Battle lines forming over Bush pick for U.N. post

Democrats call Bolton a `destructive nomination'

April 11, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In the month since President Bush tapped John R. Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, surprise over the pick has become controversy.

Bolton has never been shy about criticizing the United Nations. And when he goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, he will be on the receiving end of the kind of tough talk for which he has become famous.

The committee's examination of Bolton's record, especially in his current job as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, could take as long as three days. A former colleague at the State Department, Carl W. Ford Jr., is expected to testify as early as tomorrow about his contention that Bolton tried to influence intelligence analysts.

Democrats on the committee, which is split 10-8 in favor of Republicans, are girding for a fight -- and think they might have a shot at winning. A 9-9 tie would prevent the nomination from going to a vote of the full Senate.

"I believe that this is a very destructive nomination," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. "And I'm going to try and convince my colleagues and the American people of that."

But Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, the Republican senator considered the top candidate to cross party lines on the committee vote, said last week he is inclined to vote for Bolton, though he added that the hearings would be important to his decision.

Republicans and administration officials say Bolton, 56, is an ideal candidate for the job as the United Nations grapples with reform efforts. He has been one of the strongest neoconservative voices in the administration.

"John Bolton is the kind of intelligent, hardworking, committed representation we would like to have at the United Nations during this time of transition," said Sen. John E. Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican.

But Democrats and other opponents point to Bolton's past derision of the international organization -- he once said that it would not make a difference if its New York headquarters lost 10 stories -- and call him a bad choice when the Bush administration says it wants to mend splits caused by the bitter conflicts over the Iraq war.

"It's not about his ideology, it's about his going to an institution that he does not hold in high regard, and it's clear to the rest of the world that he doesn't," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. "It seems, to me, to be the exact wrong person to be sending at the exact wrong time."

Another Democrat on the committee, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, was more blunt.

"This is not Nixon going to China," Dodd said. "This is the bull going into the china shop."

The son of a firefighter, Bolton grew up near Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore and attended McDonogh School in Owings Mills. After college and law school at Yale, he joined a Washington law firm but soon went to work for the government, first at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He later worked at the Justice Department as an assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.

Bolton has been one of the more controversial members of the Bush administration, but the decision to send him to the United Nations is drawing opponents and supporters out of the woodwork.

In dueling letters, former ambassadors and White House officials have variously urged Bolton's confirmation or the scuttling of his nomination. Among those supporting Bolton are former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and ex-Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey. Several former Republican secretaries of state also have publicly urged Bolton's confirmation -- though Colin Powell was not among them.

Another group of former diplomats has argued equally forcefully that Bolton is a bad fit for the United Nations, focusing on his criticism of the institution and his record at the State Department. Writing to Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, these critics argued that Bolton "has an exceptional record of opposition to efforts to enhance U.S. security through arms control." Those signing the letter included Arthur A. Hartman, an ambassador to France and the Soviet Union during the Carter and Reagan administrations and an assistant secretary of state under President Richard M. Nixon, and Samuel W. Lewis, ambassador to Israel under Jimmy Carter and Reagan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended Bolton last week, praising his negotiating skills and direct style.

"I think John's going to be great in that environment," Rice told the Associated Press. "He has ideas about the U.N. But he also recognizes that the United Nations is an organization to which the United States is completely and totally committed, and that we want it to work as well as it possibly can."

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