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Bolton: What's It All About?

Bill Kristol's editorial on John Bolton is worth a read. Worth a read not so much because it has any merit, but because it's so extraordinarily off-point. Kristol's a smart guy; Kristol's interested in politics; Kristol follows foreign policy; Kristol knows perfectly well what the charges against Bolton are. And yet here's how he sums up the case against: "Bolton disagreed with--he even disliked!--a couple of bureaucrats. He challenged them." That's absurd. The relevant point here isn't that Bolton was brusque with some lower-tier officials. It's that the behavior -- however you want to characterize it -- was aimed distorting the intelligence assessments received by the American people and by the President of the United States. That's not the only charge against Bolton, but it's one of the very most important ones. If Bolton had some subordinates who were trying to misrepresent Intelligence Community views on Syrian (and Cuban, etc.) WMD programs and he got really, really mad at them in an effort to stop them, nobody would be complaining. But he did the reverse. At any rate, Kristol knows this, he's just choosing to lie about it.

Although one sort of wonders why he's bothering. Kristol spent a lot of time and energy in the 1995-2002 period trying to reorient conservatism away from Botlon-style realpolitik and toward a more internationalist, humanitarian, globally engaged sort of view. Bolton is a repudiation of a great deal of that work. If this is really all about Bolton's policy views, then Kristol ought to be at least ambivalent.

Meanwhile, decent intelligent people have every reason to stay focused more on Boltonism than Bolton per se. Robert Wright has an excellent op-ed on this subject in The New York Times which, appropriately, uses Bolton as a bit of a pretext to wax liberal internationalist. The basic point is that American security depends -- and will do so increasingly -- on effective WMD control. Effective WMD control must be international. And like any really effective legal/enforcement regime, it needs to be stable and institutionalized. That means America is going to need to submit to some constraints on our freedom of action in order to likewise restrain others. And this is precisely what Bolton finds objectionable -- international institutions with real teeth.

April 26, 2005 | Permalink

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» Whitewashing Bolton from Political Animal
WHITEWASHING BOLTON....Matt Yglesias links today to Bill Kristol's recent piece on John Bolton in the Weekly Standard. Here is how Kristol summarizes the issue:Bolton disagreed with — he even disliked! — a couple of bureaucrats. He challenged them. But... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2005 12:44:33 PM

» Bolton Roundup from The Unalienable Right
Rich Lowry shares some Bolton related emails here. ...and a positive quote from Richard Armitage here. ...and an article on The Bolton Dirtfest Whatever else you think of him, John Bolton is a serious person. Democrats could have acted on their ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2005 4:04:44 PM

» http://www.exportcontrolblog.com/blog/2005/04/robert_wright_d.html from Export Control Blog
Robert Wright does some deep thinking on the NYT op-ed page today about the long-term terrorist threat to the US and concludes:Unless I've overlooked an option, there is ultimately no alternative to international arms control. It will have to be [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2005 6:57:37 PM

» The Assault on John Bolton from Vista On Current Events


William Kristol has a good editorial titled 'The Borking of Bolton' well worth your time to re... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2005 12:38:48 PM

Comments

Either Kristol just doesn't 'get it,' or else he's participating in that frequent modern day conservative pasttime - Circling the Wagons. Republicans/conservatives are great at it. It's like a vortex, where even non-Republicans (re: Ed Koch) get sucked into it.

McCain campaigning for Bush in 2004, anyone?

Posted by: Matt | Apr 26, 2005 11:12:41 AM

Wow. You actually give Kristol the benefit of the doubt that he might actually be sincere? Why? He's probably getting paid to push a prescribed angle, anyway.

Posted by: Willem | Apr 26, 2005 11:38:39 AM

Any day now the grown-up Republicans will be emerging to take control of the W Bush Administration. You just wait.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 26, 2005 11:53:19 AM

Matt,

I agree that the issues involving Bolton's role in jiggering intelligence, and his pattern of intimidation and unprofessional behavior in accomplishing the jiggering, are vital issues. But at this point I think there is something more important to focus on.

Let us remind ourselves that Bolton is not a nominee for a position in the defense department, or the NSA or the CIA. Bolton is a candidate for a position as a diplomat. Indeed, he is a candidate for what is still the most important diplomatic position in the US government after that of Secretary of State.

Yet it is hard to think of a person who is more singularly unqualified for that role. He is a laughably, absurdly, hysterically, breathtakingly inappropriate choice for the job of presenting US positions on international issues to the world community on the world stage, and putting the best possible face on those positions. This goes beyond the issue of political ideology and crosses over into the question of basic competence. Even those of you who favor a hawkish, unilateralist, neoconnish foreign policy stance would, I think, favor diplomats who have the capacity to sell that policy rather than make a hash of it.

If you believe key diplomatic positions should be filled by people who are skilled in the art of, well, diplomacy, then ask your Senators to show Bolton the door. If, on the other hand, your hope is to have a UN ambassador who is certain to generate avoidable opposition to US policies simply by virtue of his demeanor and his irritating presence; a man who can be counted on to say "fuck you" to the world at every possible opportunity; a man who can be expected to play poorly with his teammates and inject his own obstreperous and idiosyncratic spin into public statements of US policy; and a man who is sure to take over the dossier of already hard-to-sell US positions and blow the whole account, then Bolton is your man.

All the examination of Bolton's record is certainly appreciated. But the more details of the record that are examined by commentators, the more the central point is obscured - Bolton as UN ambassador is simply a joke - as much of a joke as appointing Charles Ponzi as Treasury Secretary. Bolton shouldn't merely be turned down - he should be laughed out of the hearing room.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 26, 2005 11:58:28 AM

"Effective WMD control must be international."
True but trivial: it's the WMDs outside America's control that are the concern.

"And like any really effective legal/enforcement regime, it needs to be stable and institutionalized."
Not true. Co-operation between sovereign states does not have to be institutionalized to be stable.

"That means America is going to need to submit to some constraints on our freedom of action in order to likewise restrain others."
Not true. "Others" being terrorist organisations and less stable states, there is no reason why America should accept the same constraints as it wishes to impose on them.

"And this is precisely what Bolton finds objectionable -- international institutions with real teeth."
Not true: toothless institutions obstructing the US when it chooses to act in its legitimate interest, that is what Bolton objects to. Me too for that matter.

Posted by: Adrian | Apr 26, 2005 12:00:22 PM

Does Bolton's style qualify as "realpolitik"? It seems to me that he is so personally abrasive that his approach is usually self-defeating. It's not so much "I'm willing to be a slimeball if it gets things done." (like Kissinger) as "I'm sticking to my guns because I'm the only one who understands what's really going on here." That's makes him an ideologue, pretty much diametrically opposed to realpolitik.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 26, 2005 12:01:48 PM

This sort of article from Kristol could have been understandable during Bush's first term. Quite simply, Kristol's ability to have any sort of influence within the administration or the Republican dinner-party circuit depended on a knee-jerk defense of the White House and adherence to its talking points. At this stage, howeever, I would have assumed that Kristol would be more interested in building influence within his own factions in preparation for 2006 and 2008. There's no reason for him to be a loyal Bushista now... I would have assumed that he'd want to hitch his wgon to some people who had little interest in following the White House line on Bolton... unless he thinks that the nexus of Republican power for the upcoming elections still goes straight through the White House.

Posted by: Constantine | Apr 26, 2005 12:02:53 PM

Wow, this is a spectacularly wrongheaded post.

"was aimed distorting the intelligence assessments received by the American people and by the President of the United States"

Bullsh*t! This is just plain false. Bolton was pushing intelligence officials more interested in CYA than anything else to go somewhere with their analysis. It's like the left has completely forgotten 9/11. We need intelligence officials who are willing to push underlings to draw conclusions from their reports - see where they may lead, not just to say "everything's A-OK". The absolute worst thing would be to have intelligence handled as Matthew and the Dems seem to want: with officials not willing to or having the imagination to see threats, nor willing or able to ask lower intelligence officials the hard questions. More reason that we should never trust national security to Democrats.

Posted by: Al | Apr 26, 2005 12:04:28 PM

The basic point is that American security depends -- and will do so increasingly -- on effective WMD control. Effective WMD control must be international. And like any really effective legal/enforcement regime, it needs to be stable and institutionalized. That means America is going to need to submit to some constraints on our freedom of action in order to likewise restrain others. And this is precisely what Bolton finds objectionable -- international institutions with real teeth.


Also, this is completely wrongheaded.

We need international institutions that will act in America's interests. And THAT is what Democrats most object to: that Bolton will actually have as an objective trying to use the institutions to do something in our own interest. Matthew, like the Democrats, seem to think that we should support the institutions for the institutions' sake. Wrong. We should support them for OUR sake. The institutions won't look out for America's intersts unless we have someone there who will make them. A person like Bolton.

Why is it that any time America's interests are at stake, liberals blanche? I mean - attack Kosovo, where we have no interests - and liberals like Matthew are all over it. But attack Iraq, in the heart of the Middle East, where we have vital interests - liberals say "no way"! They actually object to America acting in America's interest. Same here with Bolton - they object that he may try to use the international institutions for our own interests. Strange, strange, strange.

Posted by: Al | Apr 26, 2005 12:10:40 PM

Al, give me $300 billion and I'll pull off some crazy amazing shit that is decidedly in America's interests.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 26, 2005 12:16:49 PM

Yeah, if Bolton only had a free hand to investigate the Cuban bioweapons program, 9/11 could have been prevented.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 26, 2005 12:22:49 PM

"toothless institutions obstructing the US when it chooses to act in its legitimate interest, that is what Bolton objects to. Me too for that matter"

Well, which is it? Are they toothless, or do they obstruct us? Very obviously, if they are capable of obstructing us, they aren't toothless.

Man, you guys are making even less sense than usual here.

Posted by: rea | Apr 26, 2005 12:23:13 PM

> If you believe key diplomatic positions should be
> filled by people who are skilled in the art of, well,
> diplomacy, then ask your Senators to show Bolton the
> door.

Dan,
I am in agreement with you on Bolton. But I think it is important to keep in mind that there is some validity to the Radical Right's criticism: diplomats tend toward clubby, diplomatic solutions to problems. Which may or may not be what a country needs at any given time. Remember that both Churchill and Roosevelt often bypassed their respective diplomatic machinery to get what they needed done, done.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 26, 2005 12:29:01 PM

"It's like the left has completely forgotten 9/11. We need intelligence officials who are willing to push underlings to draw conclusions from their reports - see where they may lead, not just to say 'everything's A-OK'"

It's like the right has completely forgotten Iraq. We need intelligence officials who will follow the evidence wherever it leads and give us conclusions based on evidence, not ideoligical preconceptions. For example, when the overwhelming weight of evidence is that Castro does not have an active biological weapons program, demanding that intelligence officials reach a contrary conclusion, apparently on no more evidence than that having a biological weapons program is just the sort of thing an evil guy like Castro would do, is a bad idea. manipulation of evidnece like this makes us less safe, not more.

Posted by: rea | Apr 26, 2005 12:37:09 PM

I always used to wonder what it would be like if some of the world's stupider herd animals were given the power of human speech. But then Al came along, and I wonder no more.

Posted by: grh | Apr 26, 2005 12:39:03 PM

"That means America is going to need to submit to some constraints on our freedom of action in order to likewise restrain others."
Not true. "Others" being terrorist organisations and less stable states, there is no reason why America should accept the same constraints as it wishes to impose on them.

I know it is very trendy these days to claim that we are in some new era where the chief proliferation concern is with terrorist organizations and failing states. And certainly that is one big area of concern. But the main proliferation concern, in my opinion, is still proliferation among established states. In that area the old nonproliferation approach is still the best. There are too many states, too collectively powerful, occupying too many regions of potential conflict, for an approach based on dictation of terms by the United States to work. I had hoped that buy now most Americans had recovered from their post-9/11 manic phase, and its infatuation with the chimeras of the "unipolar moment" and "universal benevolent hegemony". These fantasies partake of an absurd overestimation of US power.

"And this is precisely what Bolton finds objectionable -- international institutions with real teeth."
Not true: toothless institutions obstructing the US when it chooses to act in its legitimate interest, that is what Bolton objects to. Me too for that matter.

If the international institutions lacked teeth entirely, then they would simply be incapable of obstructing the US, and therefore would not be worth worrying about. What people like Bolton resent is that these organizations do have a few teeth left, and that they have them in part because some of his own fellow-citizens, want that to be the case. He wants to pull the teeth that remain.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 26, 2005 12:39:26 PM

diplomats tend toward clubby, diplomatic solutions to problems.

And plumbers tend toward solutions that involve water going through pipes, whereas attorneys prefer solutions based on an interpretation of written law.

Some problems are best solved by diplomats, some by plumbers, and some by lawyers. Very few are best solved by, say, a lawyer with a snake and monkey wrench. Given that Bolton is not a diplomat, why should he be hired to solve the problems that we generally leave to diplomats?

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 26, 2005 12:39:57 PM

We need intelligence officials who are willing to push underlings to draw conclusions from their reports - see where they may lead, not just to say "everything's A-OK". The absolute worst thing would be to have intelligence handled as Matthew and the Dems seem to want: with officials not willing to or having the imagination to see threats, nor willing or able to ask lower intelligence officials the hard questions. More reason that we should never trust national security to Democrats.

If Bolton were applying for a job as an intelligence official, this might be an interesting debate to have. But he's not.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 26, 2005 12:41:12 PM

If Bolton were applying for a job as an intelligence official, this might be an interesting debate to have. But he's not.

???

Matthew writes: "It's that the behavior -- however you want to characterize it -- was aimed distorting the intelligence assessments received by the American people and by the President of the United States. That's not the only charge against Bolton, but it's one of the very most important ones."

Are you saying that Matthew's charge is only relevant to intelligence officials? And since Bolton is not "applying for a job as an intelligence official", Matthew's charge is irrelevant?

Way to get Bolton's back!

Posted by: Al | Apr 26, 2005 12:47:07 PM

"Well, which is it? Are they toothless, or do they obstruct us? Very obviously, if they are capable of obstructing us, they aren't toothless."

If America consents to UN authority, the UN is capable of obstructing it

If Sudan does not consent to UN authority, the UN is toothless

Posted by: Adrian | Apr 26, 2005 12:50:58 PM

Matthew, like the Democrats, seem to think that we should support the institutions for the institutions' sake. Wrong. We should support them for OUR sake. The institutions won't look out for America's intersts unless we have someone there who will make them. A person like Bolton.

No, Democrats usually think we should support and strengthen those institutions mainly because they think Americans benefit from their existence, and from US participation in them, even though that means that the United states must surrender some freedom of action to derive those benefits.

Just as it can be rational to sacrifice some autonomy by moving from one's unilateral unibomber shack, and into a community with an effective police department, so that one can enjoy the benefits of living in a prosperous and well-ordered community; so it can be rational for a state to participate in establishing and maintaining powerful supranational institutions.

The only way in which that would not be rational is in a situation in which the state is so overwhelmingly powerful, and capable of so easily enforcing its will against all others collectively, that the cost of submission is not worth the benefits of cooperation. But we do not live in a world that is anything like that, as much as radical, survivalist right-wingers might nostalgically pine for such a state of affairs. This is the real world, in which Americans are powerful, but thoroughly outnumbered. We thus have to deal.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 26, 2005 12:56:47 PM

Gentlemen,

There is a misconception I think on the nature of the power of "international institutions".

Basically, they have no power independent of the United States. This is because of a general unwillingness to do anything, outside of PR tokens, outside ones borders that has no immediate and critical bearing on national interests. The world as a whole is content to leave these jobs to the US and is certainly not organizing to displace it. If they were we would see things like European naval expansion and serious peacekeeping commitments. There is nothing of the sort on the horizon, in spite of their having a clear field.

The only power international institutions have is to direct the energies of the US through public relations strategies. The uselessness of the ICC for instance, is entirely due to its inability to arrest malefactors. They don't even want to deal seriously with the ones they have. The Euros don't want to get into that business, they merely want to use it as a carrot/stick to manipulate the silly Americans.

And so with Kyoto, the UN,

Posted by: luisalegria | Apr 26, 2005 1:02:17 PM

why does luisalegria hate the WHO?

Posted by: praktike | Apr 26, 2005 1:06:36 PM

Cranky,

I agree with the claim that there are times when a diplomatic solution is not what is called for. But I would second Paul Callahan's observation. You need to keep quality diplomats on the staff for the times when their particular skills are needed. You don't give the spot to your feckless brother-in-law in order to please your sister, on the assumption that you'll never need him. (That seems to be what Bush is doing here - pleasing a constituency by tossing them a UN bone, which he believes he will have no use for anyway.)

Even during a major war you need diplomats. It can make the difference between opening a second front or convincing a third party to remain neutral, getting cooperation on basing and flyover rights, etc. There is never a time when it is not in your interest to get the best possible reception for your policies - even if the best possible is not very good.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 26, 2005 1:15:40 PM

Shouldn't we have someone in the UN who will promote US policy, as opposed to avoiding what his superiors say and giving any old speech he want? (Bolton's North Korea speech)

There are differences between being aforceful/abrasive leader and harassing people/chasing them through a hotel/trying to fire them because the FACTS don't match what you want and they won't lie.

Posted by: Rambuncle | Apr 26, 2005 1:27:16 PM

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