Right Result, Wrong Reasons

It's taken a long time, but at last a Bush administration appointment is considered so extreme and reckless that the nomination is in trouble in the U.S. Senate.

For more than four years, George W. Bush has consistently offered radical nominees intended to undercut the positions they would fill. From industry stooges appointed to regulate the industries they serve to people like John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales as the nation's highest protectors of civil rights, Bush has specialized in a kind of personnel policy that belies overt hostility to government.

Finally, with John Bolton's nomination as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, even the Republican-controlled Senate might say "enough." But as a vote by the full Senate on his nomination approaches, it is being challenged for the wrong reasons.

There is little doubt that the profound discomfort—on both sides of the aisle—with the Bolton nomination is because of his radical neocon record and how it would play in the international diplomatic body. Bolton, for better or worse, is no diplomat. He is a steamroller who does not tolerate dissent.

When another U.N. ambassador, speaking anonymously, called the Bolton appointment "a disaster," he or she wasn't referring to Bolton's way with subordinates or what he was like as an employer. The implication was that Bolton lacked the patience and finesse to practice diplomacy in a body where nearly 200 independent ambassadors are all acting in their own nations' interests. In that landscape, moving the U.N. toward positions deemed in America's interest often requires something other than browbeating.

As U.N. ambassador, Bolton cannot afford to be a bully. It is irrelevant how he treats his staff. (An exception: whether, in his current position as an undersecretary of state overseeing arms control, Bolton is open to receiving information from his staff that runs counter to his ideological beliefs. The evidence is that he is not.) Vice President Dick Cheney, defending his protégé, has a point when he says that "if being occasionally tough and aggressive and abrasive were a problem, there are a lot of members of the United States Senate who wouldn't qualify." True enough; there are plenty of people in Washington who got where they are by being arrogant assholes. They wouldn't qualify. The question in Bolton's case is whether he is "occasionally" tough and aggressive and abrasive, or whether that's the only way he knows how to operate. If it's his only mode—and evidence suggests that it is—he might be qualified for the Senate, but he's certainly not qualified for a sensitive diplomatic posting.

In his career, Bolton has repeatedly sneered at not just the efficacy but the very existence of the United Nations. Even if his nomination is voted down, the fact the Bush administration nominated him in the first place is a diplomatic insult that will not soon be forgotten in the halls of the U.N. and in the capitals of the world. Bush spent the winter touring Europe, trying to mend diplomatic fences frayed by his invasion of Iraq. Nominating Bolton undid any good will generated then.

In that diplomatic sense, the very nomination of Bolton runs counter to the national interests of the U.S. John Bolton is a national liability, and that—not his record as an employer—is why Republicans as well as Democrats should vote down his nomination.

And there is a lesson here, as well, for other Bush administration nominees. The same qualities that make Bolton inappropriate—his rigidity, predisposed outlook, and hostility to the job he is supposedly swearing to do—make plenty of other Bush nominations inappropriate also. Every time Bush nominates a fox to guard some regulatory henhouse, the Senate should show the same alarm it is displaying toward Bolton. Anything less is an abandonment of the duty of the Senate.

gparrish@seattleweekly.com

 
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