The undiplomatic diplomat

Fifty-nine former diplomats say John Bolton is the "wrong man" to represent the United States before the United Nations.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 29, 2005 4:59PM (EST)

Confirmation hearings for John Bolton won't begin until April 7, but the battle is already joined over George W. Bush's nominee to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Fifty-nine former American diplomats have signed off on a letter urging the Senate to reject Bush's nominee, saying that Bolton is the "wrong man" for the job. The former diplomats say that, although Bolton is currently the State Department's senior arms control official, he has developed an "exceptional record" of opposing U.S. effort to improve national security through arms control. They also say that his "insistence that the U.N. is valuable only when it directly serves the United States" will make it difficult for him to negotiate with other U.N. representatives from other nations.

The Associated Press reports that the letter's signatories include Arthur Hartman, who was the ambassador to France and the Soviet Union under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and assistant secretary of state for European affairs under President Richard M. Nixon, James Leonard, who was deputy ambassador to the U.N. under Carter and Gerald Ford; Princeton Lyman, ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria under Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Monteagle Stearns, ambassador to Greece and Ivory Coast in the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations.

Central to the concern over Bolton's nomination is his dismissive view of the United Nations itself. In a panel discussion in 1994, Bolton declared that "there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, that's the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along." Bolton said that the "mindless creation of the United Nations as something different than what is in the United States' interest to do isn't gonna sell here or anywhere else." With his voice rising in anger, Bolton declared: "The United States makes the U.N. work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be because the only question --- the only question to the United States -- is what's in our national interest. And if you don't like that, I'm sorry, but that is the fact."

Bolton's opponents are using a videotape of his comments as Exhibit A in their case against him. You might expect Bolton's supporters to dance around the tape -- to say that it's old news, that his views have changed, that he was speaking then as a think tank thinker and not a government official. Instead, as blogger Steven Clemons notes, the anti-U.N. group Move America Forward is urging its followers to watch the tape as proof that Bolton is exactly the right man for the job. "The reasons [Bolton's opponents] are crying about Boltons nomination are the same reasons why we are celebrating it," Move America Forward says on its Web site. "Bolton is looking out for the interests of the United States over that of the U.N., and that is exactly what we need in a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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