I have spoken to several current and former senior foreign policy officials yesterday and this morning regarding John Bolton. Their chorus is the same.
They report that Colin Powell and Richard Armitage hated dealing with Bolton and that Powell did not want Bolton on his team. No one trusts him. He is lustful for power and position, disdainful of process, and frequently sees it as his right and obligation to “make his own weather” when it comes to foreign policy.
One of the more interesting tidbits I picked up in these conversations — with several people — is that John Bolton regularly and frequently defied command and control within the State Department. The first major example of this flamboyant disregard for authority above him — disregard for Secretary of State Powell and the White House — was Bolton’s August 2001 announcement to Russian media that Russia had a deadline of November 2001 to accomodate the U.S. position on ballistic missile defense testing or the U.S. would initiate abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Several sources report that Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were livid that Bolton had threatened (intentially or unintentionally) the Russians with a deadline — and more importantly, had taken the lead himself (without vested authority) to argue under what terms the United States would abrogate the ABM treaty. According to insiders, Bolton had gotten ahead of the process and had spoken too early — particularly when Bush was trying to “play nice” with Russia.
The fact is that the United States, by order of President Bush, did initiate formal abrogation proceedings of the ABM Treaty in December 2001. John Bolton also later withdrew his comments to the Russian media — and even denied making them, though the media certainly heard what he said.
What I had not heard previously is the high level of consternation within the State Department and the National Security Council because of Bolton’s cavalier behavior and failure to adhere to process and diplomatic rules when it came to speaking on behalf of the President of the United States on such an important treaty.
Some will consider this an argument over semantics as the outcome of America suspending its participation in the ABM Treaty would not have changed had Bolton followed protocol.
But these semantic issues are important if Bolton, a loose cannon on many occasions, is vested with the authority of serving as Ambassador to the U.N. and negotiating with other major players about U.N. reform.
He did not represent the President of the United States nor the citizens of this nation well when it came to ending America’s ABM Treaty obligations.
He is a loose cannon who wants to call his own shots. This is not what the President needs or should want. It’s what ‘Move America Forward’ wants.
It is what Condoleeza Rice and Bob Zoellick fear — and is why they are already piling up the sandbags to protect themselves from Bolton.
— Steve Clemons