Pick up nearly any major paper in the United States today and there is a front page story on the implications of Colin Powell discreetly sharing his thoughts on John Bolton’s past behavior and performance with Senators Hagel and Chafee.
Senator Chafee — who has become visibly more aggressive in pursuing questions about Bolton — has indicated that Powell’s comments do not help Bolton’s nomination.
Here is an excerpt from an article by Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright in the Washington Post today:
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.
Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton’s confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
“General Powell has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised,” said Margaret Cifrino, a Powell spokeswoman. “He has not reached out to senators,” and considers the discussions private.
A spokesman for Chafee confirmed that at least two conversations took place. Bolton served under Powell as his undersecretary of state for arms control, and the two were known to have serious clashes.
Powell’s tenure as secretary of state was often marked by friction with the White House on a range of foreign policy issues, disagreements that both sides worked to keep from surfacing. It is not Powell’s style to weigh in strongly against a former colleague, but rather to direct people to what he sees as flaws and potential problems, former associates say. Powell’s views are highly influential with many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Those who know Powell best said two recent events provide insight into his thinking. Powell did not sign a letter from seven other former U.S. secretaries of state or defense supporting Bolton, and his former chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, recently told the New York Times that Bolton would be an “abysmal ambassador.”
I have a good source who made clear that before Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, went public with his own views of the Bolton nomination, he cleared it not with Powell — but with Rich Armitage.
Armitage is to Powell what Alexander Hamilton was to George Washington.
His deft maneuvering is clear in the growing momentum against John Bolton, and while progressive activists have helped create some political space for Democrats and some Republicans to potentially oppose Bolton, Armitage has now cleared the space for moderate Republicans, sensible “ethical realists” who care belive that American national interests coincide with credible global engagement, to oppose Bolton’s nomination as being “wrong-headed” for the Republican party.
I am soon going to be writing more about Richard Armitage — whose views on Japan and Asia do not entirely coincide with my own — but who nonetheless has been an unrecognized hero in many’s eyes for the key role in played in helping to stop a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. I have more on that story and will be posting that soon.
In addition, TWN has also learned that John Bolton was “practically oblivious,” according to one senior State Department official, to any of the intelligence or activities regarding the A.Q. Khan network — that Bolton so often takes credit for as part of the portfolio of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
TWN has learned that the A.Q. Khan network was really rolled up by three key U.S. government officials — Richard Armitage, George Tenet, and John Wolf.
— Steve Clemons