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April 18, 2005


Ideology aside, everything I read about this character indicates that he's a bad manager and poor communicator. He doesn't seem to have the mettle to run the morning shift at a McDonalds.

If the stakes weren't so high, I'd advocate approving him so that we could sit back and watch his autoasphyxiation.

Having read this piece I think all good Democrats should step aside and allow the Bush administration to appoint the diplomat they want and deserve to the U.N.

(I want to point out pre-emptively that there is good reason to think that no one will take seriously anything a Bush appointed diplomat has to say anyway, so I think the likelyhood of serious damage to American interests from this appointment is quite low.)

Something more worthy of the attention of this blogs regulars is Unqualified Offerings latest post on Sgrena.

I'm trying to figure out the stakes, exactly. If the man goes to the UN, would anybody talk to him? It seems pretty clear to me that given the guy's record and personality, all of the UN diplomats would start deal with Rice instead--if they wanted to talk to the Americans, that is. His presence would make the UN less efficient, probably; Bolton would have a platform to make repugnant ideological declarations. But haven't we already squandered irredemebly that part of the international "good will" that could have been built by sweet talking and strategic concessions?

Frank is likely referring to this post by Jim Henley. CEO summary: The US didn't allow the Italians to inspect the car, Henley thinks it stinks. He writes well, of course. I'm a bit surprised though that he's surprised, not that I'm proud of my outrage fatigue.

JM brings up a good point, if I understand him correctly: that Bolton can't really do the US much more damage with the UN than has already been done.

It might not matter so much that Bolton is an obvious, even (proudly) acknowledged, whacko who abuses underlings and facts with equal nonchalance; and who supports American foreign policy objectives when it suits him, and undermines them when it does not. Those seem to be points in his favor, as far as the Bush Admin and its supporters are concerned. Having Bolton as the US Ambassador could possibly make the UN more, not less, efficient, as it would save the UN from even having to pretend to take anything we say seriously.

It will be interesting to see Bolton try to make a case for military action against Iran or N Korea, though, as I'm not sure he could sell space heaters to Eskimos.

Jackmormon: I think the stakes are as follows. First, there's always more ill will to be needlessly created, and he's just the guy to create it. Second, the UN really does need reform, and it would help immeasurably if we sent someone who would help it be the best reform it could possibly be. Only my innate caution keeps me from thinking that he's the worst person on earth to do that.

But then there are the actual issues that the UN deals with, where trying to work out a solution really is important. Darfur leaps to mind. Someone imaginative who played well with others might be able to put something together. Or if not on Darfur, then on some other problem that comes up. There are all sorts of little issues that come through the UN, and when they are neither catastrophes on a Darfur scale nor in a part of the world we pay attention to, we don't tend to notice, but doing those things well does matter.

Hilzoy- Here is where I think you are missing the point: "Someone imaginative who played well with others might be able to put something together. Or if not on Darfur, then on some other problem that comes up."

What you are failing to understand here is that the Bush administration doesn't want someone "able to put something together", thats exactly the opposite of what they want. They didn't chose him despite his public views on the U.N. they chose him because<-b> he publicly expresses their storyline that the U.N. is worthless.

If he helped the U.N. to reform or was able do use it to accomplish desirable ends it would undermine the storyline the Bush administration wishes to sell the U.S. public on.

Liberals may cause the Bush administration to chose a candidate who won't rub our noses in what they want for the U.N. We will not change the Bush administration's policy on diplomacy.

rilkefan- I don't think that he's surprised. (Jim Henley) I think he's aware enough of the classics to know that nations which treat their allies with such utter contempt are not far from the final fall.

They didn't chose him despite his public views on the U.N. they chose him because he publicly expresses their storyline that the U.N. is worthless.

Which raises the question of whether Bolton's choice is directed at foreign policy and the UN, or whether it's directed towards 51% of the American electorate.

Anarch- Well obviously I think the latter, though it certainly makes a statement to the rest of the world as well. It reminds me of presidential medal awards a lot actually.

Anarch- I feel I should clarify, possibly when you said 51% you might have been refering to Bush voters, where I mean Kerry voters. President Bush enjoys rubbing our faces in the dirt, and pushing political opponents into frenzies of rage over essentially symbolic issues can serve the canny demogogue well.

Data point on how much the rest of the world cares if we nominate a proven ideological jerk: I tried--in a desultory way, mind you--to find press coverage of the Bolton confirmation hearings in Le Monde and came up with very little besides a couple of Reuters translations. (Wolfowitz, on the other hand, they're fascinated by.)

You're right, hilzoy, on all the substantive, principled reasons this nomination is just plain awful. The worst, for me, is the evidence that Bolton has spoken in his official capacity for private ends. Here's the thing, though: at the end of the day, I'm not convinced that a lack of sincere US involvement at the UN will necessarily scuttle the whole thing. If the other member states collectively decide that dealing with the punk US ambassador isn't worth it, but that something needs to be done about Darfur, I'm hoping they'll do it, and let the US, the self-appointed agent of history, look like a chump for sitting on the sidelines, worrying about which sliver of the 51% majority might object. If someone as awful as Bolton is elected, the UN member states might give up on the US as a reasonable international actor and instead use their own political capital in the UN venue to address politically and logistically nightmarish problems. I do not want to have to believe that the efficacy of the UN depends on the vote of a couple of fence-sitting US senators.

But again, I recognize that the duty of those of us here within the country who care about the UN is to object strenuously to Bolton's nomination. Hereby I declare: John Bolton sucks and is ruining this world body.

"Bush administration doesn't want someone "able to put something together", thats exactly the opposite of what they want."

Not saying you are wrong, but unless John Danforth was simply given a prize for loyal service, Danforth is a possible data point in opposition to that view. As much a conciliator as possible for a Bush appointment.

Even if Danforth's appointment was a prize, he's still such a decent fellow, that one cannot seriously argue that we're at the nadir in terms of respect at the UN. What I find fascinating is that idea that a confrontational bully is the right guy to be on-the-ground helping voluntary reform get going. In my experience, confrontational bullies are generally counterproductive, inasmuch as the people they are bullying spend more time resenting, resisting, and/or subverting than they would trying to find some kind of compromise that moves forward.

If you want solutions from (and to) the UN send a statesman. If you want theatrical but ineffective confrontation, though, they've got the right guy.

I feel like I am watching some Fifties sit com Bolton Knows Best

Frank, and to a lesser extent Jackmormon: Think about the actual day-to-day operations of the UN. It has, first of all, a lot of agencies that are not the Security Council or the General Assembly, and some of them, like the WHO, do a lot of good. "reforming" them in the wrong way, or undercutting their effectiveness, would be a bad thing. Bolton seems to be just the guy to do this.

Second, there are all sorts of little brushfires that might turn into something more major, but then again might not, depending on how one handles them, and to some extent on luck. Precisely because most people aren't paying attention to them, they are unlikely to trigger responses based on domestic politics; but by the same token, they are unlikely to get high-level attention. I don't think the Bush administration is actively opposed to working these out; my sense is rather that many people in the administration don't care one way or the other, and would be quite happy if all these little problems just went away. Bolton is not the guy to deftly deal with them. And this is serious, since the little brushfires of today generally include in their number the nightmares of tomorrow. (Consider Rwanda: the UN had been actively involved for a number of years before the genocide started. Obviously, it could have done a much better job.) How many nightmares depends a lot on people's skill in putting them out at the brushfire stage. Bolton does not seem to me to have these skills.

It is of course true that people could just go around him, and no doubt would. But if any of you have worked in an environment in which something like this happens -- in which one of the major channels through which X should be done is blocked, and people have to find other means -- you'll know that this is really not a good solution. For one thing, it makes the extent of a country's contacts elsewhere in State even more crucial than it would otherwise be: connected countries can get their problems dealt with, but unconnected countries will not be able to do so. If only all the world's problems would be nice enough to confine themselves to connected countries for the duration of Bolton's tenure, everything would be fine, but they are unlikely to do so.

Third, I don't think the Bush administration is always opposed to diplomacy. They have, for instance, done really good work on ending the North/South civil war in Sudan. On those occasions when they do want to work something out, though, Bolton will at best be no help at all. And if you think about SUdan alone, the cost of not making peace there would be huge.

Finally, Bolton has a track record of using his position to try to derail policy initiatives he doesn't like. (See the Six Party talks with North Korea.) The UN ambassadorship would give him a great platform from which to do this, which I think he should be denied. Again, if you imagine that his destructive influence was limited to the single issue of North Korea, that all by itself would make him a disaster.

I should also add two points that I left out of the original post. First, the relevance of the Post story is: not only can't we count on Bolton not to misstate US policy to the world for his own ends, we also can't count on him to adequately inform his superiors about anything anyone else is doing. His problems as a conduit of information go both ways, and this can be really damaging.

Second, I forgot to say: of course, he won't be trusted to accurately portray US intelligence to the rest of the UN, given the stories about his having pressured analysts who gave him the wrong information. And we need to rebuild our credibility, not damage it further.

And, the very last point, I promise: Steve Clemons has a new story up. Key sentence: "Bolton was so paranoid about what his perceived enemies inside the State Department were doing to constrain him that he allegedly began to spy on them."

Bolton is a remittance man.

There's so little outcry over the latest revelations (about Bolton blocking info he didn't like or agree with from reaching the Secretary of State) that I think the GOP Senators will approve his nomination for the specific purpose of getting Bolton out of the Administration.

Bolton has a powerful patron (Cheney) and they have to put him somewhere nice. If he doesn't go to the UN, he could wind up on Cheney's staff, where he can keep on sabotaging State.

Rice is perfectly well aware of this; she's excluded Bolton from policy discussions about Iran since she took over in January. She probably figures Bolton can do less damage at the UN than in the WH, in any capacity.

Bolton looks more and more like those 'unsuitable' sons of 19th C. European nobility, who were sent to far-off places (notably, the American frontier) so they wouldn't cause their aristocratic famlies any more grief. Those subsidized refugees were called 'remittance men.'

And more evidence against Bolton -- as well as, indirectly, the Administration's campaign for war -- begins to pile up.

Sounds like he's a goner - no committee vote now, no vote for three weeks, Voinovich against him.

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