Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bolton Vindicates His Critics

One day after Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) announced his change of heart concerning Ambassador John Bolton, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist urged "swift action" on Bolton's re-nomination. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on the nomination beginning on Thursday.

Bolton may have won over Senator Voinovich by his performance to date, but an article to be published in tomorrow's New York Times makes it clear that Bolton has been making more enemies than friends at the UN.

Warren Hoge of the Times writes that "the Bush administration is not popular at the United Nations, where it is often perceived as disdainful of diplomacy, and its policies as heedless of the effects on others and single-minded in the willful assertion of American interests. By extension, then, many diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself."

But that's not the only problem. As his critics warned when he was first nominated for the post, Bolton has all of George W. Bush's diplomatic skills (except perhaps for the ability to talk tough with his mouth full) with none of his frat-boy joie de vivre.

To illustrate Bolton's undiplomatic methods, Hoge recounts a recent episode:

Six ambassadors separately offered similar accounts of an incident in June that they said captured the situation. All were from nations in Europe, the Pacific and Latin America that consider themselves close allies of the United States, and they asked to speak anonymously in commenting on a fellow envoy.

Mr. Bolton that day burst into a packed committee hall, produced a cordless microphone and began to lecture envoys from developing nations about their weakening of a proposal to tighten management of the United Nations, his chief goal.

Gaveled to silence, he threw up his hands and said, "Well, so much for trying something different."

It was not merely rude, the ambassadors said. One recalled that moments later, his BlackBerry flashed a message from another envoy working on management change. "He just busted us apart," it read.

Hoge also notes that over thirty ambassadors with whom he spoke, "all of whom share the United States' goal of changing United Nations management practices," were critical of Bolton.

"My initial feeling was, let's see if we can work with him, and I have done some things to push for consensus on issues that were not easy for my country," said an ambassador with close ties to the Bush administration.

"But all he gives us in return is, 'It doesn't matter, whatever you do is insufficient,'" he said. "He's lost me as an ally now, and that's what many other ambassadors who consider themselves friends of the U.S. are saying."

Bolton is, of course, not the only one responsible, but he could certainly serve as the poster boy for what almost seems to be a deliberate effort to antagonize the United States' remaining allies. Let's hope Senate Democrats will make that point unequivocally in the upcoming nomination debate.