Bolton vs. United Nations

Bush’s mad cop–bad cop ruse

Ian Williams

Bolton: A bad choice.

Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Chair Richard Lugar (R‑Ind.) sched­uled hear­ings for April 7 on the con­fir­ma­tion of John Bolton as the U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations.

Lugar sig­naled that he is less than ecsta­t­ic over the nom­i­na­tion, telling the Wash­ing­ton Post that he was going to reserve any com­ments about the appro­pri­ate­ness or not of the president’s choice.” (In 1999, Lugar showed less restraint, hail­ing Pres­i­dent Clinton’s choice, Richard Hol­brooke, as an excel­lent nom­i­nee.”) More explic­it was Sen. Chuck Hagel (R‑Neb.), who said, I do have con­cerns, because the Unit­ed Nations is a very impor­tant insti­tu­tion. We need to send some­one to the U.N. that has the skills to work with the sec­re­tary-gen­er­al.” But five days lat­er, after a vis­it by Bolton, Hagel changed his mind and declared he would sup­port the nomination.

Bolton’s appoint­ment clear­ly makes a mock­ery of the kiss and make-up Euro­pean tour of George W. Bush and Con­doleez­za Rice. Along with Bush’s nom­i­na­tion of Paul Wol­fowitz to head the World Bank, the president’s choice of Bolton reveals the skull beneath the skin of admin­is­tra­tion for­eign pol­i­cy. Appoint­ing some­one who has repeat­ed­ly gone on the record say­ing that the Unit­ed Nations should not exist — or that, at least, the Unit­ed States should not be part of it — is hard­ly a diplo­mat­ic response to the cru­cial dis­cus­sions cur­rent­ly tak­ing place on reform­ing the organization.

Bolton has pub­licly dis­missed inter­na­tion­al law and treaties, since they may inhib­it Amer­i­can free­dom of action. In 1997, he wrote in the Wall Street Jour­nal, Treaties are law’ only for U.S. domes­tic pur­pos­es. In their inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions, treaties are sim­ply polit­i­cal’ obligations.”

Five years ago, he accused U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Kofi Annan of a pow­er grab; now he’s sup­posed to work with him on U.N. reform, and seek coop­er­a­tion from him for help in extract­ing the Unit­ed States from Iraq. Bolton’s oth­er hob­by hors­es include oppo­si­tion to the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court (“a prod­uct of fuzzy-mind­ed roman­ti­cism [that] is not just naïve, but dan­ger­ous”), and the con­ven­tions on land­mines, small arms trade and child sol­diers. He also oppos­es the nuclear test ban treaty — except when it applies to Kore­ans, Ira­ni­ans and the like.

With the appoint­ment of Bolton, the rest of the world will now see Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy as it real­ly is, with­out the smooth inter­face of Col­in Pow­ell, who so often per­formed on the world stage as a good cop in a bad cop administration.

In addi­tion to deal­ing with the dubi­ous­ly mul­ti­lat­er­al posi­tion of the Rice State Depart­ment, and cop­ing with the neo­con impe­ri­al­ist fan­tasies of Wol­fowitz at the World Bank, for­eign diplo­mats will be faced with the nois­i­ly uni­lat­er­al Bolton.

Despite hav­ing spent time at neo­con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks and groups like the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute and the Project for a New Amer­i­can Cen­tu­ry, there is noth­ing neo about Bolton’s con­ser­vatism. As befits a for­mer U.N.-basher for the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, Bolton’s roots are in an old, nativist and deeply reac­tionary tra­di­tion, as sug­gest­ed by his close­ness to his long­time patron, for­mer Sen. Jesse Helms (R‑N.C.). Wool­ly neolib­er­al ide­al­ism about export­ing democ­ra­cy isn’t his style, as he demon­strat­ed when as part of the Bush legal team he strode into a library in Flori­da in 2000 and announced, I’m here to stop the vote.”

Fringe groups have long seen the Unit­ed Nations as an instru­ment of a for­eign con­spir­a­cy to take over the Unit­ed States. Their stri­dent views have, like so many con­ser­v­a­tive inani­ties, now become main­stream. Bolton’s nom­i­na­tion is just the cul­mi­na­tion of this process. Move Amer­i­ca For­ward,” which describes itself as the orga­ni­za­tion lead­ing the effort to evict the Unit­ed Nations from Amer­i­can soil and halt Amer­i­can fund­ing of the U.N.,” has announced it will lob­by the Sen­ate and ral­ly pub­lic sup­port for John Bolton’s nomination.”

Bolton wants the Unit­ed States on top, and any poten­tial threats to that suprema­cy removed. Which is why one item high on his per­son­al agen­da will be to get the very Unit­ed Nations that he does not believe in to enforce the non-pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty (which he does not believe in either) in Iran — which he does sin­cere­ly believe to be a piv­ot of the Axis of Evil.

The only effec­tive counter to this agen­da will be sen­a­tors brave enough to stand up and say that this coun­try and the world are bet­ter served by a func­tion­ing Unit­ed Nations, which does indeed have a pri­ma­ry role in avoid­ing world conflicts.

In the pre­am­ble to the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, its drafters cit­ed a decent Respect to the Opin­ions of Mankind,” to explain what they were doing. The nom­i­na­tion hear­ing allows the Democ­rats and the sane Repub­li­cans to show a sim­i­lar respect, not just to the opin­ions of mankind, but to the major­i­ty of Amer­i­can men and women who have pro­found reser­va­tions about John Bolton.

Ian Williams is the author of Desert­er: Bush’s War on Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies, Vet­er­ans and His Past, now avail­able from Nation Books.
Limited Time: