Sunday, March 20, 2005

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GRENADE

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By James Carney
Time Magazine
03-21-05

Ever since Bernard Kerik, George W. Bush’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, withdrew his name from consideration last December, the President had been playing it safe with his second-term nominations. And so it came as a surprise to almost everyone, in Washington and in capitals around the world, when the President last week announced John Bolton as his pick for the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. A senior State Department official whose 24-year career in and out of government has been defined by a self-professed distaste for treaties, contempt for diplomatic niceties and hostility toward the U.N., Bolton was described by a liberal think tank as “possibly the least appropriate person in U.S. public life” for the job. Said a Republican Senator: “Is the President spoiling for a fight?”

The answer, say top Bush aides, is yes. But the fight the President seeks is not the one he will face, and almost certainly win, over Bolton’s nomination. Bush chose Bolton, they say, because he’s sure that the smart and abrasive onetime protégé of U.N. basher and former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms is just the person to convince U.N. bashers in Congress that it will serve U.S. interests to give the scandal-plagued international body the American support and money it needs.

“This guy has the credibility to go to the skeptics and say, ‘It’s in our vital interests to have the U.N. because we can’t do all these things alone,’” insists a senior Bush aide.

But if Bush believes the U.N. is important, picking Bolton is a novel way to show it. In 1994, Bolton declared that if the 39-floor U.N. headquarters in New York City “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” In 2000 he told the U.S.’s National Public Radio that if he were remaking the U.N. Security Council, he would give it not five permanent members but just one—the U.S.—“because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.”

Bolton has insisted that international law has no validity because “those who think [it] really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.” He called the U.S. withdrawal from the International Criminal Court “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Bush aides argue that no matter what Bolton has said and done in the past, as U.N. ambassador he will carry out policy, not make it. But in his government jobs, Bolton has never been one to quietly follow orders. Critics say he consistently used his perch as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security to undermine former Secretary of State Colin Powell in his policy battles with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. And most famously, just as delicate six-party talks, including North Korea, were about to begin discussing Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program in 2003, Bolton delivered a speech excoriating Kim Jong Il as the “tyrannical dictator” of a country in which “life is a hellish nightmare.” Pyongyang responded by calling Bolton “human scum.”

With his bushy mustache and tweedy attire, Bolton, the son of a fire fighter and a homemaker, looks more like an eccentric professor than a pinstriped diplomat. He and his wife, a financial planner, live quietly in Washington, having packed off their only child, a daughter, to Yale. Friends and colleagues describe him as a cerebral and socially awkward workaholic who once brought a bottle of wine as a present to a 3-year-old’s birthday party. “It’s hard to imagine him living at the Waldorf,” says a friend, referring to the glamorous apartment used by America’s ambassador to the U.N.

A Baltimore native and Yale-educated lawyer, Bolton, 56, has been a staunch conservative since he campaigned for Barry Goldwater as a teenager in 1964. Bolton held jobs in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and treasures a gift he received from colleagues in the early 1980s—a bronze-plated hand grenade celebrating his reputation as a bomb thrower. After spending the Clinton years throwing bombs from a conservative think tank, Bolton played a key role as a lawyer representing Bush during the Florida recount in 2000, a sign of loyalty that guaranteed him a plum job in the new Administration. Bolton, Cheney once said, deserves “any job he wants.”

U.N. ambassador is not the job Bolton wanted most. After the 2004 election, White House and State Department sources say, he lobbied to become Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s deputy. But Rice, say sources close to the Secretary, didn’t want Bolton freelancing under her the way he had under Powell. In selling Bolton to Senators, Rice is arguing that sending a noted critic to be ambassador to the U.N. would be like “Nixon going to China.”

Though most Democrats oppose Bolton’s confirmation, some think Rice could be right. “Bolton could be both an Excedrin headache for the Secretary of State and someone who will be able to create negotiating space for her,” says Lee Feinstein, a veteran of the Clinton State and Defense departments. “The question is whether the pain will be worth the gain.”

3 Comments:

Blogger Sheryl said...

Maybe it will unite the rest of the United Nations against all Bush policies, which might be just what is needed to save the planet. But then maybe that is wishful thinking on my part.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Damien said...

And then today Kofi slam dunked his ass with the new UN reforms proposal. I think the BBC did a poll recently through Globalscan, very, very heartning stuff (espec in regards to the American veiw of the UN).

If they can get the proposals through, I'm guessing Bolten will be effectively 'de-powered'.

2:02 PM  
Blogger The Bird Poop said...

One of my favorite lines I heard recently about Bolten said "Why does Bolton not die his mustache to match his cheap toupee? He looks like the assistant manager of the month at the local Baskin Robbins."

Maybe the massive amount of comedy flotter is the only good thing to come out of this pissant's administration.

7:04 AM  

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