Vote on Bolton’s experience and qualifications if you can.
by Victor Davis Hanson
Tribune Media Services
The marathon confirmation hearings of John Bolton to be the American ambassador to the United Nations have become pathetic. Bolton is supposedly discourteous to subordinates. He was a hands-on-his-hips boss! Heaven forbid, he sometimes bellowed.
The “disclosure” of these supposedly hurtful flare-ups has little to do with Bolton’s fitness to navigate in the United Nations, whose General Assembly includes miscreants from Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe. Otherwise, Bolton’s occasional gruffness would be seen as a real asset in an international jungle where a murderous Syria sat on the Commission on Human Rights while member states perennially castigated democratic Israel as racist.
So the Bush administration wants to unleash a barking watchdog to patrol the United Nations, reeling from its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food scandal, sexual misconduct among its operatives in Africa, and inaction as thousands perished in the Congo and Darfur. It tires of subsidizing an unaccountable organization that institutionalizes graft, excuses criminality and ignores genocide — but somehow regularly blames its chief democratic patron, the United States.
Bolton’s critics apparently feel that such global organizations, for all their faults, nevertheless provide a useful brake on George Bush’s exuberance abroad. And now they appear confident that their own barroom tactics will eventually wear down the patrician complacency of Bolton’s strangely nonchalant supporters.
Those who roast Bolton prefer an ambassador who would not rock the boat of multilateralism, or, better yet, lack the zeal and skills even to try — and certainly would not employ Bolton’s characterization of Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator.” The last time we heard such provocative talk Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” under the curious assumption that it was both evil and an empire.
Blocking the Bolton nomination would send a powerful message to a wounded president to scrap his policy of muscular idealism and instead return to the polite pre-9/11 past, when the status quo abroad went unquestioned.
Yet if partisanship now defines Bolton’s confirmation, it should be a superfluous debate: The confident Republicans have majorities both on the Foreign Relations Committee and in the Senate at large. In response, the opposition’s inquisition hopes to keep casting enough mud to make the otherwise squeaky clean Bolton too stained to win an assured majority vote, from senators who wish to seem, rather than to be, principled.
There are several contradictions inherent in this smearing. Bolton is a proven public servant and was previously confirmed for other government positions in two administrations.
Do we really wish to return to the baleful days of the ruination of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork? When there are not the votes to reject a candidate holding different political views, or no evidence that the nominee’s qualifications are substandard, the slimy alternative is to embarrass his sponsors to the point of withdrawing their support. Opponents fish for a temper tantrum here or a testy outburst there — or as Sen. Joseph Biden better explained it, “extraneous things that may or may not have legs.”
Then there is the unmentioned issue of hypocrisy of John Bolton’s most vociferous inquisitors. Sen. Barbara Boxer slams the nominee in the manner she hammered Condoleezza Rice. Yet she paid her own son a six-figure fee out of her publicly-raised campaign funds. In another scandal, Boxer circumvented channels to ram through special favorable legislation for the Miwok Tribe that wished a gaming franchise; later, the tribe hired her same peripatetic offspring as a consultant.
Sen. Chris Dodd now thinks out loud whether John Bolton’s conduct is indictable. After the recent Enron meltdown that cost consumers billions of dollars, many wondered the same thing about him for sponsoring unusual legislation for his own mega-dollar campaign donors. Dodd’s intervention relaxed auditing accountability and allowed suspect firms like Arthur Andersen to circumvent legal culpability with disastrous results.
Biden’s past slips and slurs make Bolton look like a Boy Scout. Not long ago he threatened representatives from the airlines with, “I will screw you badly,” and dubbed the United States at war in Afghanistan a “high-tech bully.” Biden has fought accusations of intellectual misrepresentation going all the way back to law school — repeated charges about character that have aborted his previous presidential ambitions.
The point is not to find dirt on these smear mongers but to remember that the most savagely critical senators — who hold far more important public posts than U.N. ambassador — would themselves fall far short of the impossible standards of nicety that they are suddenly imposing on a good man whose politics they abhor.
Absent from their televised showboating is any humility that we are all human and hence occasionally rude — or that the god Nemesis always hunts out the hubristic hypocrite. So let the committee spare us their sanctimonious soapbox sermons, and simply vote on whether or not John Bolton mysteriously has lost the credentials and experience to serve the United States that are a matter of long record.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson