Note to Lamar Alexander: Look Further. Don’t Fall into Trap of Trivializing Concerns on Bolton


If folks feel like making calls, Lamar Alexander would be a good person with whom to have a discussion on John Bolton.
His number is (202)224-4944.
Senator Alexander is a thoughtful, balanced person. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for some time now, and I’m very supportive of his efforts to find ways in which to support more spending in counties that have drastically lower levels of education spending per child than urban areas. He is a big thinker, believes in experimenting with policy structures and initiatives to achieve “something that works” rather than being “ideologically correct.” His words.
He is a Republican from Tennessee, a former Secretary of Education, and a several time candidate for President of the United States. He has the sensibilities of a moderate Republican, and if he dug into John Bolton’s file a bit, he would see that the problems with John Bolton are not just optical, and not just bad behavior — which seems to have been the impression that Lamar Alexander has of the nation’s “John Bolton problem.”
Reuters made a comment on Lamar Alexander this morning:

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Foreign Relations Committee member, said in a statement testimony about Bolton’s behavior “might be a bit of a lesson to Mr. Bolton and a reminder to the rest of us of how unattractive it is to shout at an associate or unnecessarily dress down a staff member.”
But Alexander said he was sticking by his support for Bolton.

There may be some principled reasons why someone might want to stand by Mr. Bolton to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. I don’t have a good fix on what those reasons might be, but what I do know is that Lamar Alexander — who is a sensible, educated, thoughtful man — knows in his mind and his heart that this Battle over Bolton is not about “unattractive behavior.”
Let me recommend to the Senator’s staff, that they read and then provide to the Senator the following important summary of the most recent Bolton issues by Douglas Jehl of the New York Times

A fourth senior member of Colin L. Powell’s team at the State Department expressed strong reservations on Friday about the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.
The official, A. Elizabeth Jones, is a veteran diplomat who stepped down in February as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. Among those who have now voiced public concerns about Mr. Bolton, Ms. Jones joins Lawrence Wilkerson, Mr. Powell’s chief of staff; Carl W. Ford, Jr., who headed the department’s intelligence bureau; and John R. Wolf, who was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. Associates of Mr. Powell have said he has expressed concerns of his own in private conversations with at least two Republican senators.
“I don’t know if he’s incapable of negotiation, but he’s unwilling,” Ms. Jones said in an interview. She said she believed that “the fundamental problem,” if Mr. Bolton were to become United Nations ambassador, would be a reluctance on his part to make the kinds of minor, symbolic concessions necessary to build consensus among other governments and maintain the American position.
Ms. Jones spoke as the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is reviewing Mr. Bolton’s nomination, was holding closed-door interviews with former senior intelligence officials who clashed with Mr. Bolton during his tenure as under secretary of state for arms control. Congressional officials who heard the testimony said John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy director of central intelligence, used strong language on Friday in telling the group that he regarded as totally inappropriate an attempt by Mr. Bolton in 2002 to seek the ouster of Fulton Armstrong, the national intelligence officer for Latin America, in a dispute over reports on Cuba.
Among others interviewed on Friday was Stuart Cohen, who at the time was Mr. Armstrong’s supervisor as the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The clash over Cuba between Mr. Bolton and his staff on one hand and intelligence officials on the other is a central focus of the committee as it weighs allegations that Mr. Bolton inappropriately sought to put pressure on intelligence officials to make judgments that reflected his policy views.
Among new disclosures under committee review are some included in previously undisclosed testimony by Mr. Armstrong, now a senior C.I.A. official. Within days of Mr. Bolton’s delivering a speech in May 2002 that warned of attempts by Cuba to develop biological weapons, Mr. Armstrong has told the committee, the Central Intelligence Agency took the rare step of circulating within the Bush administration a classified assessment that was more cautious than Mr. Bolton’s approach.
By July 2002, Mr. Bolton had requested the transfer of both Mr. Armstrong and a second intelligence officer, Christian Westermann of the State Department, with whom he had clashed on the matter. Mr. Cohen and Alan Foley, a C.I.A. official who headed the agency’s weapons proliferation intelligence unit and was interviewed on Thursday, have both told the committee that Mr. Bolton informed them that he wanted to see Mr. Armstrong removed from his portfolio. Mr. Bolton has testified that he had sought the two analysts’ removal because he had lost confidence in them.

Lamar Alexander is unusual because he has served in so many distinguished executive positions — and he understands what a real problem is as compared to an artificial or partisan debate. I would really quit this effort against John Bolton if I thought that the reasons for opposing him were primarily behavioral.
I think that his behavioral quirks and temper are focused in such a way as to make him a loose cannon in national security. He has lied to Congress frequently and not just recently. He pounds people and institutions to give him validation of preconceived and ideologically correct (from his view) intelligence so that he could run crusades against other nations. The problem is that he refused to work in partnership with the other diplomatic and intelligence operations of the U.S. government and frequently undermined them.
Senator Alexander was Governor of Tennessee. He was Secretary of Education. He knows what it is to run an agency or executive operation with someone like John Bolton operating at odds with all others around him. Bolton’s credentials are not impeccable, and he is not someone this nation can feel proud of in this position.
I think that if Lamar Alexander considers this a bit more — and looks into the dossier in a serious way — he may reconsider his support for Mr. Bolton.
Let me suggest two things — one to TWN readers, and another to Senator Alexander’s staff.
First, I do think that Senator Alexander should hear from people who care about this issue. Call him, but be polite and respectful. Encourage the Senator to reconsider his position and to realize that the issues about Bolton have little to do with “tantrums.”
I would really appreciate it if someone out there might fax the Senator’s office this entry from The Washington Note. I won’t do it — but others can feel free to do so. His fax number is (202)228-3398.
Sometimes it’s good to address faxes to the Chief of Staff, Director of Communications, and Foreign Policy Legislative Assistant.
On another front, I strongly encourage the Senator’s staff to reach out to Colin Powell for some broader discussion about Mr. Bolton. I think Secretary Powell will make clear in two sentences to the Senator that this is not about Bolton’s intemperate behavior.
The Senator’s former Staff Director of the Children and Families Subcommittee, Marguerite Sallee, is now the new President & CEO of America’s Promise, of which Colin Powell is founding Chairman.
I have not spoken to Marguerite — who is an outstanding champion of children’s educational and caring needs — but she might make an ideal channel to Secretary Powell, though of course the Senator can reach anyone he wants on his own. I just wanted to suggest that worlds blur, and some of Lamar Alexander’s world could easily be informed by those raising other concerns about John Bolton than the cosmetic.
Please encourage Senator Alexander to talk with Colin Powell, with John Whitehead, with Brent Scowcroft, with John Danforth, with any of the key witnesses that have come forward at great personal risk in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to expose John Bolton’s record.
This is not a partisan appeal. This is a call for sensible, ethical, informed judgment on whether John Bolton is “fit” for this job or not — and in my view, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has responsibilities to the citizens of the country to protect their interests.
The Committee also has a responsibility to the President of the United States to inform him when he has made a bad decision, as the President clearly has in John Bolton’s nomination. The Senate’s role is what in part keeps America from tilting towards the trappings of monarchy.
— Steve Clemons