Pathetically enough, the chair that Adlai Stevenson once sat in is now scheduled to be filled by John Bolton, which must be considered a cruel piece of humor on the part of the White House. While the Bush administration ostensibly has set out on a campaign to reform the United Nations, astonishingly enough, it just has nominated Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the international body. Akin to calling in the clowns, those familiar with his record believe that there is no one in U.S. public life today more ill-suited for that position than Bolton. His nomination reflects nothing less than an affront to the American people, the diplomatic community and people of goodwill everywhere. It is not a matter that he is too conservative; rather, it reflects the concern generated by his stint as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security in the first Bush administration where he was demonstrably its most extremist member.
By selecting an individual who has spent the last decade repudiating basic norms of international cooperation and civility, his appointment is tantamount to an absolute rejection of multilateral cooperation and U.S. accountability. Throughout his outrageous career in public life, no one has been more notorious for their right-wing ideology and no one has more consistently disgraced this country’s good name than Bolton, with his rants, inventions, outrightlies and bumptious formulations. As a result, he has been a repeated embarrassment to this nation’s international reputation. The fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed off on his nomination indicates the lamentable lack of standards that her tenure will likely take and that she will figure to be an illiberal factor in international diplomacy. Inevitably, his appointment will trigger an uproar in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in other venues where foreign policy issues are a matter of serious concern.
As a senior State Department official during Bush’s first term, Bolton mocked the fundamental value of the UN as well as the broader international community by successfully leading the push for this country to reject U.S. support of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as seeking the exclusion of social policy efforts from international development aid. Within the Bush administration, he was quickly embraced by the rest of the clutch of ferocious hawks that eventually came to include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. This group has given U.S. foreign policy an extremely right-wing tilt where it has emphasized unilateralism, the continuation of the U.S. saber rattling and the rejection of relativism along with accountability for various U.S. overseas initiatives.
Disdain for Multilateral Cooperation
“There is no such thing as the United Nations,” portentously declared John Bolton to a panel of the World Federalist Association in 1994, and then added, “The secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” The contradiction between the crudity, if not banality, of his beliefs and the importance of his new appointment could not be more stark.
Undermining recent attempts at fence-mending diplomacy with Washington’s traditional but recently estranged European allies, Bush’s bizarre appointment demonstrates that this administration plays by very perverse rules. As multilateral efforts are underway to diffuse nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea, Bolton’s involvement, as has been seen in negotiations with both countries, only have escalated tensions. After the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1999, he described supporters of that document as “misguided individuals following a timid and neo-pacifist line of thought.”
In May 2002, Bolton outlandishly came out with a bombshell charge, with no supporting evidence, that Cuba not only possessed “at least a limited offensive biological warfare research development effort,” but had provided such technology to “other rogue states.” When challenged by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) to produce his evidence before a hearing of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, he declined to appear. His charges were so bereft of any substance or even a tincture of verisimilitude that even his Bush administration colleagues rushed to disavow any association with them. In addition to refutations by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell (who said “we didn’t actually say it [Cuba] had some weapons”) and former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Southern Command Gen. Charles Wilhelm (who claimed that he never had received any evidence to support Bolton’s claim), Rumsfeld indicated to reporters that he was unaware of any links connecting Cuba’s biomedical industry to bio-weapons research. Despite being called upon to do so by several senators, Bolton refused to attend a Senate hearing where he could present any evidence of Cuba’s alleged bioweapons program, a rather telltale admission that he would be unable to substantiate his charge under sworn testimony. The dearth of any compelling evidence linking Cuba’s highly lauded pharmaceutical industry to terrorism was eventually confirmed by a 2004 wide-ranging Congressional investigation, which peeled away at the last vestiges of credibility behind Bolton’s assertions.
No Accountability for the U.S.
Throughout Latin America, Bolton repeatedly has betrayed a total lack of comprehension of the policy consequences of his rhetoric and his near-illiteracy regarding the fundamentals of a democratic polity. In a 1998 article in the conservative publication The National Interest, he insisted that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave an “erroneous” ruling by determining that the U.S. had violated Nicaragua’s sovereignty through its clandestine military operations against a Sandinista administration, which had cost the small Central American country several billion dollars and with which it ostensibly had normal diplomatic relations. Similarly retreating from any U.S. accountability for its actions overseas, Bolton opposed the international indictment of former dictator Augusto Pinochet for atrocities during his seventeen years of tyrannical rule in Chile, in which thousands were kidnapped, tortured and killed by the CIA-facilitated regime. Bolton’s reasoning was that, “Chileans made their choice, and have lived with it.”
International cooperation does not exactly harmonize with Bolton’s edict that the U.S. government must be free to act without restriction or accountability. His comments show utter disregard for any possible victims of the adverse consequences of U.S. foreign policy and an unwavering commitment to preemptive intervention and unilateralism. Bolton’s staunch opposition to multilateralism is an outright rejection of the central ideals of the United Nations, a body where he now aspires to join a long line of distinguished U.S. public figures that have held that position. To think that this bizarre figure will occupy the chair in which once sat Stevenson may give some indication of the bottom feeder that the Bush administration has reached down to appoint.
The Bolton nomination reinforces the notion that the Bush White House is incapable of selecting well prepared professionals of a moderate outlook to high public office, be it in the executive branch, the bureaucracy or the judiciary. It seems that its nominees require an ideologically in-your-face component that is both insulting to the intelligence of the American people and highly revealing of how little President Bush respects the process of selecting qualified candidates to high offices. Rather, he continues to trash and radicalize this function with irresponsible and entirely inappropriate appointees. The U.N. will face a fierce challenge if Congress finds the Bolton nomination acceptable and confirms him, thus guaranteeing an epoch of the vulgarization of U.S. representation to that body.
More from John Bolton, in his own words:
On Washington’s adherence to multilateral international accords: “Treaties are law only for U.S. domestic purposes. In their international operation, treaties are simply political obligations” (Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal, November 17, 1997).
On International Law: “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States” (Insight Magazine, 1999).
On the how the ICC would affect U.S. senior civilian and military leaders: They would become “the potential targets of the politically unaccountable Prosecutor created in Rome” (The National Interest, Winter 1998).
On the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the ICC: Bolton asked and was granted permission to sign his name on the letter notifying the UN of Washington’s actions even though he played no official role in the decision-making process. He later told The Wall Street Journal, it was “the happiest moment of [his] government service.”
On advocating market reforms over efforts to improve basic living standard in developing countries: He criticized the Clinton administration for continued funding of “programs on international population control and environmental matters rather than fundamental economic policy reforms in developing countries” and assailed then Vice-President Al Gore for his “preference for condoms and trees instead of markets” (Op-Ed in the Washington Times, June 25, 1995).
On the UN: Bolton reasserted his scriptural fidelity to unilateralism, writing that if Washington were to overly legitimize the UN, “its discretion in using force to advance its national interests is likely to be inhibited in the future” (“Kofi Annan’s UN Power Grab,” 1999, WeeklyStandard).
On Weapons Treaties: During a 2001 UN Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, Bolton told delegates that Washington was opposed to any move to restrict civilian access to weapons or a treaty that would serve to “abrogat[e] the constitutional right to bear arms.”
On efforts to add a negotiated verification process to an international bio-weapons ban: He told conference participants that the provision was, “dead, dead, dead, and I don’t want it coming back from the dead.”
LARRY BIRNS is director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.