The nomination of John Bolton to be US ambassador to the United Nations is a resounding declaration of American contempt for the organization and the rest of the world. When Condoleezza Rice forced Bolton out of his niche at the State Department, it was taken worldwide as a positive indication of the prospects of multilateralism in Bush’s second term, in some measure compensating for the retirement of Colin Powell–not least since no one was sure how much of a multilateralist Rice is.
Some playful souls scared colleagues by suggesting that Bolton could end up as UN ambassador, but the consensus was that not even Bush could be that crassly insouciant about the views of the rest of the world.
This week showed that once again, the world has underestimated the President.
Bolton’s nomination sends a message to the Europeans that on his recent European tour Bush was only kidding about a joint approach to global threats. It sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States will not listen to them, but will pursue its own obsessively theological agenda in the teeth of almost universal opposition.
Some UN officials are halfheartedly trying to convince themselves that the job will make Bolton more amenable to working within the system. Sadly, they are almost certain to be disappointed. He has shown no compunction about working the system for his own and his conservative colleagues’ benefit. As far back as 1992, when he was Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, he was trying to shake down the UN Development Program for a $2 million grant to an organization that was little more than a pension fund for a conservative colleague [see Williams, “Why the Right Loves the U.N.,” April 13, 1992].
More recently, Bolton was an assistant to James Baker when the former Secretary of State was Secretary General Kofi Annan’s (failed) representative for Western Sahara. But Bolton has remained unrelenting in his opposition, both rhetorical and practical, to the UN even as he took the money.
If there is a bright side to his appointment, it is that it will make it much more difficult for the United States to advance its agenda at the UN than if the President had appointed a real diplomat rather than someone who epitomizes American diplomacy as an oxymoron. There are lots of governments prepared to grovel to Washington, but Bolton will make it difficult to grovel gracefully.
Much of Western diplomacy at the UN, for example, consists of sweet-talking the Chinese delegation out of using their veto. Bolton, who took $30,000 from the Taiwanese to advise them on how to join the UN he despises, does not do sweet talk.
Traditionally, while Democratic envoys to the UN have also held Cabinet office, Republican appointees do not, which has made them subordinate to the State Department. However, Bolton was taking instructions from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld even when he was in the State Department. He is unlikely to pay too much attention to the Secretary of State now, so even if Rice is sincere in the appearance that she seems to be trying to present to allies, Bolton will certainly sabotage her efforts at the UN.
The man who ordered a CIA probe on Hans Blix for not finding weapons in Iraq when ordered, who contrived the dismissal of the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and who in 1999 wrote for the American Enterprise Institute of “Kofi Annan’s UN Power Grab,” has recently been trying fire Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for not finding nuclear weapons in Iran. Americans, and the rest of the world, should worry. If his appointment is confirmed, Bolton’s task is likely to be to bully the UN into supporting an Iraq-style fiasco in Iran or Syria.
However, that is slightly longer-term. Possibly among the immediate casualties of Bolton’s appointment will be some thousands of dead Darfurians. A resolution that would refer the continuing mayhem in Sudan to the International Criminal Court has already been stalled for months by the die-hard resistance of the Bolton faction in the State Department, but twelve members of the Security Council were cautiously optimistic that they had averted an American veto. Although it is clear that this is the one sanction actually feared by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias it has employed, Bolton has already shown that in his obsessive war with the International Criminal Court, he does not care about the views of allies. Indeed, his fervent opposition to international restrictions on small-arms trade, landmines, biological weapons, child soldiers and nuclear testing suggests that he is quite prepared to accept significant casualties for his views–as long as they are other people’s.
The Darfurians should be praying for long and protracted confirmation hearings for America’s most undiplomatic ambassador. They should also be praying that Rice will seize the time to effect a compromise. It should not be difficult for sane senators to question the fitness of a putative UN ambassador who in 1994 asserted that “there is no such thing as the United Nations” and later that “if the UN Secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”