WASHINGTON -- In a breathtaking victory for right-wing hawks, U.S. President George W. Bush has nominated Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton to become his next ambassador to the United Nations.
Bolton, widely considered the most unilateralist and least diplomatic of senior U.S. officials during Bush's first term, will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate where some Democrats, a few of whom were said to be stunned by the nomination, are expected to put up a fight.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks while introducing John R. Bolton (R), President George W. Bush 's nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations , at the State Department in Washington March 7, 2005. REUTERS/Shaun Heasley
One aide called the nomination ”incredible”, particularly in light of recent indications, including his talks with European leaders at the end of last month, that Bush and his new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, intended to pursue a more multilateralist policy in his second term and was determined to smooth the rougher diplomatic edges of his foreign policy team.
That notion had been bolstered by Rice's choice of Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, a long-time pragmatist and ”realist”, as her deputy despite Bolton's efforts, backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, to take the job.
The fact that he failed in his quest was taken as a clear sign that Rice was indeed moving toward a more multilateralist policy in defiance even of Cheney, the undisputed the leader of the coalition of aggressive nationalists, neo-conservatives, and Christian Right activists that dominated foreign policy from the Sep. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon until after the Iraq invasion.
Rice's acquiescence, if not agreement, to serve as her representative at the U.N., however, will require foreign policy analysts here to reassess that judgment.
”This is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Heather Hamilton, vice president of programmes for Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), formerly the World Federalist Association, who called Bolton the ”Armageddon nominee”.
The Armageddon allusion was to Bolton's long-time loyalty to former ultra-right Sen. Jesse Helms who, on retiring from public life, described Bolton as ”the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world.”
”His nomination sends the exactly the wrong message to the world about the Bush administration's willingness to work with other countries and in multilateral institutions. There's no one who has a greater track record of offending other countries, including our closest allies,” she said.
Despite a round, bespectacled face, ruddy cheeks, and a thick, drooping blonde moustache that give him an avuncular appearance, Bolton is known to be confrontational, combative, and humourless.
He began excoriating evil in the Reagan administration when, despite a lack of experience in developing countries, he held a series of posts in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) before winding up as one of Attorney-General Edwin Meese's top aides.
In that capacity, he resisted all efforts by Congress to investigate the Justice Department role in the Iran-Contra affair, as well as efforts by Sen. John Kerry to investigate drug and gun-running by the Nicaraguan contras in the mid-1980s.
His effectiveness gained him a promotion under President H.W. Bush to the position of assistant secretary of state for international organisations, a post he held until 1993 when he joined first the right-wing Manhattan Institute and then the neo-conservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI), home to such prominent hawks as former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former Defence Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, and Cheney's spouse, Lynne Cheney.
At a 1994 WFA panel discussion, Bolton asserted that, ”if the U.N. (secretariat) building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference”.
By the time former Secretary of State James Baker tapped him to serve as a senior member of the G.W. Bush legal team in Florida after the 2000 election, Bolton had become senior vice president at AEI, a position he used during the latter half of the 1990s to speak out strongly in favour of fully normalising ties with Taiwan, from which he had received money at the time, according to the Washington Post.
He also advocated withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and railed against ”nation-building”, international arms-control agreements, and threats supposedly posed to U.S. sovereignty by the United Nations and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan. At one point, Bolton suggested simply halting U.S. payments to the world body.
Bolton is also a long-time activist in the Federalist Society, an association of right-wing, nationalistic lawyers who have been particularly opposed to the application of international or foreign law in their decisions, a practice that they say threatens U.S. sovereignty.
The Society is also strongly opposed to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that seek the adoption of international law and standards in the United States. Along with AEI, the Society sponsors ”NGOWatch” which seeks to expose such efforts, as well as the funding sources of NGOs that take such positions.
Given his history of far-right positions, Secretary of State Colin Powell was reported to have been deeply sceptical of Bolton when Cheney suggested him for the undersecretary position. Cheney, however, insisted.
But within just a few months, it became clear that Bolton was far more in tune with the neo-conservative hawks around Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon hawks than with Powell's relatively moderate positions and demeanour.
In the summer of 2001, he shocked foreign delegations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons when he announced that Washington would oppose any attempt to regulate the trade in firearms or non-military rifles or any other effort that would ”abrogat (e) the constitutional right to bear arms.”
He played a similar role several months later when, amid the public shock that followed the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare, Bolton single-handedly sabotaged a U.N. meeting to forge an international verification protocol designed to put teeth into a treaty on bio-weapons.
When he had finished, he reportedly told his colleagues, ”It's dead, dead, dead, and I don't want it coming back from the dead.”
Within State, Bolton led the drive to renounce the U.S. signature on the 1998 Rome Statute that created the new International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
When Bush decided to withdraw the U.S. signature to the treaty, Bolton prevailed on Powell to permit him to sign the formal notification to Annan, an act he later described to the Wall Street Journal as ”the happiest moment of my government service”.
At the same time, Bolton was also engaged in a lengthy row with U.S. intelligence agencies over his public charge that Cuba had an offensive biological warfare program. His assertion became an embarrassment after anonymous intelligence officials and retired senior military officers, including the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, told the media that no such evidence existed and charged that Bolton was politicising intelligence.
In July 2003, Bolton was poised to testify to Congress that Syria's alleged programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction had developed to such an extent that they threatened regional stability, an assertion which reportedly provoked a ”revolt” by U.S.. intelligence analysts, who insisted that the evidence did not warrant such a conclusion.
Powell frequently complained to his closest aides that Bolton was undercutting him and appeared to be taking orders from Cheney and the Pentagon, rather than from his State Department superiors.
In a speech in Seoul that same month, for example, just as Pyongyang agreed to enter multilateral talks on its nuclear programme as the administration had demanded, Bolton described life in North Korea as a ”hellish nightmare”, and accused its leader, Kimg Jong Il, of being a ”dictator” or ”tyrant” running a ”dictatorship” or ”tyranny” no less than a dozen times.
Some U.S. and Asian analysts said the speech appeared designed to provoke Kim to boycott the meeting. Indeed, the North Korean media described Bolton as ”rude human scum” and a ”bloodthirsty vampire” and demanded that he be withdrawn from the delegation that was to take part in the talks.
Bolton did not show up. But, if Bush now gets his way, he will soon find himself at the heart of all U.S. multilateral diplomacy.
Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service