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.
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
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
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.