In the heat of the battle over the Florida vote after the 2000 US presidential election, a burly, mustachioed man burst into the room where the ballots for Miami-Dade County were being tabulated, like John Wayne barging into a saloon for a shoot-out. "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count," drawled John Bolton. And those ballots from Miami-Dade were not counted.
Now that same John Bolton has been named by President Bush as the US ambassador to the UN. "If I were redoing the security council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world," Bolton once said. Lately, as undersecretary of state for arms control, he has wrecked all the nonproliferation diplomacy within his reach. Over the past two decades he has been the person most dedicated to trying to discredit the UN. George Orwell's clock of 1984 is striking 13.
The euphoria that Bush's European trip marked a conversion on the road to Brussels is fading. For it was Bush himself who decided to reward Bolton with a position where he could continue his crusade as a "convinced Americanist" against the "globalists," especially those at the UN and the EU.
Bolton made a play to become deputy secretary of state after the 2004 election, but was blocked by Condoleezza Rice, who understood that his love of bureaucratic infighting would have undermined her authority. Dick Cheney privately promised Bolton that if all else failed he would give him a job on his vice presidential staff, but that proved unnecessary when Bush nominated him to the UN post. Rice announced his appointment, symbolically demonstrating that he reports to her. But Bolton has deep support within the White House, and Rice is very much a work-in-progress. With Bolton's appointment, the empire strikes back.
Bolton is an extraordinary combination of political operator and ideologue. He began his career as a cog in the machine of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, helping his political action committees evade legal restrictions and federal fines. Helms, the most powerful reactionary in the Senate, sponsored Bolton's rise to Reagan's justice department. "John Bolton," Helms said, "is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil."
Bolton is often called a neoconservative, but he is more their ally, implementer and agent. His roots are in Helms's Dixiecrat Republicanism, not the neocons' airy Trotskyism or Straussianism.
Bolton is a specimen of the "primitives", as Truman's secretary of state Dean Acheson called the unilateralists and McCarthyites of the early cold war. Through his political integration into the neocon apparatus, Bolton might be properly classified a neoprimitive.
At the state department, Bolton was Colin Powell's enemy within. In his first year, he forced the US withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, destroyed a protocol on enforcing the biological weapons convention, and ousted the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He scuttled the nuclear test ban treaty and the UN conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. And he was behind the renunciation of the US signature on the 1998 Rome statute creating the international criminal court. He described sending his letter notifying the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, as "the happiest moment of my government service".
Bolton's meddling in diplomacy on nonproliferation with North Korea and Iran guaranteed that the allies had no unified position and encouraged the Koreans and Iranians to play the nuclear card. Bolton's response to these crises has been to lead the charge to remove the UN head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. In late November, Bolton denounced the Blair government and the Europeans negotiating with the Iranians as "soft" for attempting "diplomatic means".
Bolton might be granted the integrity of his primitivism, a true believer who imagines Fortress America besieged by the UN and Europeans - "Americanists find themselves surrounded by small armies of globalists, each tightly clutching a favorite new treaty or multilateralist proposal". But Bolton's coarse ideology is advanced by sophisticated campaigns of disinformation - and not only on Iraq and North Korea. His leaks of falsehoods that Syria and Cuba had developed weapons of mass destruction sparked internal revolts by intelligence professionals and the foreign service.
Like his allies the neoconservatives, for Bolton the ends justify the means. But unlike them he has no use for romantic rhetoric about the "march of freedom" and "democracy", as he demonstrated so effectively in Florida. And now he has the job he sought above all from the beginning.
Sidney Blumenthal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of 'The Clinton Wars'.
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.