Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

16 June 2005

The Bolton Nomination

Dear Senators Voinovich and Hagel,

I am writing to you because you have the power and I hope the inclination to stop our nation from making a great mistake. I refer to appointing John Bolton as our Ambassador to the United Nations.

The careful work of your Committee’s staff has established a pattern of recurrent behavior on Bolton’s part: “firing” subordinates who disagree with his judgment, and only later finding out that he had not the right or power to do so. Surely acting before reflecting is not the heart of diplomacy.

Brashness is not Mr. Bolton’s only flaw. His remarks about the United Nations and Kim Jong Il suggest a propensity for name calling as a tool of international diplomacy. Bolton may, as he insists, have had a misunderstanding with the Ambassador to Korea regarding his verbal blast at Kim Jong Il. Yet two things about those remarks stand out. First, there is no rational way to characterize them—particularly in the understated lexicon of diplomacy— as anything other than name calling. Second, his failure to make sure beforehand that the senior field diplomat on the scene was fully comfortable with such a gross departure from normal diplomacy is strong earmark of thoughtlessness.

As the President has stated many times, we are at a crucial point in our nation’s history. We are in a generational struggle with an extremist culture of death. In thirty years it has made air travel—arguably one of the noblest achievements of the human species—far more inconvenient, risky, and expensive than need be. (Like me, both of you are old enough to remember the days when air passengers walked from ticket counters onto airplanes, and the only “security” was a blanket.) During that same period, this struggle has snuffed out countless innocent lives from Paris in the seventies to New York, Bali, and Madrid today. It has already changed our world and, unfortunately, threatens to change it much more drastically.

As the President also has stated, success in this struggle requires international cooperation on a scale and intensity never before achieved. Yet cooperation requires credibility, and the coin of our nation’s credibility, like our currency, has been devalued. We had an overwhelming coalition in the First Gulf War. A decade later, our coalition in the Iraq War is a limited “coalition of the willing.” Our chief allies are slowly backing away, despite early signs of possible success. Will a man like John Bolton re-establish our international credibility and help reverse this decline in crucial international support?

Colin Powell was as cautious, diplomatic and well-respected an emissary as ever served our country. Yet his false report about yellowcake in Niger did our nation’s credibility serious and long-lasting damage. Can you imagine how much greater that damage would have been if the bearer of that false report been a brash and thoughtless name-caller with no distinguished military resume? Is John Bolton’s really the face we want the world’s people to see when they think of America?

One other point is worth making. Our enemies in this generational struggle are notoriously touchy and sensitive. They placed an English author under a lifelong death threat merely because he wrote a novel that displeased them. While the mullahs who issued the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie are no doubt immune to diplomacy, millions of Muslim youth worldwide, deciding whether to join the mullahs or the modern world, are not. A man like Bolton can do our cause incalculable long-term damage on the Islamic “street.”

Of course a President’s choice in personnel matters should be respected. But our Framers gave the Senate the responsibility to advise and consent for a reason. From the moment he took office, diplomacy has been President Bush’s blind spot, despite the success of some of his foreign policy. Isn’t it your constitutional responsibility to help him avoid what might, in the long run, be the most costly diplomatic mistake of his Presidency?

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