Charles J. Brown: Winners, losers, lessons


President Bush’s decision to appoint Bolton this morning only denies those fighting the nomination closure – but not much else. We may have lost the Bolton battle, but it sure looks like we won the war. The events of the past five months, taken together, represent a big victory for those promoting global solutions to and cooperative efforts on those problems that no nation can solve alone.
In addition, the Bolton battle is a model for future efforts to engage the American people on international issues. Those who challenged the Bush Administration stayed on message, supplied timely information, praised allies at every opportunity and avoided berating or denigrating opponents.
As a result, the movement for a constructive, pro-engagement foreign policy is both stronger and more effective. A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle found their backbones over the course of the past five months, and thus are more likely to stand firm on similar questions in the future. Our opponents, who expended enormous amounts of political capital just to keep the Bolton nomination alive, emerge much, much weaker.
The Bolton battle also has been an inclusive effort, one that has brought many unlikely players into the fray. I can’t say enough about the importance of the Steve’s efforts and those of our NGO partners, the field organizers, and other friends and advocates who independently contributed their time, energy, and resources to this effort above and beyond their jobs. We have all made a difference. As this blog has demonstrated over the past week, this was a battle that crossed ideological and partisan divides.
Let me sum up by offering a list of heroes, villains, and lessons. Let’s start with the heroes:

  • Senators Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Barbara Boxer, and the rest of the minority members and staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who refused to let this nomination be the slam-dunk the Administration wanted.
  • Senator George Voinovich, who courageously stood up to his party and his President to oppose Mr. Bolton due to his strong belief that Mr. Bolton represented everything America did not need at the UN.
  • Senator John Thune, who also bucked partisanship to oppose Mr. Bolton.
  • Senator Chuck Hagel who, despite supporting Bolton, made it clear that the issue of making the UN more effective was in now way should be made contingent on said support.
  • John Whitehead, Deputy Secretary of State during the Reagan Administration, and Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor during the Ford and first Bush Administrations, who worked quietly behind the scenes to convince Senators of the wrong-headedness of Bush’s choice.
  • Carl Ford, who stood up to John Bolton both during Bolton’s tenure as Undersecretary of State, and during the SFRC hearings.
  • And last, but certainly not least our own Steve Clemons, who did much to connect the dots and keep the matter in the press and the public eye.

And a list of heroes wouldn’t be complete without a list of those who have lost something:

  • President Bush, who expended far too much of his precious second-term political capital on what was originally intended to be a cheap throwaway appointment to please a rabid segment of his base.
  • John Bolton, who will not be able to accomplish what he wanted at the UN.
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who must now live with the consequences of having Bolton on her team. Now the question is whether she will honor her promise to fire Bolton if he goes off the reservation.
  • Senator Lincoln Chafee, who has become a model of craven indecisiveness and inaction in the face of integrity. As one Washington Post report put it, when Sen. Voinovich stood up, Sen. Chaffee looked like he was going to cry.
  • Senator Richard Lugar, who seemed to forget his position and authority as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and allowed the White House to strong-arm him into supporting the Bolton nomination in return for… well, to be frank, apparently nothing at all.
  • The clearance process within the State Department.
  • Any junior Foreign Service officer who has the temerity to challenge or question Amb. Bolton over the next fifteen months.

Let me also suggest some of the key implications of the Bolton battle:

  • Amb. Bolton’s tenure is half what it would have been without our work. He is so damaged and unpopular in the Senate as to make it highly unlikely that he can ever be confirmed for this or other positions in the future. Furthermore, this administration has not renominated for political positions those to whom it gave recess appointments (see Otto Reich). And the Senate has refused to confirm those renominated for judicial positions after a recess appointment (see William Pryor).
  • The controversy over Bolton’s misstatements may go away for a while, but it’s unlikely to disappear entirely. Should the Inspector General come out with a report that in any way implicates Bolton in the misuse of intelligence, he’ll be fair game again and may even be pressured to resign.
  • Everyone – the press, the UN, NGOs, even late-night comedy talk show hosts – will be watching everything Bolton says and does. If he becomes inflammatory, screams at people, or makes outrageous statements, it will be noticed.
  • Amb. Bolton is damaged goods in ways that the administration can’t like – the poster boy for everything we don’t want in a diplomat, as George Voinovich put it, and quite literally the new national symbol of what it means to be the boss from hell. And to paraphrase Jon Stewart, he has the most famous “angry moustache” since Yosemite Sam.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the American people are reengaged on the issue of the UN in a way that they haven’t been for years. And it’s clear that a large majority of Americans support a more effective and dynamic UN. If the Administration — in the person of John Bolton — screws things up, it will be noticed and it will be controversial.
  • And finally, as I noted earlier, Bush had to expend extraordinary amounts of political capital to make this appointment happen – and today he has angered Senators on both sides of the aisle. They’ll remember this the next time a controversial international appointment comes, and perhaps vote him or her down. It may even have an impact on the Roberts nomination, as the Administration’s refusal to release documents AGAIN means that Bolton offered a test run on the issues of Senatorial access and privilege.

Clearly, the recess appointment was an outcome we did not want, but we should not forget that Bolton’s opponents went into this regarding their chances of winning as the longest of long shots. And ultimately, if they (we) didn’t get the desired result, they (we) changed the debate in extremely important ways.
So let us not fail to celebrate what we have accomplished. Congratulations and thanks to everyone. It’s been a real honor and a privilege.
Charles Brown