Global gorilla

Bush's jaw-dropping nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. is a slap in the world's face.

Topics: Dick Cheney, United Nations, Neoconservatism, Iraq, Middle East

In the old days, Sen. Marcus Cato used to tell the Romans in every speech, “Carthage must be destroyed.” Even the Romans were never crass enough to send him there as an ambassador. It takes an imperial America to send to the United Nations a representative who has spent decades preaching that the organization should be destroyed, and that the United States should disregard the whole concept of international law on which it is based. But in and out of government, John Bolton has at least had the dubious virtue of consistency.

President Bush’s appointment sends an eloquent message of utter contempt for the U.N. and all its members — which happen to include almost every country in the world. Indeed, the only significant country without a vote in the U.N. is one of the few that will be happy with the appointment. Taiwan had hired Bolton as a consultant for $30,000 to advise it on its, as it transpired, unsuccessful bid to join the organization.

There is still the chance for a sanity clause to be resurrected in Washington. When it comes time for confirmation, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is relatively evenly balanced at 10 to eight, and its majority chairman, Richard Lugar, is eminently sane and surely realizes the damage that this appointment will do to American diplomacy.

Bolton will be presenting his credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whom he accused in the Weekly Standard of a “power grab,” denouncing his “doctrine that force is unimportant while ‘international law’ is practically everything,” which he scornfully admitted “is widely held in Europe” and was also “popular here, particularly in the Clinton administration.” He also dismissed Annan, whose cooperation Bush is trying to secure in Iraq, as a “chief administrative officer.”

There will be few public negative comments from governments or diplomats about Bolton’s appointment, but there have been few signs of public ecstasy either. And behind the scenes, diplomats are scratching their heads trying to work out what the appointment reveals about American foreign policy. Certainly one major inference that the United States’ European alliance may draw is that the recent road show that the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice staged across the Continent’s capitals was all sound and furry, in the pseudo-cuddly sense, signifying nothing.



The bad news is that there is every reason to fear that Bolton’s job is to repeat in Iran and Syria the fiasco of Iraq. Indeed, Cuba and North Korea are on the “axis of evil” he has kept expanding in successive speeches.

The good news is that he is almost certain to fail even more abjectly than his predecessors in winning support for these neocon wet dreams. They could at least compromise and cajole, and invoke international law and treaties. That is not the way Bolton has done things so far.

Examining the thinking behind the appointment further leads to two rational conclusions, neither of them reassuring. Was Bolton appointed as a deliberate insult to the organization, or is the Bush White House so absolutely unaware of how other countries, even allies, think that he just saw this as putting a “strong advocate” in position?

When Colin Powell was appointed as secretary of state, Vice President Dick Cheney and his entourage regarded him as dangerously liberal and unreliable. After all, even former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had chided him for his unwillingness to put U.S. soldiers in the firing line. Their solution was to put the tried and trusted Bolton in the State Department as undersecretary for arms control and international security, whose explicit function was to be the conservatives’ commissar in the State Department, reporting to Cheney.

Bolton is such a conservative ideologue, with never a hint of self-doubt, that he makes the neoconservatives look like indecisive, hand-wringing liberals. Going beyond Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg, the German chancellor who dismissed the treaties guaranteeing Belgian neutrality as a “scrap of paper,” he dismisses all treaties.

We are sending to the United Nations, which we founded, and for which we pretty much wrote the charter “to save succeeding generations from the curse of war,” someone who recently said, “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so — because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.”

One of the treaties Bolton has tried hard to tear into scraps is the one establishing the International Criminal Court, which he made his immediate personal task. The court was set up so that the perpetrators of mass murder — in the Balkans, in Rwanda, in Iraq — would never again have impunity for their crimes. Not only did Bolton “unsign” the treaty, previously signed by President Clinton — his “happiest moment,” Bolton said — he “unsigned” the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which binds countries not to frustrate the purposes of treaties they have signed.

Like a global gorilla, he then organized a rampage around the world, bullying and bribing countries to sign bilateral treaties, which were probably illegal in themselves, promising not to hand over the United Citizens to the new international court in The Hague. The United States even threatened to veto U.N. peacekeeping operations unless the U.N. Security Council put in similar exemptions. Under duress, it agreed, until the treaties came up for renewal — at the time the Abu Ghraib photographs were revealed.

Not even Washington’s best friends could pretend that American servicemen and women were uniquely incapable of committing war crimes, and Bolton’s proposal was defeated when it came up for renewal last year.

Last month the new government of Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein had been one of the tiny handful of countries to agree with the United States about the court, decided to join the court. Last week, without explanation, which with 150,000 U.S. troops in the country may have been considered superfluous, Baghdad quietly announced that it was changing its mind. That may have been Bolton’s last deed at the State Department.

But across the world, there are lots of resentful small countries, which had been bullied by Bolton. Noticeably, all other NATO members and the whole E.U. are strong supporters of the court, and looked askance at Bolton’s antics.

They ain’t seen nothing yet.

If Powell could not control Bolton when he was in the State Department with a license from Cheney to kill treaties, the question of how sincere Rice is in her recent imitations of a multilateralist becomes irrelevant. The State Department will be out of the loop. Across the globe, people, most of whom are already unimpressed with our chief executive, will be judging the United States by its most visible public face, its representative at the United Nations. Even if other governments wanted to cooperate with us — and it is noteworthy that our most abject ally, Tony Blair, publicly disagrees with Bolton’s stands on almost every issue — their electorates would not let them.

In the immediate future, the U.N. Security Council is deadlocked on what to do about Darfur, Sudan, for which Bush won many evangelical votes with his strong talk. The U.N.’s report on the mass killings there recommended, among other things, referring the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court. The United States apparently would rather leave the murderers running around for a few more years while a new body is set up.

To be honest, Washington is not the only problem here. China is one of the few countries that agreed with Saddam and the United States about the court, and it has a veto in the Security Council. When issues involving anything like humanitarian intervention come up, the Chinese have to be stroked into abstaining, persuaded that Tibet and Tiananmen Square are not in the minds of the movers.

Good luck to Bolton with his Taiwan connections and his version of diplomacy, which is to shout loud and wave a big stick.

Still, many Americans may to some degree agree with Bolton that this is all foreign stuff and has nothing to do with them. It depends on how many wars they want to pay for, in blood and taxes. It seems likely that Cheney & Co. persuaded the president to appoint Bolton on the grounds that he could get things done. After all, as Orwellian-ly named head of arms control he has effectively been sabotaging not only the ICC but also a nuclear test ban, a land mine ban, conventions on child soldiers and restrictions on trade in the small arms that have killed far more people than any putative weapons of mass destruction.

In a sense Bush has done the world a favor. He has shown that all that sweet talk on his European trip was persiflage, and revealed the would-be 800-pound gorilla under the dinner suit.

The cranks whose explicit agenda is to destroy the United Nations are already campaigning for Bolton’s confirmation. Perhaps it’s time for the silent majority of Americans who do not want more wars, who want war criminals to be tried, who think that nuclear disarmament is no bad thing and who would like the rest of the world to think well of them to let their senators know that, like the Founding Fathers, they still have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.

Ian Williams' book "Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776" is due in late August 2005 from Nation Books. His last book was "Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Own Past."

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>