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As Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton didn’t like what he heard from U.S. intelligence officials. Not happy with the information provided by the State Department and CIA, Bolton started listening to phone conversations taped by the National Security Administration as his own source of intelligence about countries targeted by the Bush administration for “regime change.”
Gov. Bill Richardson, who served as U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, is concerned that Bolton, who is the Bush administration’s controversial nominee for the U.N. post, might have been listening to his phone conversations.
During the Senate confirmation hearings last week, Bolton admitted he requested NSA recordings “on a couple of occasions, maybe a few more.” Later the State Department said Bolton made ten such requests.
Despite rising pressure from Senate Democrats and the media, the administration has refused to release any more information. Administration stonewalling raised speculation that any disclosure of the number of requests and the names involved – possibly including Richardson’s – might further tarnish Bolton’s reputation and sink the nomination.
Bolton obviously has a listening problem. Even after the CIA and State Department officials told Bolton that Syria didn’t have a nuclear weapons program and that Cuba didn’t have a bioweapons program, Bolton publicly targeted the two nations for “regime change” because of alleged banned weapons.
Instead of being reprimanded for spreading false intelligence, President Bush has vigorously defended Bolton. That’s no surprise, given that the White House invaded Iraq based upon cooked-up, politicized intelligence about Iraq’s banned weapons – which were never found.
In the view of Bolton and the leading voices calling for a U.S. policy of “regime change” in North Korea, such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century – two neoconservative institutes where Bolton formerly had leadership positions – diplomacy and dialogue only give Kim Jong Il more time to build his nuclear arsenal.
Bolton’s confrontational posture – combined with the administration’s quickening plans to attack Iraq – led North Korea to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, announce that it would resume developing nuclear weapons and demand that U.N. inspectors leave the country.
Given that the Bush administration had targeted it as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran, North Korea decided that creating a nuclear deterrence was its best defense against a “preventive war” waged by the Bush administration.
Before they precipitate more unnecessary wars, it’s time that ideologues like Bolton listen to what wiser voices are saying. But rather than listening in on private conversations of prominent Americans, such as Richardson, Bolton would do better to ask his advice.
After all, Richardson has successfully negotiated several agreements with the North Koreans when he was a New Mexico congressman and proved his mettle as U.N. ambassador in helping arrange the successful framework agreement with North Korea.
But it’s not just the famous “green chile diplomacy” of Richardson that should be the model for Bolton and this administration. Surely, a policy of “constructive engagement” that encourages North Korean diplomats to come to Santa Fe to talk to nonideological figures like Richardson is better than having the two nuclear powers engage in a battle of insults.
Bolton has repeatedly called for the overthrow of the “tyrannical dictator,” and North Koreans have responded saying they would never engage in talks with “such human scum” as Bolton. Having the North Korea delegation come to New Mexico and come out of Santa Fe shops wearing cowboy hats, sporting bola ties and strutting in cowboy boots, pointed to the virtues of constructive engagement.
Fortunately, senators of both parties are no longer listening passively to the hyped intelligence assessments provided by Bolton and other hard-liners. They would do better to listen to diplomats, with successful track records like Richardson, to South Korea’s concerns and advice and our own State Department and CIA experts.
Former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms once called Bolton “the kind of man I would want to stand with at Armageddon.”
The problem is that ideologues like Bolton look forward to Armageddon as a test of U.S. military power and purpose, and in the belief that Armageddon is a battle that can be won – supposedly like Iraq – in “cake walk.”
TOM BARRY is policy director of the International Relations Center (IRC).