John Bolton: the Undiplomatic Diplomat


Boston, Mass.

John Bolton, an evil man, looks headed for a fall. But will he, foaming at the mouth, fall for the right reasons? On May 6, 2002 Bolton, then Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, in a speech to the rightwing Heritage Foundation claimed that Cuba had a program to produce offensive biological weapons. The Bush administration, he declared, “believes Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort,” and has “provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.” His talk, entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” (recall that the term had been introduced just three months earlier by President Bush in his State of the Union rant), followed charges by anti-Castro Cuban-American organizations that a joint Cuba-Iran pharmaceutical research venture was actually a front for the development of such weapons. The press made a big deal of the talk, the shameless neocon groupie Judith Miller of the New York Times reporting, “Bush administration officials report that the United States believes that Cuba has been experimenting with anthrax and other deadly biological pathogens.”

Cuba, proud of its advanced biotech- and genetic-engineering programs that provide medicines and vaccines at small cost to many Third World countries, called the accusations “vile.” Fidel Castro, planning to host former President Jimmy Carter on a Cuba from May 12 to 17, labeled the allegation “an absolute lie” and offered Carter “together with any experts of [his] choosing” “free and complete access” to any of Cuba’s science centers.

After visiting Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Carter stated, “With some degree of reluctance I would also like to comment on the allegation of bioterrorism. I do this because these allegations were made, maybe not coincidentally, just before our visit to Cuba.”

He said that U.S. intelligence officials had given him extensive briefings before his visit and that they had told him they had no evidence Cuba was either producing biological weapons or helping other countries to do so. “I asked them specifically, on more than one occasion: ‘Is there any evidence that Cuba has been involved in sharing any information to any other country on Earth that could be used for terrorist purposes?’ And the answer from our experts on intelligence was ‘no.’ ”

On May 15, the day after Carter’s remarks, Secretary of State Colin Powell (who has recently opined Bolton’s UN appointment would be “problematic”) told reporters, “We didn’t say [Cuba] actually had some weapons, but [that] it has the capacity and capability to conduct such research.” The Cuban Foreign Ministry noted with satisfaction in a statement published in Granma, entitled rather cutely “Colin Powell Recognizes that Bolton Lied,” “We appreciate the efforts of Secretary of State Colin Powell to help clear up what happened.” We haven’t heard much about those bioweapons since. Instead we hear of the nefarious presence of Cuban doctors in the self-sacrificing spirit of Che Guevara, providing medical care in countries like Venezuela and (Aristide’s) Haiti and (as Bolton would have us believe) by their very presence promoting anti-Americanism in such countries.

Then there was that delayed testimony to Congress regarding Syria. In July 2002 Bolton was supposed to testify at a Congressional hearing on Syria prior to deliberations on the Syria Accountability Act, and to emphasize the threat from Syria’s alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. According to the Daily Star, “Bolton had already infuriated U.S. intelligence officials by claiming in May 2002 that Cuba has a biological weapons program. Intelligence analysts declared themselves ‘fed up’ with such assertions and drew the line at Bolton’s July draft testimony against Syria.”

The CIA was indeed pleased that, as Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker magazine: “(B)y early 2002 Syria had emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective intelligence allies in the fight against Al-Qaeda, providing an outpouring of information that came to an end only with the invasion of Iraq.” Bolton gave a watered-down version of his presentation in a partly closed hearing September 2003, after some of the content had been leaked through the Times’ Judith Miller.

Soon afterwards the anti-Syrian act was passed into law amid unsubstantiated charges originating in Israel that WMDs weren’t found in Iraq because they’d been transported across the border to Syria.

That same month, a high-ranking official identified by the Guardian as Bolton declared, “We tolerate nuclear weapons in Israel for the same reason we tolerate them in Britain and France. We don’t regard Israel as a threat.”

This from the Bush administration’s top arms control official, as he huffed and puffed about Syria’s paltry WMD menace. Meanwhile Bolton crusaded against the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, for its unwillingness to declare that Iran was seeking to produce nuclear weapons. While the U.S. bugged the phone of ElBaradei, Bolton called his November 2003 report on Iran to the United Nations, which concluded that he “found no evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, “impossible to believe.” Is that ambassadorial, or what? Despite U.S. efforts to unseat him, ElBaradei, one of the most respected and popular U.N. officials, retains his post for a third term.

Bolton’s diplomatic skills were much in evidence when on July 31, two days after North Korea had agreed to U.S. demands that it participate in multilateral talks on its nuclear program, he told a South Korean audience that North Korea was a “hellish nightmare” ruled by a “tyrannical leader.” Pyongyang replied reasonably that it would not attend talks if Bolton (a “blood-sucker” and “human scum”) represented the U.S. No matter. As Vice President Cheney, Bolton’s chief patron, has said of the administration, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”

In the last week or so Bolton’s personal bullying has weakened his prospects for Congressional approval as ambassador to the United Nations, an organization he once disparaged in a speech to a World Federalists audience. “There are 38 floors to the U.N. building in New York. If you lost 10 of them, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” That comment’s come back to haunt him, I suspect in part because it conjures up a mental image of planes crashing into the UN headquarters in New York. The extraordinary unilateralism of Bush policy, and incessant gripes about the UN’s failure to meet its “international responsibilities” (to rubber-stamp U.S. imperialism) suggests that Bolton’s nomination might indeed be intended to smite the international body bringing it down like the walls of Jericho.

Others past statements haunt him too. He allegedly screamed “You’re fired,” at his subordinate Lynne D. Finney when they both worked in the General Counsel’s Office of the Agency for International Development in the 1980s. Why? Because she’d refused to try to persuade World Health Organization delegates to weaken restrictions on the marketing of infant formula in the developing world that would in her judgment cause product misuse and infant deaths. As she tells it, Bolton shouted that “Nestle was an important company and that he was giving me a direct order from President Reagan.” Turned out that he was lying about Reagan and the top USAID administrator allowed her to keep her post.

In 1994 Bolton went berserk when another USAID worker, Melody Townsel, reported to her superiors that a contractor for an AID project in Kyrgystan was performing poorly. Bolton, then legal counsel for the contractor, “proceeded” in her words “to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel — throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman.” She says that he kept pounding on her hotel door for two weeks shouting threats, making her life a “hell.” (You know, like North Korea.) Despite Bolton’s efforts to smear her as a felon headed for jail time, and to label her a lesbian, she kept her job and won promotion.

Then, to return to where I started, there was the matter of those Cuban bioterror weapons. Carl W. Ford Jr., the former director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department (which by the way, concluded that Iraq did not have WMD threatening the world) has told Congress that the bureau’s chief bioweapons analyst Christian Westermann questioned Bolton’s assessment of Cuba’s weapons programs.

Maybe he was one of those who’d talked with Carter. Bolton again exploded and threatened Westermann, causing Ford to intervene. Bolton nurtured a grudge, telling Ford last year before he retired, “I’m glad you’re leaving” before hanging up the phone. Human Scum, Ford states, is “an 800-pound guerrilla” who likes to stomp on bananas. He “abuses his authority with little people.”

These issues of management style and people skills will no doubt determine the vote on Bolton’s nomination, now postponed for obvious reasons to mid-May. Or perhaps he will see the handwriting on the wall and withdraw. In any case, one would prefer that the big issues would determine his political fate. He cares little about human life, as the Finney case reveals. He puts corporate profit above everything, as the Townsel case reveals. He lies through his teeth to demonize governments and remake the world according to the neocons’ plans, as the Westermann case reveals. No doubt a Republican or two on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will decide not to support Bolton because of his “confrontational personality,” his “abrasiveness” or lack of diplomatic polish. But don’t expect George Voinovich or Lincoln Chafee or any of them to list the really big reasons this man does not belong at the UN.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

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