Holbrooke at last

U.N. post: Delay in confirmation makes job of advancing U.S. interests harder than it needed to be.

August 09, 1999

FINALLY the Senate has confirmed Richard C. Holbrooke as permanent representative to the United Nations. To the Senate's eternal shame, it took 14 months, during which the national interest suffered.

It was all right to oppose Mr. Holbrooke. Some people criticize the nation's Balkans policy, of which he was a chief architect. Others suspected an ethics question in his revolving-door career.

Neither objection mustered support sufficient to block confirmation. Rather, four Republican senators exercised senatorial privilege to put a "hold" on the vote, to put pressure on unrelated issues. Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the final holdout, switched his hold to another nomination.

By letting individual senators thwart its general will, the Senate let down the nation. During the 14 months, the United Nations saw the United States represented by pinch-hitters, while major U.N.-related policies and military actions were taking place in Iraq and Kosovo.

The United States has been getting its way at the U.N. in such matters as the election of Kofi Annan as secretary-general, without paying dues. That has created ill will. Although each house of Congress has passed a bill to pay some $819 million of arrears, by all accounts that is only part of what the United States owes.

Mr. Holbrooke, in short, faces mammoth challenges for the remainder of the Clinton administration. His job was made harder by the Senate's delay.

He is not only Washington's ambassador to most of the world. He is also, along with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, foreign policy's ambassador to an isolationist Congress.

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