissedOffAmerican, you are absolutely right, Cheney takes the cake for being the most dangerous guy ever in the White House. And while Ahmadenijad sounds dangerous and crazy, he is more talk than action. At least he has not attacked any country!

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  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “So, I facetiously wrote the critique of Nick Burns………..”
    I only wish I could detect the same facetiousness in your effort to laud Cheney’s patriotism. I would think his past and present ties to Halliburton would extinguish any such delusions you were tempted to entertain. Halliburton has robbed us blind in Iraq, committed substandard infrastructural “rebuilding”, and has charged the American taxpayers exorborant fees for its criminal malsfeasance. A true patriot would have reined Halliburton in when the abuse of their contractual obligations became evident, years ago. No Steve, Cheney’s only loyalty is to obscene levels of treasure and power.
    And who can forget this slimey piece of shit’s “secret” meetings with global energy company CEOs, the fruits of which have been classified, as energy costs to the people have soared as the company’s profits have tripled?
    To cast Cheney as a patriot is a complete departure from reality, for far more reasons than the two examples I give above. Even more so than Bush, Cheney should be investigated, indicted, impeached, convicted, and punished on a scale commiserate with his crimes. And considering that Cheney abbetted the crimes that Saddam was hung for, its not hard to imagine the manner in which Cheney should meet his maker as well.

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  6. jim2445 says:

    Steve
    It is important to remember that there are several college systems in the United States.
    Burns is not stupid. He knows that social mobility in the United States is very limited and below almost all industrialized countries (even England) He is certainly right to want his children to be alphas rather than betas.
    Burns obviously wants to send his children to the Ivy League where they will become part of the over-class. That way they will get to meet the legacy children who will run the country in the future as their fathers have now and in the past(G. W. Bush for example).
    Soma anyone.

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  7. Steve Clemons says:

    Susan — POA is completely correct. I wrote that old piece as a tongue in cheek piece. I had been told by various folks working for the Bush administration that the success I had had in helping to stop John Bolton meant that anyone I might like in the administration was a Trojan Horse for liberal/progressive/realist thinking — all anathema to some in the Cheney wing of the White House.
    So, I facetiously wrote the critique of Nick Burns as a way to help him compete for the Deputy Secretary job now held by John Negroponte but then vacant when Bob Zoellick left.
    Nick Burns saw me shortly after the piece — smiled — and said he knew exactly what I meant.
    Sorry for the confusion though.
    best, Steve Clemons

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  8. susan says:

    “Surely you can see the facetiousness that Steve was employing…”
    POA, Yes, that crossed my mind, but Steve is usually pretty straight, so I wasn’t sure. Plus, even though the thread quickly digressed, his readers didn’t seem to think he was being facetious.
    Steve must have been using his column to have some “insider” fun….

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  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Susan….
    Surely you can see the facetiousness that Steve was employing. Can’t you? It doesn’t appear at all that Steve’s respect for Burns has changed.

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  10. susan says:

    In reading this post, I recalled a column you wrote in 2006. At that time you held a different opinion of Burns. Here is what you wrote:
    September 01, 2006
    Eavesdropping in Bunkers: Rumors on White House Israel/Palestine Moves
    Just a quickie.
    I heard a rumor recently and have subsequently confirmed through White House sources that the administration is gearing up to get serious again about charting out a new course on Israel/Palestine.
    I have no idea what steps are being considered or whether this is more form than substance, but I was able to confirm that the first “deputies meeting” in more than a year is being called on Israel/Palestine policy. I don’t have the date, but my White House source confired the rumor, stating within “a couple of weeks”.
    The bummer is that the State Department still does not have a Deputy. Bob Zoellick starts his new job at Goldman Sachs next week.
    But WHOMEVER Condi and Dick Cheney finally choose for Deputy, MAKE SURE IT’S NOT NICHOLAS BURNS. (I hear that my opposition might actually help him to get the job. . .please, please, please DO NOT APPOINT NICK BURNS! )
    More later.
    — Steve Clemons
    Ok, I’m confused. Why are you so opposed to Nick Burns?
    Posted by: Corinne at September 1, 2006 08:45 AM
    Corinne — Thanks for your note. I have been told that in the battle among those who aspire to be Deputy, Nicholas Burns — who is frequently the person Condi Rice sends to be the “adult supervision” overseeing John Bolton when hyper-sensitive UN matters are being debated — was her preferred choice to succeed Bob Zoellick. However, the Cheney crowd does not trust him — and John Bolton has started numerous “whisper campaigns” against him in the past.
    Others that have been considered include Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt — but he’d have a tough time getting confirmed right now, though I personally believe he’d be highly effective in the job. Another is Philip Zelikow, currently the Secretary’s Counselor — but he’s considered to be snarkily arrogant and the civil service staff have told Secretary Rice that such a development would produce guerilla warfare against him inside the State bureaucracy. Bolton was floated for a nanosecond and squashed. Eric Edelman is the dark horse candidate right now — trusted simultaneously by Rice and by Cheney.
    But the bottom line is that progressive appreciation for Nick Burns — who may be the last guy standing in this effort to get a Deputy — does not help him.
    The best thing we can do is characterize R. Nicholas Burns as a pugnacious, duplicitous, Jesse Helms-loving bomb-them-and-get-it-over nationalist.
    Nick Burns is the WRONG GUY for the job.
    Look, his favorability ratings in the White House are already pointing up.
    — Steve Clemons
    http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/001621.php

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  11. Carroll says:

    Old congress, new congress, no change in congress, no peace for Isr-Pal:
    Bush Under Fire in Congress for Criticizing Israel
    By STEVEN R. WEISMAN AND JAMES DAO
    Published: June 12, 2003 NYT
    Supporters of Israel in and out of Congress assailed President Bush today for criticizing Israeli attacks on Palestinian militant groups as the administration worked to protect its Middle East peace initiative from a new cycle of violence.
    A day after he criticized Israel for its attempt to kill a militant Palestinian leader, Mr. Bush today denounced a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem that killed 16 people and wounded more than 100.
    The bombing today was an apparent retaliation for Israel’s attempt to kill Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a top leader of Hamas, on Tuesday. It happened at about the same time as an Israeli missile attack in Gaza.
    At a hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Representative Gary L. Ackerman, said that Mr. Bush’s rebuke might lead his critics ”to think of the word hypocrisy.”
    ”How can we take certain actions in response to terrorism, and then tell others that when they do the same exact thing that it is not helpful?” Mr. Ackerman, a New York Democrat, said during questioning of William J. Burns, the State Department’s senior diplomat for Middle Eastern affairs.
    Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, said Israel’s use of military force to protect itself against ”a ticking time bomb factory” was ”100 percent justified.”
    Representative Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, defended Israel’s right to protect itself, saying that the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas was unable to do the job. If the Palestinians will not disarm terrorists, ”then Israel clearly will do so,” he said.
    The influential pro-Israel lobbying group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, issued a rare criticism of Mr. Bush, if only obliquely. Israel, it said, ”will and must take the responsibility to fight terrorist organizations” and ”it should be the policy of the U.S. to support” such actions
    Appearing before the committee, Mr. Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, acknowledged under sharp questioning from Democrats that Mr. Abbas would probably have to take forceful steps to disarm and dismantle terrorist groups if the peace initiative were to succeed. ”I believe he is committed to doing the hard things that are going to be required to make that possible,” Mr. Burns said.
    Other diplomats also said the Israelis had to know that the attack would provoke a new cycle of violence and make it impossible for Mr. Abbas to keep what little support he has among Palestinians.
    Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, said Israel’s use of military force to protect itself against ”a ticking time bomb factory” was ”100 percent justified.”
    Representative Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, defended Israel’s right to protect itself, saying that the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas was unable to do the job. If the Palestinians will not disarm terrorists, ”then Israel clearly will do so,” he said.
    The influential pro-Israel lobbying group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, issued a rare criticism of Mr. Bush, if only obliquely. Israel, it said, ”will and must take the responsibility to fight terrorist organizations” and ”it should be the policy of the U.S. to support” such actions
    Appearing before the committee, Mr. Burns, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, acknowledged under sharp questioning from Democrats that Mr. Abbas would probably have to take forceful steps to disarm and dismantle terrorist groups if the peace initiative were to succeed. ”I believe he is committed to doing the hard things that are going to be required to make that possible,” Mr. Burns said.
    Other diplomats also said the Israelis had to know that the attack would provoke a new cycle of violence and make it impossible for Mr. Abbas to keep what little support he has among Palestinians.

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  12. MyGodBeatsYourGod says:

    WOW.
    Really?
    My dad worked an hourly job and my mom ran the house yet they put 4 of us through University, both private and public, and one of us to Graduate studies. The company broke the union and my dad’s wages plummeted but they kept on. Damn immigrants!!
    This moron, Nick, is merely a slightly shiny chunk of corn in the huge turd that is the Cheney/bush Admin.
    And Steve, with your fear of not saying Cheney is a War Criminal, means you really don’t have any “liberal friends”. You are delusional.

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  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yep, ‘ol Dick Cheney, brilliant strategist, and politico extraordinaire, is only doing whats best for his country. Makes ya’ damned proud to be an American, don’t it?
    Canadian FM puts Israel, U.S. on torture watch list
    By Reuters
    Canada’s foreign ministry has put the United States and Israel on a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured and also classifies some U.S. interrogation techniques as torture, according to a document obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
    continues at….
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=945830&contrassID=1&subContrassID=1

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  14. Carroll says:

    Old, now new William:…blowing up homes in Isr-Pal not “helpful”
    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon
    Question: Sir I think that the demolitions, the acts the Israelis are displaying in demolishing many houses in Gaza, it’s most unfortunate that what we have heard from the public here, is that your country rather than criticizing that, they are supporting it actually, and saying that it is part of the defense against the shipment, something like that. So why should Israel demolish houses for innocent people, rather than for only two or three persons who have contributed on this ship. You didn’t condemn that.
    Assistant Secretary Burns: We’ve said quite consistently that the demolition of homes, of Palestinian homes, has not been helpful in creating an atmosphere in which people can move toward ending violence and restoring a political process. And it’s very much in the interests of both peoples to stabilize the security situation, to bring about a ceasefire, and to fight terror and violence.
    And that imposes obligations on both sides. For the Palestinians we’ve been very clear in emphasizing the obligations the Palestinian Authority has to make a maximum effort, a one hundred percent effort, against violence and against terror. And that’s the only way in which the aspirations of the Palestinian people are going to be realized. On the other hand, it is very important as we’ve said consistently in public, for Israel to look at ways in which it can create an atmosphere in which people can look seriously at reconciliation and at resuming a political process, and to look for ways in which the suffering of Palestinians, in which the difficulties under which they live in the West Bank and Gaza can be eased. Especially the economic pressures that they live under.
    And so it’s in that light that we’ve said, I think quite clearly and consistently that home demolitions are not helpful in that process.

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  15. Carroll says:

    New, now old Nick:…not a bad guy.
    Nicholas Burns quits State Dept.
    Published: 01/18/2008 JTA
    Nicholas Burns, the third-ranked State Department official who led the U.S. strategic dialogue with Israel, is resigning.
    Burns raised Israeli eyebrows last fall when, as the keynote speaker at an American Task Force for Palestine dinner, he expressed sympathy for the plight of Palestinian who live in exile.

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  16. arthurdecco says:

    graywolf said: “The intelligence and Foreign Service bureaucracies have fought back against this “evil” administration by consummate leaking of national secrets and weasel back-biting.”
    First off, why the asterisks around “evil”? Is that your way of ridiculing the assertion? You may not agree with the description but it’s a certainty that almost all informed and HONEST people would describe the Bush/Cheney/NeoCon crime cabal at a minimum as evil, blood-soaked, stinking of death and dirty money. I personally rate this bunch way down there with Hitler’s gang of thugs in suits, Pol Pot and his henchmen and the Soviet apparatchiks who intentionally starved millions and millions of people to death in the Ukraine, as payback for their pronounced anti-Semitism.
    Secondly, could you please provide us with examples of “consummate leaking of national secrets and weasel back-biting” by the intelligence and Foreign Service bureaucracies? (I mean, other than the usual back-biting that goes on in any assembly of office people with more than one person in the room?)
    You may indeed be old enough to have gray hair, (I’m assuming that’s where your nom de plume comes from), but it’s a shame you haven’t taken advantage of your time on our planet to learn how to cut through the propagandistic chaff and flotsam delivered to you daily by those more interested in cloaking their bad intentions than in honestly keeping you informed with facts.
    It wouldn’t hurt, even now, to stop allowing others to do your thinking for you. My advice to you, which you are free to ignore, is to read more widely and stop reacting like a petulant boor when faced with unpleasant truths.
    “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

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  17. anna missed says:

    Nick Burns, in his public proclamations of statecraft was perhaps the most believable in articulating the administrations position beyond the usually obvious shallow (Condi) propaganda. So, I guess that must be worth something. Or the other.

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  18. graywolf says:

    Nick Burns seems to be both bright and smooth.
    My problem is not with him, it’s the career bureaucracy below him that think that THEY are the government.
    Clearly, the CIA/FBI’s many failures were the primary cause of the failures of 9/11, yet they persist in undermining the elected government and whining about being managed (“politicized” in their self-pitying whining) by the elected government which doesn’t “respect” their superior skills and knowledge;the skills and knowledge that failed to prevent 9/11.
    The intelligence and Foreign Service bureaucracies have fought back against this “evil” administration by consummate leaking of national secrets and weasel back-biting.
    John Bolton is to be commended for thinking his job was to look after America’s interests first, as opposed to the career Foreign Service which seems willing to trade US interests for paid vacations in foreign capitals.

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  19. susan says:

    If he’s that strapped for cash, why doesn’t he consider PUBLIC colleges for his kids?
    A vast majority of them are excellent!

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  20. Jim says:

    Yeah, my kids are going to college soon too. I guess I’ll quit my high-paying government job and become an even higher-paid lobbyist, consultant or just move up to the lucrative lecture circuit.
    Wait, I forgot… I don’t have that option, because I’m just a middle-class American working a crappy job for even crappier pay. I guess I’ll have to work overtime or maybe get another job, take on a second mortgage, scrimp and save and saddle my kids with college loans.
    It’s an audacious excuse.

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  21. Missl says:

    What was his salary and total income during his time as a federal employee?
    What are his retirement benefits?
    I think I payed too much.
    Please, anyone can do that job and better.

    Reply

  22. Missl says:

    What was his salary and total income during his time as a federal employee?
    What are his retirement benefits?
    I think I payed too much.
    Please, anyone can do that job and better.

    Reply

  23. JT says:

    What financial hits are you talking about Steve?

    Reply

  24. arthurdecco says:

    “Cheney, whether I agree with his views or not, is a serious thinker, strategist and political player and believes he is trying to help this country even though I think he’s done enormous damage.” Posted by Steve Clemons
    Only a dangerously deluded FOOL could continue to think that he has helped his country in the face of so much contradictory evidence, Mr. Clemons – a serious thinker could not possibly think that he has done good. If Cheney honestly thinks so, he should be committed immediately.
    Incidentally, a “serious thinker, strategist and political player” would not be loathed by almost 80% of his fellow citizens. And that loathing has come about in the face of an almost complete media blackout of his most venal sins.
    The Dick, Cheney, is none of the things you say he is.
    He can be more accurately described as a conniving, cunning, vindictive, manipulative, shrewd and selfishly petty man – a pathological liar who continues to financially profit from the hundreds of thousands of people he should be held responsible for killing.
    If he deserves anything other than a slow and agonizing death, he deserves to be erased from the pages of history and left to rot in a stone and mildewed prison in one of the countries he’s been responsible for destroying.

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  25. Michael Johnson says:

    “R. Nicholas Burns is reportedly leaving his position because he has three daughters about to begin college, all of whom requiring private tuition payments, and he simply needs to shore up his family’s financial position which he can’t do in his current spot.”
    if true, this is a scandal. one of our country’s most seasoned diplomats has to leave his position in government because the USG can’t provide enough for his daughters’ college tuition? this is worth examining…

    Reply

  26. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Cheney, whether I agree with his views or not, is a serious thinker, strategist and political player and believes he is trying to help this country…..”
    Oh yeah, right on, he outed Plame in a fit of patriotic altruism. And his energy meetings were just to help us little people through these long cold winters.
    Gads, Steve, sometimes I really wonder if you’re in the same dimension the rest of us live in.

    Reply

  27. arthurdecco says:

    Blowback, charlie? sigh… Just what are you talking about?!?
    charlie, charlie, charlie… Hasn’t anyone told you that It’s Always The Other Guy’s Fault? That when bad things happen to America, it’s because those swarthy bastards who speak English with funny accents and kneel on carpets to pray “hate your freedoms”? That when desperate Palestinians fight back against the psychotic monsters murdering them it’s because THEY’RE the terrorists? That Cheney is a brilliant, sensitive and benign statesman and NOT a thug at all and Georgie Porgie sits on the right hand of GAWD where he’s perfectly placed to receive advice from the “Big Guy”? That the Neo-Cons really do have the best interests of the United States of America in mind while they tirelessly and treasonously and exclusively toil in the interests of Likudville, USA/Israel?
    Come on charlie…get with the program.

    Reply

  28. BlogWonk says:

    Mr. Clemons,
    What a fine tribute to someone I wish was minding the store until the last minute this administration is near any buttons that blow up things. I hope you are right that things are basically stable right now, but I’m concerned that people like Undersecretary Burns are departing while there’s still plenty of time for lots of mischief.
    But I have read about him today in a number of papers, and this is the finest and most informative commentary on Nicholas Burns today.

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  29. Steve Clemons says:

    Bill — No, I still consider Cheney and his team very dangerous. But my comparison to Ahmadinejad gets applause from my liberal friends — but undermines the seriousness of my point to most audiences. Cheney, whether I agree with his views or not, is a serious thinker, strategist and political player and believes he is trying to help this country even though I think he’s done enormous damage.

    Reply

  30. Bill Camarda says:

    Thanks for your response in the comments, Steve. What made you reconsider your throwaway line that Cheney was our Ahmadinejad? Did you learn anything that has led you to conclude he was less dangerous than you previously thought he was?
    Thanks, too, for your work…

    Reply

  31. po says:

    > he simply needs to shore up his family’s
    > financial position which he can’t do in his
    > current spot.
    yeah… yeah… this is how the Washington post phrased that argument:
    > Burns, 51, is leaving for personal reasons, in
    > part because he will soon have three daughters in
    > college, said a senior State Department
    > official. He has not yet committed to another job, U.S.
    > officials say.
    Yeah… quiting your job before you have a new one is a time honored way of making a quick buck. It works well especially if your job title and associates give you trouble arranging scholarships and stuff. And there are plenty of employers that are okay with you taking months of to set up nuclear power plants in India and staying away from government contracts while you still work at the state department. Its also almost the same as “retiring” like the early reports said mr Burns did at 51 years of age. And what could be more immediately profitable than running for office in you home state? I can only imagine the job interviews. “My ambition is retiring, wait could I pop out for a second I am needed at a meeting of the veto wielding security council members plus Germany to prevent the middle east from becoming a nuclear trainwreck… but I will be right back because getting a new job obviously has a higher priority…”
    With this potentially trowing the “Bush wont attack Iran” calculus around I am sure glad thats all cleared up. Who could possibly live with his children lending tuition fees for one more year until the next administration takes over and K-street offers a job that pays the interests and then some, say lobbying for a southeast Asian government?
    He would be the kind of guy who would step aside in time if he felt someone, say Russia for whatever reason, really really doesn’t want him near new sanctions talks or an uncomfortable independence celebration. If he left on his own then there is no urgency in knowing why. But its kind of critical to know that he wasn`t pushed from in the US. Assuming Condi still has his back would that would be the White House. (In theory, in theory it also wouldn`t be the VP) And “spending time with the family that is used to his ambassadors schedule” just doesn’t help me have a weekend without constantly checking for aircraft carrier movements and new strands of persian-bashing on fox.
    And yes I did called ambassador Burns mr Burns. Its an easy mistake to make. If mr burns goes to India with nuclear power plants, then don’t blame me if the taj mahal ends up doing what it does at the end of this Simpsons episode.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9_iQim8Mtw

    Reply

  32. Steve Clemons says:

    I think Nick Burns simply needs to deal with family issues — and he’s got some serious financial hits coming. I think that combined with the fact that he has achieved most of what he can in this period and expects no breakthroughs on Iran — I think he’s being straightforward about this. best, steve

    Reply

  33. charlie says:

    Per Burns’ commencement address — since when did the United States engage in “isolationism”? While it’s all well and good that Burns supposedly wants to thwart the more unilateral militarists in the administration, he is completely discredited in my mind when he makes the claim that, “If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that America can never again isolate itself from the great challenges of the day or avoid the mantle of leadership.”
    Excuse me? Was the United States not *directly* involved in the Middle East for decades prior to 9/11? Throughout the 1990s the U.S. government inflicted draconian sanctions on Iraq and bombed the country for 10 years, stationed thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia, and watched as Israel ran roughshod over the Palestinians. In the 1980s the U.S. obviously backed the mujahideen in Afghanistan — and we know how that turned out. Not to mention U.S. support for Saddam Hussein when he waged war against the Iranians (who had just gone through a revolution that was spurred — again — by U.S. intervention in the form of the coup against Mossadeq in 1953 and continued support for the authoritarian regime of the pro-Western Shah.)
    If 9/11 taught “us” anything, it’s that interventionism — the belief that the United States has the privileged right to intervene in the domestic affairs of any all nations, regardless of whether they pose a threat to the United States itself — inevitably leads to unintended consequences, i.e. blowback.

    Reply

  34. Matthew says:

    Before you back away from your initial Cheney comparison, you might want to verify whether I’m-in-Need-of-Pants supports waterboarding too.

    Reply

  35. Jim says:

    Four days ago Nick was give a new assignment linked to Israel’s renewed threats to attack Iran. So his resignation must have come up rather suddenly. SEE ARTICLE BELOW: Published by JTA: 01/14/2008
    Israel renewed a veiled threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities pre-emptively.
    “We cannot resign ourselves to a nuclear-armed Iran,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday. “All options are being considered.”
    The Israeli prime minister’s remarks were the most forceful since a U.S. intelligence report late last year said Iran likely shelved its military nuclear program in 2003 — an assessment that was widely seen as ending any plans for pre-emptive strikes.
    Like Olmert, President Bush has said Iran still poses a threat but voiced confidence in the effectiveness of Western sanctions in curbing the atomic ambitions of the Tehran regime.
    Yediot Achronot reported that Israeli and U.S. officials will resume a strategic dialogue focused on Iran at the end of the month. Israel’s representative will be Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz; his U.S. counterpart will be State Department official Nicholas Burns.

    Reply

  36. ArthurGoldberg says:

    He totally reminds me of Henry Cabot Lodge; no doubt.

    Reply

  37. George R. Kaplan says:

    Your positive analysis of the Nick Burns stewardship is superb. While the Department of State has always had top-notchers of his quality in the highly competitive Foreign Service, they almost never get this kind of recognition, and when it happens the politicos in charge almost predictability try to muzzle it. But the Burns piece is doubly notable because he seems to have achieved so much in the face of truly sustained know-nothing opposition. That’s diplomacy!
    George Kaplan, Retired FSO

    Reply

  38. Sybil says:

    Hmmm…You say he is leaving for financial reasons; the Times said he was leaving to explore running for office in Massachusetts…
    This is happening at the end of the week when Bush is travelling in the Middle East. There MUST be a real reason.

    Reply

  39. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “History will decide which of the two was most dangerous – Cheney or Ahmadinejad?”
    Well, the current death toll in the Middle East certainly answers that question, doesn’t it? And even if we discount the carnage in modern day Iraq, we can still go back in time to Cheney’s part in arming Saddam with chemical weapons to be used against the Iranians. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Al Qaeda is a CIA creation either. Heck, Cheney makes Ahmadinejad look like a saint.
    But then again, if we mis-translate Ahmadinejad’s speeches, like MEMRI has done, and continue to cast Iran as a nuclear threat, as this Administration, and Israel, and, (sadly), Steve does, then we can easily make a devil out of Ahmadinejad as well. But, it would be hard for Ahmadinejad to lower to the level of Cheney’s evil if all one considers is actual history instead of propaganda and fear-mongering. Cheney is certainly one of the world’s top candidates for all time evil. Like Amin and Hitler, our world we be much better off if Cheney had never of been born. Its truly a shame that event wasn’t rectified years ago.
    And Ajaz, your last sentence is overly optimistic. When choosing the lesser of two evils, you still end up with evil.

    Reply

  40. Ajaz says:

    History will decide which of the two was most dangerous – Cheney or Ahmadinejad?
    I do however agree with you that despite the raving and ranting, Bush will not launch another war as has two unfinished ones on his hands.
    Nick Burns is smart but he is in the wrong Administration, an administration that is totally out of tune with the rest of the world. One doesn’t know if Obama or Clinton will make better presidents, but anything is better than this Bush/Cheney disaster.

    Reply

  41. Carroll says:

    Moving the Israel Palestine peace forward would be nice.
    Israeli Air Strike Kills Three Gaza Civilians Riding Donkey Cart
    Israeli DM Orders Continued Preparations for a Major Military Operation in Gaza Strip
    Seven Palestinians Dead as Rocket Barrage Continues
    Israel Locks Down Gaza
    Palestinians Urge US to Intervene Over Israeli Raids
    US Urges Israel to Show Restraint in Gaza
    Abbas Threatens to Resign if Israeli Escalation Continues
    Personally I would like to vaporize these little midget nazis and call it peace. Worked for Truman.

    Reply

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