Brent Scowcroft on John Bolton: His Fitness Depends on Whether He Will Follow Orders


. . .but he’s never followed order before, General. . .not unless it was in his personal interests or those of Jesse Helms.
Truth in advertising: I’m a fan of Brent Scowcroft. In his defense, I have already crossed swords with one well-known neoconservative, David Frum, who once wrote about the dangers of a “creeping Scowcroftism” in Washington’s foreign policy community.
Scowcroft has not until this week said anything about John Bolton’s United Nations nomination.
But on Wednesday, Scowcroft gave us some “peek” into his views on Bolton. Scowcroft has a schtick that is simple-talking mountain-man talk, sort of like former Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield. Scowcroft and Mansfield are and were the masters of a slick cantankerousness where understatement and nuance are packed to the gills with their real views.
Scowcroft offered exactly this kind of statement on Bolton — so as you read his comments — and preferably listen to them (I have a link below) — try and decode them with the insights mentioned.
In what is a very timely address given current debates about the United Nations and the Bolton nomination, Scowcroft gave the Dag Hammarskjold Memorial Lecture at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on Wednesday, April 6.
Scowcroft’s speech was titled “The Future of the United Nations,” and he also recently served as a member of the United Nations High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
Here is an audio link to Brent Scowcroft’s speech, and an audio link to the Q&A session.
The very first question posed to Brent Scowcroft by a reporter after his remarks asked what the General thought about John Bolton’s nomination to be America’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
Scowcroft replied, wryly:

John Bolton is certainly qualified. He’s a very intelligent person and he is deeply knowledgeable about United Nations affairs.
How he performs will depend on two things — the instructions he gets — and whether will carry them out.
(huge laughter from the audience)
I think it’s that simple.
John Bolton works for the President and the Secretary of State.

What was the General really saying? Well, a cryptologist might be needed, but this was clearly not a ringing endorsement of John Bolton.
Listen to the audio and imagine General Scowcroft adding a bit of skeptical body language and facial expression to his response.
The biggest nuance hidden in these remarks is the “loose cannon” concern that many moderates have about Bolton. Here is one case of his wayward, loose cannon-like behavior I wrote about the other day. The American Prospect‘s Mark Leon Goldberg expands the subject here.
You should listen as well to General Scowcroft’s speech on the United Nations — and let’s compare it to John Bolton’s remarks here.
— Steve Clemons