Getting into the Personal: Dangerous Territory for John Bolton


Major epic-style exposes are emerging on John Bolton in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.
Although Sonni Efron starts with the countours of battle that existed between Richard Armitage and Colin Powell on one side and Bolton on the other, she then delves into personal vignettes from friends and colleagues, particularly at AEI.
Her piece starts:

When John R. Bolton charged into the State Department in 2001 as President Bush’s top arms control official, he thought of himself as a loyal Republican soldier on a mission into hostile political territory, according to friends and colleagues.
That assessment became a self-fulfilling prophesy. In the course of the four years Bolton served as an undersecretary of State, he had a succession of ideological and personal clashes with subordinates, colleagues and superiors.
Eventually, Colin L. Powell, secretary of State at the time, ordered his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, to keep tabs on Bolton and prevent him from alienating allies, three current and former State Department officials said. One of the officials said that he was specifically assigned to “mind” Bolton and report back if the undersecretary’s activities were creating problems.
“John was a super-frustrated guy, pinioned at the wrists by Rich [Armitage], held down and clubbed regularly by his own people, and generally nullified by the secretary’s skills at thwarting him,” said one of the former senior officials, a lifelong Republican who said he “despised” Bolton.
Foreign diplomats who have made no secret of their dislike for Bolton said they were told by other State Department officials that they should not assume that Bolton’s hard-line pronouncements on issues such as North Korea or Iran represented administration policy. In public, though, Powell and Armitage unfailingly defended Bolton and denied the existence of a rift.

Then, Efron’s piece delves into the fuzzy with testimonials by former Bolton AEI colleagues Danielle Pletka and Veronique Rodman.
As reported by Efron:

“He’s not warm and fuzzy, but he’s loyal and he’s very fair,” said Veronique Rodman, one of 47 colleagues who signed a letter in support of Bolton. “The computer guys signed the letter. He was nice to the little guy … but he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to stop in the hallway and schmooze, because he’s busy doing something.”
Others said that one of Bolton’s great strengths was that he did not care whether he was liked.
“He’s so focused on his work that he probably wouldn’t notice that somebody disliked him,” said one supporter. “I imagine if you disagreed with him, you’d probably dislike him intensely because he’s so effective.”
Bolton rarely socialized with colleagues at the State Department, and sometimes referred to lower-level staffers as “munchkins.”
“John’s one of those Washington animals where his personality is his job,” said one neoconservative, a Bolton fan who declined to be named.

What Efron does not reveal — though I wish she had in an otherwise excellent article — is that those protecting Bolton are essentially his “collegial family.”
Bolton was Senior Vice President of the American Enterprise Institute, the institution where both Pletka and Rodman work. Veronique Rodman is married to Peter Rodman, who is now Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon — and someone who was an ally of John Bolton’s in the administration.
Danielle Pletka is married to Stephen Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control. Rademaker reports directly to John Bolton and is cut from the same ideological cloth as Bolton. I spoke on a panel at the annual Sandia National Laboratories’ International Security Conference with Rademaker and Gerard Baker, then at the Financial Times, and was stunned by the number of references in his speech to “evil”.
Most strategists and negotiators need to be able to deal with players commanding forces that threaten American interests, but the amount of hyperbole in Rademaker’s talk seemed to me to be something that would not lend itself to negotiations with the world’s most dangerous thugs on how to tie down weapons and proliferation problems.
Full disclosure. Peter Rodman was my colleague when I served as Executive Director of the Nixon Center in Washington — and I have a great deal of respect for him, though we don’t agree on all aspects of national security policy.
I should also add that my significant other and I considered ourselves friends at one time and reasonable acquaintances with John Bolton’s special assistant, Mark Groombridge, who previously worked at the American Enterprise Institute and at the Cato Institute. I haven’t heard from Mark given the material I have written — and don’t expect to — but as these newspapers delve into the personal, it’s important I think to reveal the interconnecting networks of relationships — professional and personal — that cut through complicated debates about appointments.
But by lining up personal commentary about John Bolton’s personal side — what he was like growing up, in high school, then at college — by interviewing people and writing about how he is as a person outside of work, the media and Bolton’s proponents are playing a very dangerous game. This is a tactic of those advocating Bolton. They are trying to show that he’s not entirely a monstrous boss, or a “loose cannon.” They want to show other dimensions of his personality.
In the “INFO BOX” in the Los Angeles Times bio-sketch of Bolton, this is noted:

Born in Baltimore, Md., on Nov. 20, 1948. Married to the former Gretchen Brainerd; one daughter.

What happened to the first wife, Christine Bolton?
I have not spoken to Christine, but she seems to be a non-entity in the many proliferating Bolton profiles, but at the same time she is clearly a well-thought of person and friend to some of Washington’s most distinguished personalities. I have dozens of messages from people noting what a wonderful person she is, and in sort of a hush-hush, you-know-what-I-mean, kind of tone, these friends of the first Mrs. Bolton imply a brutal, complicated, abusive marriage.
I want to know more of the facts because if Mr. Bolton has had a hard time controlling himself over the years, the evidence might reveal itself in his first marriage to a woman who was also a professional and who apparently worked at the Department of Commerce.
Bolton’s supporters are increasingly on the far right — the very moralistic, intolerant political right. Bolton rose through Republican ranks working both for Jesse Helms and Paul Laxalt, the late Republican Senator from Nevada who was once Ronald Reagan’s best friend. Bolton allegedly dated Laxalt’s daughter, and made his way into Reagan’s world while at the same time tethering himself to Jesse Helms’ influence in the Republican party.
But at this time when the hyper-conservative John Bolton was developing his political base, he was also allegedly involved in somewhat risque private behavior — that I hesitate to say more about here. Those close to his former wife have alluded to it, and I believe that the Morally Intolerant Right Wing of the Republican circuit that is now pushing hard for John Bolton would back off if details of Bolton’s off-line behavior that involved his then wife were known.
The problem that the White House faces with Mr. Bolton is that he has now become a known face, remembered, and those with memories of him and his past are out there.
I’m not going to say more about this now. If I have stumbled across these stories, others have as well — and I have worked hard to validate that there was something real to them and have learned that to be the case.
We all have closets with messy stories in them. I do too. Bolton seems to have more than most — and this alone should not be held against him. He is just not the sort of person with impeccable credentials whom we should be sending to the highly visible and important post as Ambassador to the U.N.
The personal stories abounding in the press now are an effort to white-wash some of the concerns about and “humanize” the Bolton we have seen operating the last four years in the Bush foreign policy team. But if personal tributes are going to start abounding, then the picture needs to be complete.
The media should investigate questions about his first wife, their marriage, and what some of their friends consider to be quite cruel treatment by him of their relationship. This is a story that others should pursue. I cannot.
My opposition to John Bolton remains one over intellectual and policy differences about America’s role in the world and the importance of reforming and building a United Nations that works given 21st century realities. I have other serious concerns and misgivings about Bolton in this role as well.
I would like to leave the personal out of these matters — but unfortunately, Bolton’s advocates are moving the agenda outside the question of his irresponsible and ill-advised policy crusades to something else. And that is dangerous territory.
— Steve Clemons