Battling Bolton nomination on dubious grounds

April 13, 2005|By Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

WASHINGTON - The fight over President Bush's nomination of Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton to represent the United States at the United Nations has proved to be less about the nominee than it is about Mr. Bush and his security policies.

To be sure, in Mr. Bolton's hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, critics took him to task for some of his now-famous skepticism about the United Nations and its disappointing role over most of the 60 years since its founding.

Even committee members seemed to appreciate, however, that these were not the grounds on which to fight his nomination - even if Mr. Bolton occasionally was undiplomatic in describing the historical inability of the United Nations to contend with major international crises absent U.S. leadership and in describing systemic problems with the organization's institutional behavior and bureaucracy.

Indeed, Democratic Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois indicated that they identified with at least some of his critiques. Presumably, such positioning reflects as much the merits of the case as political reality. Millions of Americans reasonably have become disillusioned with the naked anti-Americanism recently evident at the United Nations. Matters have been made worse by a series of appalling revelations about immense corruption, personal misconduct and malfeasance on the part of senior U.N. officials and peacekeepers.

Instead, the attack on Mr. Bolton seems to have been redirected to suggest that he sought to manufacture intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and to penalize State Department and intelligence officials who disagreed with his assessment. If this sounds familiar, it is. These sorts of claims have been leveled at the Bush administration ever since the WMD that were expected to be found in Iraq were not.

Yet to date, no one has documented a single case of Bush political appointees manufacturing intelligence findings and intimidating or otherwise coercing those with responsibility for such matters to skew their results - not internal intelligence community reviews, not congressional committees, not blue-ribbon commissions.

That includes Mr. Bolton's efforts to call attention to a threat given too little attention: the potential biological weapons capability inherent in Cuban President Fidel Castro's advanced biotech industry. Foreign Relations Committee Democrats repeatedly tried to manufacture evidence of Mr. Bolton's attempted distortion of classified intelligence information for use in a public speech about Cuba's bioweapons program in 2002.

In fact, his proposed speech was not appreciably different from the language ultimately approved by the intelligence community.

This 2002 incident was redolent of a larger problem, though. Not a few State Department employees and intelligence officers have a low regard for President Bush, his conduct of the war on terror and the related foreign and defense policies he has adopted to prosecute that war.

It is an open secret in Washington that differences over policy sometimes result in efforts by dissenters to sabotage or otherwise influence the process. It is entirely understandable that Mr. Bolton would prefer not to have to rely on people who engaged in such behavior for intelligence support.

Mr. Dodd went so far as to ask theatrically why a number of State Department and CIA officials interviewed by the committee's staff would have portrayed Mr. Bolton's behavior on the 2002 Cuba speech in a most unflattering light. The senior senator from Connecticut, a virulent critic of the Bush administration's policy toward Cuba and the rest of the hemisphere, knows full well the ways of Washington, including the practice of settling policy scores through sometimes ugly nomination fights.

Mr. Bush wants Mr. Bolton to represent the United States at the United Nations precisely because he is an articulate, energetic and thoughtful champion of the sort of assertive security policies that Mr. Bush has believed necessary to ensure U.S. security post-9/11. He understands that the United Nations could play a far more constructive role than it has to date, provided it is reformed in such a way as to promote the goals it was established to advance: the safeguarding and expansion of freedom, human rights and economic opportunity.

Mr. Bush is entitled to his choice in senior subordinates, absent some compelling disqualifying reason. Opposition to the president's policies, even from federal employees, is not sufficient grounds for denying the country Mr. Bolton's services at the United Nations.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who held senior positions at the Pentagon during the Reagan administration, is president of the Center for Security Policy.

Columnist Cal Thomas will return Wednesday.

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