Inside Washington, National Journal, 30 April 2005
Washington: Take Note of Who Is Joltin’ Bolton
Although the nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is still pending, it is not too early to begin naming this fight’s heroes and villains (depending on one’s political persuasion). Robert A. George, an editorial writer for the New York Post, already has his pick: Steve Clemons of Washington’s New America Foundation.
“If Bolton ends up going down, the person almost single-handedly responsible for it will be Clemons,” George wrote on his blog, Ragged Thots, on April 20. “He has been pushing the Bolton-is-unfit/untrustworthy meme with the intensity of a pit bull with its teeth in someone’s leg.” George is among many insiders crediting Clemons, a former exec at the Economic Strategy Institute and an aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., for joltin’ Bolton. Clemons’s blog, The Washington Note, has been relentless and thorough in presenting criticism of, and evidence against, President Bush’s neocon nominee.
I appreciate the early scoring of effort, but I also want to emphasize that there is a large group of people — liberal, conservative, and centrist — who have each played a key role in bringing the opposition to John Bolton’s nomination where it has come.
This is actually no time to sort out the score. Bush maintained his support for Bolton in last night’s press conference, referring to him as a “blunt guy.”
Here is a good treatment of the essentials of Bush’s comments on MSNBC:
“John Bolton’s a blunt guy,” he said at a White House news conference. “Sometimes people say I’m a little too blunt.”
But Bush added; “If we expect the United Nations to be effective, it needs to clean up its problems. And I think it makes sense to have somebody representing the United States who will be straightforward about the issues.”
Bush described Bolton as someone who will not be “afraid to speak his mind at the United Nations.”
Bush and his top aides have been scrambling to put Bolton’s nomination on track after Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were forced to postpone his confirmation vote because of a defection in their ranks.
I feel like we are back in an age of American style Politburo-watching, trying to assess “degrees of support” that the premier and the power-wing of the party may have for someone, or whether that support is dissipating. That said, Bush’s comments of support had none of the enthusiasm that he elicited the other day, and certainly has not matched the intensity of ongoing support from Cheney.
Bush was being cautious — and that is a good thing.
George Bush also knows the difference between theatrical and flamboyant toughness — versus effectiveness. Why he is pushing Bolton for his ability to mount a public tirade — rather than pushing someone who has demonstrated a capacity to use stern resolve behind closed doors, producing results that are good for the nation and potentially for reform of the United Nations — is beyond me.
In August 2004, George Bush himself began slipping into Bolton-style ad hominem references to North Korea’s leader, calling him a “tyrant” repeatedly. Kim Jong Il is a tyrant; that’s as clear as day. But when American diplomats are tasked with negotiating with a tyrannical regime building a nuclear weapons program, rhetoric needs to make way for diplomacy and space to create an outcome that safeguards American interests.
When Bush was counseled about the fact that his comments “were not helpful” to the process, George Bush actually STOPPED making such references and stopped undermining the efforts of his national security bureacracy to try and get something done with the North Koreans.
John Bolton has never demonstrated such discipline, and is Cheney’s dressed-up Wolf-in-Sheep’s Clothing to actually undermine American engagement in the institution. Bolton’s proponents hope this is the case — and his opponents also know it.
More to come.
— Steve Clemons