Several people in high places, both in the State Department and in the United Nations, have commented to me that John Bolton really surprised them when he embarked on his new duties after moving into the Ambassador’s apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria.
They said that it was like Bolton had gone to charm school and went out of his way to “meet and greet” everyone, from high-ranking to the lowest of low-ranking staff at the U.N. One senior NGO official and former diplomat told me that the facilitators of the Millennium Summit document process — about 30 people — were shocked that Bolton had sought each of them out to say hello and offer a genuine human connection, sort of a “Bill Clinton type thing” to do.
The storm about the Millennium Summit document, and Bolton’s 750 suggested line changes, came later, but at least they thought he was a far nicer guy than his critics had described.
Now, it seems that the real John Bolton has boldly stepped beyond the veneer. And true to form, just as he woke up each morning for the first four years of the Bush administration asking what he could do to make Colin Powell’s life miserable and, at the same time, doing Vice President Cheney’s bidding, John Bolton has now target Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to get America back on a more balanced foreign policy track with the rest of the world.
The American Prospect‘s Mark Leon Goldberg writes the first serious assessment of John Bolton’s tenure thus far as the recess-appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
For a pdf version of this article, TWN readers can email for a copy at email@example.com. (The article is now also available on the web here.
The headlines for the piece titled “The Arsonist” run:
In his first six months at the UN, John Bolton has offended allies, blocked crucial negotiations, undermined the Secretary of State — and harmed U.S. interests.
We expected bad; we didn’t expect this bad.
Goldberg establishes that John Bolton has approached his job with the zeal of a true believer — arriving at work first and often leaving the office last. He is taking his job seriously and has complete confidence in his ability to twist the U.N. bureaucracy, and maybe the State Department as well, to his will.
But what drives Bolton’s impressive work ethic?
Goldberg notes that among his efforts have been gutting global efforts to begin to try and get the “developing nation problem” right during the historically important U.N. Millennium Summit, which for many reasons — and mainly Bolton’s undermining it — turned out to be a dud.
In his first moves at the U.N., Bolton made the “eye-popping” proposal to rid the Millennium Summit document of any of the 14 references to Millennium Development Goals. Goldberg documents the uproar that ensued, and no less than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to put this diplomatic fiasco he created back in order Ã¢â‚¬â€œ- compelling Bolton at the end of the day to step back and relent.
But the big news that Mark Goldberg breaks is that the American Prospect has confirmed that it was John Bolton himself who scuttled Secretary of State Rice’s efforts to offer Syria a Libya-like opportunity to get itself out of the international dog house. Goldberg writes:
. . .the tension between Rice and Bolton has grown dramatically in several areas, most notably with regard to Syria: The Prospect has learned that Bolton was the source of an October leak to the British press that submarined sensitive negotiations Rice was overseeing with that country.
Goldberg’s piece is good through and through, but the juiciest, news-breaking revelations come in this depiction of Condi’s commendable efforts with Syria:
Indeed, it was Rice, not Bolton, who achieved the one significant success of Bolton’s first 100 days at the United Nations: a unanimous October 30 Security Council vote requiring Syria to fully cooperate with a UN investigation into the suspected Syria-sponsored assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Prospect has learned that in the days and weeks leading up to the late October UN report on Hariri’s assassination, Rice sought to sideline Bolton from the negotiations over the Security Council resolution that the report inspired. She also made the State Department, not the U.S. Mission to the UN, the central address for
discussions on the resolution.
One of the first signs that a bureaucratic battle was brewing between Bolton and Rice over Syria came on October 18, when the State Department press corps was shocked to find that Rice had unexpectedly flown to New York to meet Annan. A State Department spokesman explained that the two met to “compare notes” in advance of a widely anticipated report by Detlev Mehlis, the secretary-general’s special investigator for the Hariri assassination.
Yet Bolton, the man in charge of the United States’ day-to-day operations at the UN, was conspicuously absent from that meeting. In what appears to have been less of an accident than a matter of intentional timing, Rice made her trip to New York on the very morning that Bolton had to be in Washington, testifying before the Senate on the progress (or lack thereof) of UN reforms.
The Prospect has further learned that, rather than forging Security Council strategy with America’s European allies at the UN building in New York, much of the diplomatic legwork has been carried out in Foggy Bottom.
On October 22, a French delegation from the UN traveled to Washington for initial discussions on the Syria resolution (later called Security Council Resolution 1636), of which the French were the original authors.
According to a diplomatic source, Bolton was not initially invited to that meeting. The French, however, insisted on his presence. So Bolton attended, but not without three chaperones: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, Welch’s deputy (and vice-presidential daughter) Elizabeth Cheney, and National Security Council Middle East chief Michael Doran.
“It’s like they stuck a strong team from the [State Department and National Security Council] to watch him,” said the diplomat.
Despite Rice’s tight oversight of the resolution negotiations, the unanimity of the council was still in doubt one day before the Security Council meeting. Finally, in a last-minute lunch meeting with her foreign-minister counterparts from the veto-wielding permanent five Security Council members, Rice personally removed references to sanctions that had been inserted by the United States. With those obstacles to unanimous consent gone, Resolution 1636 passed 15 to 0.
Rice’s involvement came after Bolton had won round one in the Syria battle. Bolton and Rice’s bureaucratic tiffs over Syria had actually boiled over two weeks prior to the Security Council vote. Journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, writing in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, reported — and the Prospect has independently confirmed — that Bolton had leaked to British newspapers that the Bush administration had signaled its willingness to offer Syria a “Libya-style deal” — a reference to Libyan President Muammar Quaddafi’s decision last year to give up pursuing weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism in return for a restoration of relations with the United States and the United Kingdom.
According to The Times of London, Syria responded positively to the secret U.S. offer, which was made through a third party. But after Bolton publicly aired the details of the potential deal — which would require Syria to cooperate with the Mehlis investigation, end interference in Lebanese affairs and alleged interference in Iraqi affairs, and cease supporting militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah — Damascus quickly denied that such a deal was in the offing.
“It is no secret that Mr. Bolton and Dr. Rice are not the closest friends,” a well-placed UN official told the Prospect. “Indeed, I’ve heard it said that the main reason he came here was that she didn’t want him in Foggy Bottom.”
In conversations with a senior State Department official, TWN has also confirmed that relations between John Bolton and Secretary Rice have grown more strained, and that while this individual was not surprised by the “confirmation” that Bolton worked to sabotage Rice’s Syria efforts, this information was certainly going to complicate their relationship and probably result in the State Department again deploying a “Put Bolton in the Box” effort much like former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson said had been applied when John Bolton was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Mark Goldberg then exposes Bolton’s pugnacious obsession with attempting to single-handedly shut down U.N. financing pending reform implementation.
The sad truth is that many of the reforms Bolton is seeking make a great deal of sense. The problem is that his manner and approach undermine his and America’s interests and objectives.
By December, a looming crisis over the UN budget was testing Bolton and Rice’s relationship once again. At the time of this writing, the United Nations was in chaos. Kofi Annan had just canceled a trip to Asia to oversee negotiations over the UN’s biennium budget, which was being derailed by an American threat to withhold support for the UN’s two-year operating budget until a number of management reforms are passed.
With a December 31 deadline looming, Bolton proposed that the world body adopt a three- or four-month interim budget — just enough time to force other member states to accept the reforms. These reforms are backed by Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the secretary-general himself. Yet Bolton’s strong-arm tactics led their representatives to warn that his proposal would starve the United Nations and disrupt other important UN business like peacekeeping operations.
The rumor mill at the Vienna Cafe has suggested that Bolton must have bypassed Rice and received support for holding the UN budget hostage from the President himself — a view widely held as the truth among UN diplomats. Regardless of the accuracy of this rumor, Bolton’s move is paradigmatic of his self-defeating approach to the UN: Instead of banding together with powerful allies, he alienates them.
And in doing so he empowers adversaries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other spoilers content with a UN that is tied in knots. Critics feared that Bolton’s tenure would be problematic for American interests. The evidence suggests it’s been even worse.
On the personnel front, Goldberg captures the “fear factor” to which Bolton treats his staff (TWN notes, however, that this tactic is used regularly in many offices in Washington. . .).
Bolton arrived at work, already living up to his boss-from-hell reputation. Eight months before, he had sent shivers down the spine of staffers at the United States Mission to the United Nations with an e-mail from his chief of staff saying he required a copy of everyone’s resume. By the time he set foot in his new office, morale was already low.
The Prospect has learned that Bolton’s first staff meeting did little to improve things: He told the roughly 100 people present that he wanted to personally sign off on every cable from the mission to Washington.
There can be up to five of these cables sent to Foggy Bottom each day, and though the ambassador technically signs them, in practice previous UN ambassadors would not normally read them all. “He wanted to get in the weeds,” said someone present at that meeting. “It seemed to be his way of scaring people.”
Given Bolton’s obsession with National Security Agency intercepts in his old job, TWN is not surprised by Goldberg’s finding about Bolton’s desire to micro-control his staff and get into the ‘roots’ of the weeds.
Besides demanding to eyeball every cable that went to Washington, Bolton stopped his staff at the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from traveling to Washington to confer and coordinate with State Department officials who worked in the same portfolio area. He also seriously curtailed the “representational funds” account that allows America’s U.N.-based foreign service staff to have lunch and dinner meetings and engage in the kind of meal and drinks-led public diplomacy that helps America secure what it wants from other foreign missions at the U.N.
What TWN finds most disturbing about Bolton’s efforts, however, was his effort during the Millennium Summit document preparation process to remove any references to disarmament, arms control, and nuclear non-proliferation.
As Mark Goldberg writes:
Bolton tried to purge the section concerning nonproliferation of any mention of disarmament. The alliance of Israel, India, and PakistanÃ¢â‚¬â€nuclear powers that are not parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — retorted by introducing language emphasizing disarmament and deleted references to the non-proliferation treaty.
“We could not get back the balance between nonproliferation and disarmament [from earlier drafts],” a European diplomat told Jim Wurst of the Global Security Newswire. Eventually the entire section was scrapped. By the time heads of state signed on to reforms, the document contained not a single word on nuclear nonproliferation, and had even lost its pledge to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.
John Bolton has two weeks of paid employment in his UN job left this year and then a full work year of 365 days in 2006, plus a few extra days until the next Congress convenes in January 2007.
His term will then end, by law — if not earlier by his resignation or via a “nudging out the door” by the Secretary of State who promised Senator George Voinovich she would “manage him.”
John Bolton is not perceived at home or abroad to be the legitimate Ambassador of this country to the United Nations without confirmation from the United States Senate. The President may want Bolton to hold his position without the legitimating seal of approval of the Senate, but the damage he is now doing needs to be contained.
It’s time to limit Bolton’s freedom of movement and encourage Bob Zoellick to do what Richard Armitage and Lawrence Wilkerson did for the Secretary of State for whom they worked — shut Bolton down.
— Steve Clemons