April 14, 2005

April 14, 2005 | Commentary on

Confirm Bolton; revamp U.N.

Beware what you wish for, lest it comes true. That sentiment could well be echoing through the halls of the United Nations this week. When he nominated Undersecretary of State John Bolton to the post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President Bush signaled that he was serious about engaging the errant world body. Mr. Bush critics have been clamoring for the administration to do exactly that, and what they are likely to get is engagement as tough love. But let's face it; tough love is better than no love at all. If the United Nations is to have any relevance in future, it desperately needs two things: American leadership and serious house cleaning as an institution.

"This is just about the most inexplicable appointment the President could make to represent the United States to the world community," said Sen. Ted Kennedy after Mr. Bolton's nomination. And Sen. Joseph Biden accused Mr. Bolton of lacking "diplomatic temperament." They don't get the point. Mr. Bolton is indeed not known for diplomatic diction. He speaks his mind plainly and clearly, and that is a sharp mind to boot. During the 1990s, he said some harsh things of the United Nations - which are now being quoted back at him - but there was much to criticize, particularly as the Clinton administration was about to farm out U.S. foreign police to the United Nations.

It is no wonder that fans of the status quo at the United Nations, be they diplomats or Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, have been having fainting spells over his nomination. Mr. Bolton's hearings were off to a bumpy start as Democrats lined up against him firing off tough rounds of questioning. Few have any doubt that Mr. Bolton will get the confirmation, after all he has previously confirmed before for the sensitive post as undersecretary of state for arms control. But critics of the war in Iraq want their pound of flesh. Mr. Bolton is in good company, though. Senate Democrats likewise held up the confirmation of Mr. Bolton's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hostage in order to make points about the president's policy in Iraq.

In both cases, the opponents of the nominee have been eager to rehash past events rather than looking to the future, particularly the supposed politicization of U.S. intelligence by the first Bush administration. Forget about the fact that investigation after investigation, including the most recent intelligence report of Robb-Silberman Commission as exonerated administration officials of this oft-repeated accusation. Also in question has been a speech given by Mr. Bolton at the Heritage Foundation in 2002, in which he asserted that Cuba had a biological weapons program. That, too, was in accordance with U.S. intelligence estimates, though it clearly rubbed some of Mr. Bolton's subordinates in the State Department the wrong way.

Far more interesting is why Mr. Bolton would want this thankless job, and what he wants to do with it. He is taking a cut in rank by several degrees, and will report to the assistant secretary for international organizations, a position he himself held in the administration of President George W.H. Bush. Mr. Bolton knows what he walks into; in the early 1990s re wrote a reform agenda for the United Nations; he has done U.N. pro bon work in Africa; and as undersecretary for arms control was valuable experience of what works and doesn't work in multilateral regimes.

In his opening statement, Mr. Bolton stressed problems with anti-corruption efforts, the bloated U.N. bureaucracy and organizational structures, abuses by U.N. peacekeepers and a paltry human rights record. However, tellingly, his immediate focus was the international security challenges facing the world of the 21st century. This issue was also the focus of the report of the Secretary General's high-level panel, published in November.

"If the U.N. is to play a role in fulfilling [its] mission, however, it is not enough to reform its internal structures. It must also clearly and forcefully address the new challenges we face. Rogue states, which do not necessarily subscribe to the theories and deterrence, now threaten the global community as both possessors and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction," he said. Mr. Bolton further stressed the nightmare scenario of a nexus between rogue proliferators states and terrorist organizations.

Rather than bicker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ought to seize the opportunity and vote for the conformation of this tough-minded civil servant. If the U.N. can be redeemed, it will need someone like Mr. Bolton to take charge.

Helle Dale  is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times