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Plenty of Harm, Lots of Fouls

New York Times Editorial
May 13, 2005

Many passionate arguments were offered yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, but Paul Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, made one of the most dramatic by simply reading the names of those who have held the post. Among them are Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Adlai Stevenson, Arthur Goldberg, George Ball, George H. W. Bush, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, William Scranton, Andrew Young, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Vernon Walters, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke and John Danforth.

Mr. Bolton does not belong in this distinguished company of Republicans and Democrats, and the issue is not his "interpersonal style," as his supporters would like Americans to believe. Senator George Allen, a Republican, sneeringly suggested that the U.N. ambassador should not be one of those diplomats who are happy "drinking tea with their pinkies up." That was hardly a description of Mr. Moynihan and Ms. Kirkpatrick.

The post of U.N. ambassador is, as Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, put it, "one of the most important jobs in our government." After the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, that official is the face of the United States to the rest of the world. The job should not go to a man who has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for the United Nations. In 1999, for example, Mr. Bolton ridiculed the notion that the Security Council is the only body that can legitimize one country's use of force against another when it has not been attacked, which, of course, the Council is. He derided as wishful thinking the idea that "force is no longer a serious option for responsible nations, except to swat the occasional dictator and prevent human rights abuses." Those are, of course, the only remaining justifications for invading Iraq.

The Senate committee hearings have also exhaustively documented Mr. Bolton's habit of trying to force intelligence analysts to conform to his ideological preconceptions and then trying to punish them when they refuse to comply. That Mr. Bolton did not succeed in taking revenge is no comfort - only a sign that he did not wield as much power as other officials who did manage to skew intelligence reports to suit an ideological agenda.

His Republican supporters want us to accept the "no harm, no foul" argument - a hollow theory in any case, but one that doesn't apply here. Mr. Bolton did cause harm. Several Bush administration officials testified that his assault on the intelligence analysts who disagreed with him had a serious chilling effect. Mr. Bolton was such a loose cannon that Colin Powell had his chief of staff keep an eye on him. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage eventually said Mr. Bolton could not testify in Congress or make a speech unless he had personally cleared it.

If North Korea tests a nuclear bomb on Mr. Bush's watch, no American will bear a larger share of responsibility than Mr. Bolton. His irresponsible public comments and advocacy of the disastrous policy of refusing to engage in serious bargaining with North Korea were major factors in scuttling efforts to stop that country's nuclear efforts.

It's not hard to imagine that the next U.N. ambassador will be called upon to defend American policy on Iran and North Korea and to present the United States' intelligence on their nuclear programs to a highly skeptical world. It is hard to imagine a worse choice for that than Mr. Bolton.

Senator George Voinovich said yesterday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had assured him that Mr. Bolton would be closely supervised at the U.N. Ms. Rice's eagerness to get Mr. Bolton out of town is understandable, but, as Mr. Voinovich put it so well, "Why in the world would you want to send somebody up to the U.N. that has to be supervised?"

Like Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Hagel dismissed as "nonsense" his fellow Republicans' argument that opposing Mr. Bolton would mean opposing U.N. reform. Unlike Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Hagel said he was supporting the Bolton nomination. We agreed strongly when he said this issue should not be partisan. But Mr. Hagel couldn't come up with much to explain his decision beyond a partisan desire to support his president. Another Republican, Norm Coleman, said bluntly that Mr. Bolton should be confirmed simply because Mr. Bush won the election.

That's the weak argument that has already led to the promotion of too many administration officials whose efforts to make reality conform to the White House's policy preferences have caused untold harm to American interests. Now that the Foreign Relations Committee has forwarded the Bolton nomination to the Senate floor without any recommendation, we hope that enough Republicans care enough about America's image and national security to refuse to go down that road again.

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