The Magazine

Bolton's the One

From the April 18, 2005 issue: John Bolton is an exceptional choice to be our next U.N. ambassador.

Apr 18, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 29 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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FULL DISCLOSURE (okay, partial disclosure--let's not get carried away with media ethics breast-beating): John Bolton has been an occasional contributor to this magazine. He served in the late 1990s as a director of the Project for the New American Century, which I chair. And he is a friend.

More than all that, though, he is an exceptional choice to serve as our next U.N. ambassador. He should be confirmed quickly and easily by the Senate. He has, after all, been confirmed for high government positions four times before. He has served in those posts with distinction during three administrations, untainted by a hint of scandal or a murmur of corner-cutting. He has been an exemplary public servant.

He also, as it happens, supports President Bush's policies, and as undersecretary of state worked hard to advance them in the first term. So the Democratic party, led by George Soros and the New York Times, thinks he shouldn't be permitted to continue to serve President Bush.

Despite Soros's millions and the Times's resources, the assault on Bolton has been pathetic. What does it amount to? He's a longtime U.N. skeptic--appropriate, one would think, given the U.N.'s "Zionism is Racism" history during the Cold War, and its ineffectiveness (to be kind) in Rwanda in the '90s and in Sudan in this decade. But he's worse than a skeptic, the critics say: He has been disrespectful of the august body in which he will represent us. Why, he once joked, "The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Well, truer words were never spoken.

But there's more. During George W. Bush's first term, Bolton occasionally tangled with colleagues and overruled subordinates. He asserted, in a speech cleared by other agencies of the government, that Castro was seeking to develop biological weapons. His statement was identical to a statement made earlier by another State Department official, Carl Ford, assistant secretary for intelligence and research. Both were based on intelligence that was later repudiated.

Aha: intelligence that was later repudiated! Wasn't Bolton part of that nefarious cabal that distorted intelligence in the first term, especially with respect to Iraq? The New York Times says so. In a fulminating editorial (but I repeat myself), the Times claims, "After the invasion of Iraq, complaints that top advisers to the president had attempted to make intelligence reports conform to a preconceived conclusion about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs were often aimed in Mr. Bolton's direction."

But this is false. Bolton was not much involved in the Iraq/weapons of mass destruction issue. In the mountains of the Times's own reporting on this issue--much of it critical of the administration--Bolton is barely mentioned. Indeed, the Times has never quoted anyone complaining about Bolton with respect to Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.

Furthermore, even if Bolton had been involved in Iraq intelligence, it's hard to know what the problem would have been. Consider this statement by former Democratic senator Charles Robb, co-chairman of the commission that reviewed the intelligence failures with respect to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction:

We looked very closely at that question. We--every member of the commission was sensitive to the number of questions that had been raised with respect to what we'll call politicization or however you want to describe it, and we examined every single instance that had been referred to in print or otherwise to see if there was any occasion where a member of the administration or anyone else had asked an analyst or anybody else associated with the intelligence community to change a position that they were taking, or whether they felt there was any undue influence. And we found absolutely no instance, and we ran to ground everything that we had on the table. . . . We got a fair amount of information that didn't provide us anything more in this area.

The case against Bolton is silly and weak. Democrats want to embrace it. Let them do so, and let Republicans make them pay a price. When Bolton is reported out of committee, Senator Frist should schedule floor debate without a time limit. Republican senators should challenge their Democratic counterparts to debate John Bolton's record, and the U.N.'s record, every day, for as long as the Democrats want. The Bush administration should put senior spokesmen on TV every night to engage in an argument over whose foreign policy is preferable for the country--George Bush's or George Soros's. Republicans should welcome a discussion of whether the U.N. is just fine as it is, or requires tough-minded reform. In stimulating such a debate, Bolton would be doing yet another service to this country.