I've been mulling over a post on John Bolton for a while, but what with work and all, I only just got around to starting it when I found this article in the Washington Post:
"John R. Bolton -- who is seeking confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran, according to current and former officials who have worked with Bolton.
In some cases, career officials found back channels to Powell or his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, who encouraged assistant secretaries to bring information directly to him. In other cases, the information was delayed for weeks or simply did not get through. The officials, who would discuss the incidents only on the condition of anonymity because some continue to deal with Bolton on other issues, cited a dozen examples of memos or information that Bolton refused to forward during his four years as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Two officials described a memo that had been prepared for Powell at the end of October 2003, ahead of a critical international meeting on Iran, informing him that the United States was losing support for efforts to have the U.N. Security Council investigate Iran's nuclear program. Bolton allegedly argued that it would be premature to throw in the towel. "When Armitage's staff asked for information about what other countries were thinking, Bolton said that information couldn't be collected," according to one official with firsthand knowledge of the exchange.
Intra-agency tensions are common in Washington, and as the undersecretary of state in charge of nuclear issues, Bolton had a lot of latitude to decide what needed to go to the secretary. But career officials said they often felt that his decisions, and policy views, left the department's top diplomat uninformed and fed the long-running struggles inside the agency.
Bolton's time at the State Department under Rice has been brief. But authoritative officials said Bolton let her go on her first European trip without knowing about the growing opposition there to Bolton's campaign to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear agency. "She went off without knowing the details of what everybody else was saying about how they were not going to join the campaign," according to a senior official. Bolton has been trying to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is perceived by some within the Bush administration as too soft on Iran."
This is one instance of a general concern I have about Bolton, which I'll explain below the fold.
One of the most important qualities that an ambassador to the UN needs, it seems to me, is the ability to distinguish clearly between his own views and US policy, and the willingness to present US policy accurately, even when he disagrees with it. An ambassador who is a tactless boor may not win us any friends, but an ambassador who seriously misstates our policies to further his own agenda can do much more serious damage.
There are several incidents in John Bolton's record that suggest that he does not have this ability. The two most important are summarized in this Washington Times article (sorry for the long quote):
"Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage were incensed at Bolton's August 2001 comments to Russian media implying the United States was setting a deadline for Russia to agree to modifications of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty or face U.S. abrogation. Bolton denied making the comments, suggesting that he was misunderstood, and the situation was "walked back." However, the senior State Department hierarchy was on edge about Bolton's behavior and his reckless disregard for process and protocol when it came to key national-security and official foreign-policy pronouncements.
Bolton engaged in constant "brinksmanship" with those who had to clear his speeches. Despite his expressing some distance from the process in his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings Monday, reports abound that Bolton was obsessed with getting his speeches cleared throughout the halls of government in the language he wanted to use. If he was stifled, or if a line or section of a speech was not cleared, he would engage in battles with the people involved and frequently go to their senior managers. Bolton was attempting and succeeding at vigorously eroding controls on him and constantly fought those who were trying to censor or direct his language so as to be consistent with the substance as well as the nuances of U.S. foreign policy.
Bolton's commentary and offhand remarks regarding North Korea, its behavior and leadership were viewed to be the single-largest factor inhibiting progress in the six-party talks that the Bush administration has expressly stated are among its highest priorities. While love and affection of North Korea's "Dear Leader" -- as Kim Jong Il is referred to by his people -- may not have been appropriate, Bolton was constantly throwing barbs and grenades into the process.
As I understand it, Powell finally decided "enough was enough" and via Armitage ordered North Korean Envoy and Chief Negotiator Charles "Jack" Pritchard to communicate to the frequently riled North Koreans that the only two sources and "voices" of U.S. foreign policy to whom they should listen were the president of the United States and the secretary of state. It was communicated to the North Koreans that no other voices within the State Department or the U.S. government reflected or could convey official U.S. policy when it came to North Korea.
There are classified diplomatic notes that reflect Powell's orders. While not mentioning Bolton, their intent is obvious: to remove from the U.S.-North Korea arena as well as the delicate and fragile six-party talks any involvement from or impact by John Bolton.
Comments from various senior staff at the State Department report that at the beginning Bolton's speeches were "taken on line-by-line." Some said, however, "There was always a fight."
But when the now-infamous July 31, 2003, speech Bolton delivered in Seoul was making its early rounds for clearance, Jack Pritchard reportedly refused to sign off on it -- and he wasn't alone. One official said there were about "43 line items" in the speech that needed to be challenged and expunged. Another said Pritchard and Armitage felt that the speech was coming too close to the launch of the first round of the six-party talks.
Bolton began his trip before the clearance process had been concluded, and his speech was primarily drafted while he was traveling. It was a speech that all parties involved in the six-party talks felt was anathema to everything the Bush administration was trying to accomplish.
Although I don't have a State Department document indicating Pritchard's refusal to sign off on any aspect of the speech, several key players in the foreign-policy effort with North Korea have said it was not cleared, directly contradicting Bolton's claims during his first round of hearings Monday. (...)
After Bolton gave his uncleared speech, "A Dictatorship at the Crossroads," in Seoul on July 31, 2003, the North Korean leadership in turn called him "human scum."
By this point, Bolton's speech and commentary had seriously undermined the agreement reached with North Korea to launch the first meeting of the six-party talks in Beijing. All parties on the U.S. side of this arrangement knew that Bolton was off the reservation.
Bolton yesterday said that it was not he who worked against the Bush administration's foreign policy -- but rather Jack Pritchard.
After Bolton's speech the angry North Koreans demanded a meeting with Pritchard in New York, and in consultations with his senior managers Pritchard reportedly put into full force what Powell had declared before: No one but the president or the secretary of state could announce U.S. policy when it came to North Korean affairs.
What I have learned from several sources very close to these talks is that the following occurred -- and all of this is contained in classified diplomatic notes that members and staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can access.
Pritchard was treated to a tirade as the North Koreans railed against Bolton and his comments. Reportedly, Pritchard refused to mention Bolton's name or to comment on his remarks in any way.
What Pritchard did do was to underscore what Powell and Armitage had stated previously -- that U.S. policy was only articulated by the president and secretary of state, no one else. Therefore, there was no change in U.S. policy. The date of the first meeting had not been changed -- nor the venue, which was set in Beijing.
When the classified diplomatic note from this meeting made its way around senior circles in the State Department, Bolton hit the roof.
Bolton erupted in anger, reportedly, because Pritchard had failed to defend him to the North Koreans.
This is incredible, and should serve to dramatically underscore some senators' concerns about Bolton's reckless behavior, his intimidation tactics and his tendency to undermine those who are working hard to implement Bush administration policy if it runs counter to his own views. This is the mega-loose cannon story.
John Bolton was angry and sought retribution against someone for not defending his honor -- rather than thinking about the much more important diplomatic objectives of the Bush administration at hand."
The job of an ambassador is to represent our policy effectively. The absolute worst person for the job would be someone who goes off the reservation and gives speeches designed either to make it seem that our policy is something that it is not, or to force our government's hand. John Bolton seems to do this a lot; and now we find that he has prevented information from getting to his superiors when it suits his ideological agenda. Someone who does this places his ideology above the interests of the country, and we should not allow such a person to represent us.
But there are other reasons to think he'd be a bad choice. Ambassadors practice diplomacy, and one part of diplomacy is getting people to do what you want them to do. There are, in general, three ways to do this. The first is pure persuasion: convincing the other party that they should do what you want them to do. The second is to offer them inducements for doing what you want. The third is to threaten bad consequences if they don't do what you want.
John Bolton would have a much more difficult time than most people engaging in pure persuasion. He has, after all, said that the UN doesn't really exist, that its actions should be largely dictated by the US, that no other country should have a seat at the Security Council, and that the US should use it when it suits our purposes and otherwise ignore it. These remarks are not likely to endear him to the people he will be dealing with at the UN, and as a result he will have to overcome an enormous handicap in order to persuade them to see things his way. Moreover, nothing anyone has said about him suggests that charm is his long suit.
Inducements are out: Bolton has said "I don't do carrots", and his record suggests that we should take him at his word. But that leaves only threats in his diplomatic repertoire; and working with only one of the three available tools of diplomacy is like wrestling with all but one of your limbs tied behind your back. Besides, of the three possible ways of getting someone to do what one wants, threats are not the one I would choose to use first. Pure persuasion is clearly the best, since it involves no sacrifice on our part and also builds up good will. Inducements are next, at least when they don't amount to paying blackmail: we have to give something up, but at least we're not making enemies. There are times when we should use threats, but the idea of having no other means at our disposal is really not a good one.
Another part of diplomacy is trying to build up a general store of good will towards your country, so that when you need to ask other countries to help out in some way, convincing them is as easy as possible. I think it's obvious that John Bolton would not be particularly good at this. I mean, we're talking about someone who, after a reasonably senior job in government, could not get a job as a lobbyist because he was so abrasive:
"After his stint at USAID, Bolton went in 1985 to Ed Meese's Justice Department as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs—in effect, Justice's lobbyist in Congress. By 1988, according to Washington lawyers and published accounts, Bolton was itching to leave government service for the world of high-priced lobbying. Yet Bolton stayed on at Justice, moving laterally to head the department's civil division, for a reason almost unheard of in a town that worships at the altar of the revolving door: No one would hire him to work as a lobbyist.
Why? According to a March 1988 Legal Times article, while many of the dozen-plus lobbying firms Bolton interviewed with acknowledged his formidable intellect, they nonetheless saw him as a liability on account of an "abrasive and combative tone [that has] cost him friends on Capitol Hill." As one source told the paper, "There's a demeanor that's required, and he doesn't have it." Or, as a longtime member of the D.C. bar puts it: "You can take up for your administration and toe its line before Congress without being an asshole. Bolton seemed to think being an asshole was essential to his job. And the fact that he was an asshole on a number of issues that would have made anyone advocating them seem like an asshole to begin with didn't help." " (cite)
Some people have argued that John Bolton would be a good ambassador to the UN because we need to deliver a tough message to them, and he's just the guy to do it. I think this is wrong. We need someone who is prepared to be tough when necessary, but who is sufficiently in control of his or her toughness to be able to deploy it effectively. Both Daniel Patrick Monihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick were such people. John Bolton is not. He is tough when it's necessary, tough when it's not necessary, and tough when it's downright disastrous. This means, among other things, that it will be a lot harder for people to take his tough talk seriously: they can always just dismiss it on the grounds that, unfortunately, he is just a rude and abrasive person who hates the UN. To think that we should appoint him because he talks tough makes no more sense than thinking that Richard Nixon's 'madman' theory (that it is in our interests for our enemies to think that our President is just crazy enough to start a nuclear war) is a reason to elect a President who is, literally, insane.
Condoleeza Rice says that Bolton would be a good choice because he "knows how to get things done". However, the evidence doesn't support this either. Bolton has been serving as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security since May 2001. That period has not been exactly a success in terms of arms control. North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. Iran is doing ominous things. Libya has given up its nuclear program, but that is, to me, more than outweighed by the developments in North Korea and Iran. It may be that there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent these developments. However, we can at least say that if there was something that could have prevented them, John Bolton didn't do it. Moreover, as some of the material quoted earlier makes clear, his effect on our efforts to find a way to prevent North Korea from moving forward with its nuclear program was completely counterproductive. (One of our problems in dealing with North Korea, as I understand it, was that there was an unresolved conflict about how to proceed that paralyzed US policy for something like a year at a very crucial point. John Bolton was central to that conflict, and to the resulting policy paralysis.)
However, there's one specific area in which Bolton clearly and inexplicably screwed things up: securing Russian loose nukes. (I wrote about this here.) The basic points are obvious: Osama bin Laden wants to acquire nuclear weapons. One would think that after 9/11, preventing him from getting them would have been a pretty urgent priority. By far the biggest stock of loosely guarded nuclear weapons is in Russia. Yet the amount of Russian nuclear material secured during the two years after 9/11 was actually lower than the amount secured during the two years before 9/11; and the funding for securing Russian loose nukes was basically unchanged after 9/11.
This was John Bolton's responsibility. I cannot imagine what could have been more urgent than keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Yet neither before 9/11 nor, amazingly, after did he accelerate our attempts to secure the largest store of loose nukes on the planet. Think about it. And then ask yourself: why on earth would we think that he is a person who "knows how to get things done"?
My best guess, for what it's worth, is the following. John Bolton was, by all accounts, Dick Cheney's guy in the State Department, and he spent his time there working at cross purposes with the rest of the State Department. Condoleeza Rice, I suspect, did not want to have him around wreaking havoc, and since, unlike Colin Powell, she is close to the President, she got her way. But he had to be sent somewhere, and given some more or less prestigious job; thus the UN ambassadorship. I have also read that some people in the administration believe that there will be a conflict in the UN about Iran in a few months, and they want Bolton there to knock heads. In any case, he gives new meaning to the phrase "wrong man for the job", and in my view the Committee on Foreign Relations would do us all an immense favor by voting him down.