Rut-oh! Cat’s amongst the pigeons!
From The Economist Global Agenda
George Bush has bypassed Congress to appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, to the annoyance of his political opponents and the dismay of many at the UN. But conservatives are delighted that the tough-talking Mr Bolton is being sent to an institution they feel needs reform, fast. Can he deliver?
THE United Nations can be a bewildering, not to say boring, place. Those posted there, even more than most diplomats, speak in a code intelligible only to insiders, filled with jargon, acronyms and polite phrasings that conceal their positions from all but the most experienced hands. Into this environment, enter John Bolton, of whom none of the above is true.
The man George Bush appointed this week to represent America at the UN isn’t boring, and he certainly isn’t bewildering. What he thinks is never hard to guess, because he uses the bluntest, most vivid language available. Life in North Korea, he has said, is a “hellish nightmare”. Of the body to which he is being sent, he has said it would make no difference if its New York secretariat building lost ten storeys, and that “There is no such thing as the United Nations.”
Hence the hand-wringing, both among America’s liberal internationalists and many foreign diplomats at the UN itself, about Mr Bush’s decision to appoint Mr Bolton. Democrats in the Senate have been unsatisfied with the answers to some of the tough questions they put to Mr Bolton in his confirmation hearings. They threatened a filibuster, in which 60 votes are needed (the Republicans have only 55) to bring a final vote on a nomination. But now Mr Bush has used his constitutional power to make a “recess appointment”, installing Mr Bolton while Congress takes a break in August. This allows Mr Bolton to serve until the next congressional term begins, in January 2007.
Democrats have expressed outrage. They had wanted to see more documents related to Mr Bolton’s involvement in several controversies. One allegation is that, in his previous job as undersecretary of state for arms control, he tried to fire a mid-level official who disagreed with his assessment of Cuba’s weapons capacity. There have been other reports of bullying and shouting at junior staffers. He is also accused of publicly inflating the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Syria. And Democrats want to know why he requested to see the classified, blacked-out names of some of his State Department colleagues that appeared in intelligence intercepts.
The fight against Mr Bolton has not been purely partisan. While most prominent Republicans supported him, several broke ranks. George Voinovich, a Republican senator on the foreign-relations committee, opposed his nomination, drawing out the confirmation process. Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the committee, supports Mr Bolton but has also supported Democrats’ efforts to get more information. And Colin Powell, Mr Bolton’s boss as secretary of state in Mr Bush’s first term, is said to have his doubts that Mr Bolton is the right man for the UN.
But almost every failing that Democrats and multilateralists see in Mr Bolton, conservatives view as a strength. To them he is strong-willed, assertive and relentless in pursuit of America’s interests. He does not fetishise the UN, but sees it as one tool, among many, that can allow America to achieve its foreign-policy goals. He does not wholly dismiss the world body, or presumably he would not want to be sent there. He sees a flawed institution…
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