President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to become United Nations ambassador began as an embarrassment and is ending as a disgrace. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was right to delay a scheduled vote and resist being railroaded by the administration into approving him.
Bolton’s infantile crack that it would make no difference if the U.N. lost its top 10 floors already testified to his unfitness to serve as the United States’ diplomat to the world. It may have been Bush’s right to appoint someone provocative yet capable. But the revelations that have emerged over the past weeks in the Senate call into question Bolton’s basic ability to do the job.
On issue after issue, whether North Korea or Iraq, Bolton has wielded a wrecking ball. It might be possible to wave off one allegation of the misuse of intelligence — infighting always takes place in the government bureaucracy — but Bolton appears to have willfully and systematically suppressed and misused classified information, including bullying civil service officials who dared to challenge his apocalyptic assessments of North Korean, Iraqi and Cuban weapons programs. Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin apparently had to intervene to protect a Latin American analyst from Bolton’s wrath; Carl W. Ford Jr., the State Department’s former assistant secretary of intelligence and research — the only government bureau to get it right on Iraq — describes him as a “serial abuser.” And Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is rightly inquiring about Bolton’s unusual request to look at National Security Administration intercepts and why he asked for the identities of analysts. Why indeed?
The best case that can be made for Bolton is that he’s no worse than other neoconservative officials in the Pentagon who manipulated intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But Bolton also appears to have a mean streak, a pattern of arrogant recklessness that bodes ill for this assignment. If there is anyone in the U.S. government who needs to be infinitely patient, it’s the ambassador at the U.N., who must constantly engage representatives of dozens of nations — diplomats Bolton would no doubt find infinitely annoying. Not only does he lack the temperament for the job, it’s hard to imagine why he’d want it.
Bolton surely can’t want the job now, with the world on notice that even the Republican Senate has its misgivings about his nomination. Bush may find it hard to back down, so Bolton should do him and his country a favor and step aside. Maybe there is a consolation prize the White House could offer him. How about ambassador to France?