Outside View: GOP Ranks Shaken by Bolton Nomination
by Steven C. Clemons
The battle over John Bolton, President Bush’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is not a competition between Senate Democrats and Republicans. It’s actually a brewing civil war inside the Republican foreign-policy establishment. None of the dramatic events of the four public hearings to date on Bolton’s nomination would have been possible without the active complicity of a large swath of the GOP establishment.
Nine senior U.S. government officials — some, like Carl Ford, known to be heavyweight Republican politicos and lobbyists — all nominated by a Republican President and confirmed by a Republican Congress collectively made the argument that John Bolton’s record of service and behavior make him “unfit” for the U.N. post. And behind the scenes — lurking unofficially but offering cryptic signs of their own discomfort with Bolton — have been former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, and even Brent Scowcroft.
On the record, these three titans of the Republican foreign-policy world will not attack Bolton. They all say he’s smart, knows a lot about the U.N. and is qualified. But as Scowcroft so cleverly put it: “What matters most about John Bolton are the instructions he is given — and whether he ‘chooses’ to follow them.” Suffice it to say that despite an occasional nod to Bolton’s intellectual fortitude, none of these three has signed a letter or statement endorsing him — and privately they have made their concerns known to any senator who asks them.
The White House too is making this battle over Bolton not about him and not really about the United Nations. Once Bolton’s opponents (including TheWashingtonNote.com) pre-empted the State Department from having his hearings fast-tracked before the Easter congressional recess — and then the testimony of Carl Ford and victimized intelligence analyst Christian Westermann made their way into the second day of hearings — the White House made this a war over executive-branch power. A loss on this nomination somehow morphed into the question of whether un-bolting from Bolton would trigger the true beginning of a Bush lame-duck presidency.
The White House became stuck on the need to win at all costs. They never thought Bolton would matter to the American public. The White House counted on public ignorance about Bolton, who to most people is just an obscure government official dealing with the remnants of old Soviet nuclear stockpiles — if they know that at all. GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island remarkably stated publicly that he could support Bolton because Rhode Islanders didn’t know who he was and weren’t that concerned about who sat at the U.N. as envoy for U.S. policy.
The rest of the piece is here.
— Steve Clemons