Robert Kuttner hits the bull’s eye in a compelling survey of the “Bolton Endgame” in the Boston Globe today.
Here is an excerpt:
With the Senate having twice refused to break a filibuster over Bolton, President Bush may use his power to make a recess appointment during Congress’s Fourth of July break. Bolton would then serve without Senate confirmation until the next Congress ends, in late 2006.
Or Bush could withdraw Bolton’s name.
Bolton’s views on the UN are hostile. He is known as a short-tempered martinet. He got poor reviews for his last job as undersecretary of state for arms control. For instance, Bolton was a skeptic of a US joint program to keep Russian nuclear fuel from reaching terrorists. The effort was tied up in legal minutiae during Bolton’s tenure, but soon after Bolton’s departure early in 2005, the logjam was broken and agreement with Russia reached.
The Washington Post reported that our allies so distrust Bolton on the sensitive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program that they made sure to exclude him from high-level meetings in Washington last January.
More ominously, Bolton is suspected of using ultra-secret National Security Agency wiretaps to snoop on rivals in the intelligence and defense community. Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware demanded to know the names of people on whom Bolton requested wiretapped information. For anything but legitimate national security purposes, this use would violate US law. But the White House has stonewalled this request, intensifying Democrats’ opposition.
As the Senate debated Bolton, Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, declared that a recess appointment “would weaken not only Mr. Bolton but also the United States,” but he soon recanted, very likely after some prodding. His first impulse was right. This recess appointment would insult both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and the institution itself.
A Bolton recess appointment sends a signal to other nations to whom America is preaching democracy that minority rights can be trampled. A Bolton appointment would make a mockery of the President’s own statement last night:
After a constitution is written, the Iraqi people will have a chance to vote on it. If approved, Iraqis will go to the polls again, to elect a new government under their new, permanent constitution. By taking these critical steps and meeting their deadlines, Iraqis will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights.
TWN has not heard a word out of the White House on its next steps. Frustration abounds in Karl Rove’s world that he was not able to just huff and puff and blow down those standing for principle both on Bolton and the Senate’s rights to request documentary evidence from the Executive Branch.
The options remain the same. Release the documents, and an up-or-down vote is possible after recess. Make a recess appointment. Or, lastly, withdraw John Bolton’s name from consideration.
The White House has lost much of its gruffness on Bolton, and is no longer issuing proclamations of its confidence in “Bolton.”
It was fairly remarkable that Bolton’s name was not mentioned by the President last night — not even in taking a pot shot at the Democrats and single Republican who have stalled the nomination process in the demand for documents.
Bolton is probably thinking this through. The White House wants him to take a recess appointment — and he allegedly doesn’t want it under these conditions. There are other things he can do. AEI is probably warming a chair right now.
In the end, while the White House did not get its way in the Senate, it will probably prevail in nudging Bolton to accept the job any way he gets it. Principle will be lost, and Bolton knows it.
No more illusions — and no weight at all on U.N. reform or on the coming Security Council efforts on North Korea and Iran.
TWN hopes that Mr. Bolton realizes that he needs to withdraw and take a role in the Vice President’s office. The nation’s interests will be better served — and those Boltonian skills the President allegedly wants can still be close at hand.
— Steve Clemons