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Those campaigning against John Bolton’s nomination for U.N. ambassador continue to collect anecdotes testifying to his bullying, abrasive style. (Seems the Brits were so peeved by his behavior in the Anglo-American negotiations with Libya’s Col. Qaddhafi, which resulted in Libya’s agreement to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, that they asked he be removed from the talks.) And daily we learn more about his lies and exaggerations, most recently about those publicly raised in late 2001 concerning Sudan’s supposed interest in biological weapons. In response to the controversy, Rice, Cheney and Bush continue to express confidence in Bolton, insisting he’s just what the doctor ordered for the ailing United Nations.
Thomas M. Boyd, an assistant attorney general under the Reagan administration and former Bolton deputy, is another important Bolton defender. He sheds light on Bush’s choice, and focuses on what is surely the Bolton achievement most likely to evoke public support, in an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe April 27. He opens with the frank observation that Bolton is indeed a bull in a china shop. But “[w]hile it is certainly true that Bolton sometimes breaks china,” Boyd declares, “it is also true that he carefully selects the pattern first.” Bolton’s crowning moment of destruction? December 16, 1991, when the United Nations General Assembly repealed, by a vote of 111 to 25 (and 30 abstentions) the 1975 resolution that described Zionism as a form of racism. As the debate heats up this will be the bully’s chief selling point.
Resolution 3379 had originally passed with 72 votes for, 35 against, and 32 abstentions. Largely symbolic, with few practical ramifications, it did what the U.S. State Department’s “terror list” does today: it denounced what the judges found reprehensible and endeavored to shame and isolate the target. Condemned in the U.S. press as “abominable,” “repulsive,” “odious” and “the UN’s greatest sin” and condemned by a joint Congressional resolution in 1985, its passage was chalked up to the growing power of oil-rich Islamic states, the influence of the Soviet Union, and general anti-Semitism. To this day the corporate media ignores the possibility that there might have been some persuasive logic in the anti-Zionist critique. This is not something one can freely discuss in this free country. In any case, in 1975 67% of nations voting (52% of the total membership) had agreed that Zionism was a form of racism. But in 1991, 82% of voting members (67% of the total member nations) somehow determined that no, actually, this was in fact not the case after all. Not that they gave any explanation for the about-face.
It was a stunning reversal. Bolton himself has hailed the moment. The day Condoleezza Rice announced his nomination, he referred to Resolution 3379 as “the greatest stain on the UN’s reputation” and its reversal “one highlight of my professional career.” But he didn’t at the time describe his particular role in wiping away the stain. Boyd’s piece merely hints at this; according to him, Bolton as assistant secretary of state for international organizations made the repeal of the resolution a personal campaign. He “took matters into his own hands,” tirelessly calling ambassadors around the world and “each time using his keen mind and reputation for bluntness to their full effect In time, his perseverance began to winnow down the nay-sayers.”
This vote, occurring after the first Gulf War and just ten days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, marked a turning point in the UN’s history. The U.S. had become the sole superpower, and although it was to soon discover the limits to that power (in Somalia the following year), it was in a position to dictate especially to its aid recipients what stance they should take on this issue. The U.S. had traditionally protected Israel from UN Security Council censure by casting its veto, but from this point acted more aggressively in pursuit of Israeli interests (or at least what it reckoned those to be). It vetoed reappointment of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General supported by every other member of the UN Security Council, in December 1996. The Egyptian Christian was the first secretary-general to be denied a second term. His offense? Despite an active role in Arab-Israeli peace talks, he was considered too critical of Israel. He was replaced with Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian with an American wife well liked by U.S. administrations. He had, for example, called Resolution 3379 an “affront” to the Jewish people and incitement to racial and ethnic hatred.
Only when, at the height of arrogance, Washington sought a UN rubber stamp for its attack on Iraq did the tide start to turn against the U.S. After the fact, Annan was obliged (however timidly and reluctantly) to term the U.S. attack on Iraq “illegal.” This brought Annan himself into the crosshairs. Annan is now targeted by Bolton and others who will not forgive his opposition to neocon objectives. Meanwhile Bolton has spearheaded the U.S. drive to deny Mohammed ElBaradei, the Egyptian head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a third term. This is because he finds no cause to declare Iran in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, something Bolton has angrily and unreasonably demanded of the IAEA. So far this anti-ElBaradei effort has found little international support, and reports of U.S. electronic eavesdropping on ElBaradei’s UN office are unlikely to produce much support for the U.S. position.
But Bolton’s role in the rescinding of Resolution 3379 is being applauded on various right wing blogs as sufficient validation in itself of Bush’s UN choice. Many Zionists (Christian as well as Jewish) depict the resolution as an anti-Semitic “slur” and suggest that whatever means were used to overturn it, they were surely appropriate. It is hard to change the minds of those who believe that Israel, having been established by God in fulfillment of a promise to His Chosen People, is a good thing by definition, and that Zionism (as the modern movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine) a noble and even divine cause. Or to change the minds of the secular who believe that God or no God, the state of Israel is necessary to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. I will not bother debating the point here but merely point out that there are differences of opinion in the world, including among Jews, concerning the historical origins, nature and legitimacy of the Jewish state. In my own opinion, Zionism as defined by Webster’s (“a movement formerly for reestablishing, now for advancing, the Jewish national state in Israel”) doesn’t necessarily entail racism, and I have friends who consider themselves Zionists who do not strike me as racists. But when the Zionist project displaces, humiliates and oppresses people native to the land it claims by right it deserves to be called what it’s become.
Both Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have referred to the treatment of Palestinians by Israel as a type of apartheid, which is to say, racism, and hundreds of millions of people agree with them. And many understand that the U.S., while championing Zionism, opposed resolution 1761 in 1962, which condemned South Africa’s apartheid system. Moved in the General Assembly by Sweden,the anti-apartheid resolution was adopted by 146 votes in favor, with only two countries—the U.S. and U.K.—voting against. Recall how the Reagan administration stood by South Africa as “America’s closest ally in Africa” and how current Vice President Cheney voted against a Congressional resolution urging the release of Nelson Mandela in 1986 since he considered him a “terrorist.” It is quite understandable that people would link the boundless U.S. support for South African apartheid to Washington’s militant defense of Zionism.
Every Arab nation, and almost all Muslim nations, opposed the repeal of the resolution of 3379. So did the Third World in general. But Bolton was not content to concede to the world’s ambassadors their own opinions. Informed by the Near East bureau of the State Department that a belligerent campaign to overturn 3379 might damage U.S. priorities in the Middle East, he (according to Boyd) “instructed his staff to change votes, and he set his considerable energies to first changing minds.” This all sounds like a quiet missionary exercise. But in fact Bolton engaged in the sort of arm-twisting tactics that have recently drawn much attention. A sometimes member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) Bolton wedded U.S. and Israeli interests, deploying Washington’s resources to defend an ideology thrown on the defensive by the obvious ongoing reality of Palestinian suffering.
Resolution 4686 overturning 3379 was among the shortest ever passed in UNGA history: “The general assembly decides to revoke the determination contained in its resolution 3379 (XXX) of 10 November 1975.” Fitting that there should be no explanation, since the change was not due to any substantial public debate but rather to the application of coercive U.S. power behind the scenes. I distinctly remember reading, fourteen years ago, of the indignation of Third World ambassadors complaining of unprecedented heavy-handedness by the first Bush administration in producing the revisionist Zionist-friendly result. Basically they were ordered to switch votes. They were told, “There’s no USSR to help you now, we’re the boss, you have no opinion, obey or lose.” But surfing the web to try to revisit that reportage years ago I get nothing but sites deploring the “odious” resolution and registering righteous satisfaction at its overthrow.
Only one majority Muslim nation (Albania, emerging from a state of enforced official atheism, in a state of transition and hungry for U.S. aid) voted for 4686. All the rest voted against or abstained. Of non-Muslim nations, Cuba, one of the many cosponsors of 3379, opposed it. So did Vietnam. India, which had voted for 3379, for some reason changed its mind. China, an erstwhile 3379 supporter, discreetly absented itself.
Boyd hails Bolton’s “bluntness.” We may hear more bluntness in the next few weeks, as Iran reaches what the Israelis say will be a point of no return in its nuclear program, and as the IAEA meets and decides the future of ElBaradei and considers U.S. proposals for changing the rules to selectively target Iran. Some are predicting a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran in June. If Bolton is at the UN, he will rage against the predictable Chinese and Russian opposition to the sanctions it insists must be imposed on Iran, or bristle against any condemnation of U.S. or Israeli aggression. Having publicly opined that the UN is useless, he may sabotage the venerable institution rather like the Japanese delegate Masuoka Yosuke did the League of Nations in 1933. Surely this is one game plan. Bush sees Bolton as the right stuff to achieve it if necessary.
Senator Jesse Helms, a well-known racist and Christian-Zionist fundamentalist with whom Bolton has worked closely, told the American Enterprise Institute in early 2001 that, “John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world.” That final battle is mere biblical myth, but the Bush administration pursuing its neocon-authored agenda may provoke a cascade of catastrophes in the near future. One can expect that Bolton at the UN will insist on the righteousness of each outrage, refining hypocrisy to a high art form while lashing out viciously at all honest opposition. Perhaps he is indeed the right man for the job. But the job of promoting imperialism and its attendant racisms, and bludgeoning those who oppose them, is itself abominable, repulsive, odious, sinful, and in the “final” analysis, evil.
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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org