Bully boys Bush, Bolton shove past Senate Democrats

August 03, 2005|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - President Bush's recess appointment of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations is yet another presidential thumb to the nose at the Senate and at the United Nations.

It demonstrates again the president's willingness - his compulsion - for confrontation, and is another manifestation of his bully boy inclination to fight rather than switch, or even conciliate.

Rather than provide Senate Democrats with information they say would settle the issue of whether the combative Mr. Bolton used his muscle and his own infamous bullying tactics on intelligence officials, Mr. Bush decided to end-run them by appointing him when they're taking their summer recess.

The president said in his announcement that "because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up-or-down vote."

It's indisputable that key Democrats such as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut had been playing for time. But Mr. Dodd and other Democrats had assured Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that they would not filibuster the Bolton nomination if the material was supplied.

Brushing that assurance aside, Senator Frist had argued that any filibuster against Mr. Bolton would violate the agreement of the bipartisan "Gang of 14" who engineered the deal shelving Mr. Frist's threatened "nuclear option" to kill filibusters of judicial appointments. But Mr. Bolton's is for the United Nations, not the federal bench.

The recess appointment can only stiffen the Democrats' resolve to conduct a thorough investigation and examination of the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court.

But now they seem to face an equally frustrating task. The prospect is that the smilingly cautious Judge Roberts will be confirmed unless he uncharacteristically damages himself in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings starting next month.

The administration's pre-recess success in pushing through trade, energy and other key legislation leaves Senate Democrats scratching for some foothold with which to demonstrate they are not impotent against this my-way-or-the-highway Republican president.

So far in Mr. Bush's second term, they and other Democrats have succeeded in a major way only in stymying him in his oversold bid to persuade middle-age and young taxpayers to trust part of their Social Security safety net in the stock market.

The Bolton end-run of the Senate fuels the deeply partisan climate on Capitol Hill.

Now that Mr. Bolton is on his way to the international edifice on Manhattan's East River, he can expect an icy reception from his new colleagues that will not be easily masqueraded by the customary diplomatic language of the striped-pants set. And with this strong demonstration of the president's support, and considering Mr. Bolton's aggressive personality, it doesn't seem likely that suddenly he will become Mr. Congeniality.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Bolton have made it abundantly clear that they want major reform of the United Nations.

And although the president, in making the appointment that will run through 2006, said Mr. Bolton "believes passionately in the goals of the United Nations Charter," the new ambassador's previous contemptuous observations of the world organization make U.N. diplomats fear he will use a sledgehammer to make reforms.

One Bolton observation haunted him throughout the now-sidestepped confirmation process. "There is no United Nations," he said. "There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along."

One thing can be said about Mr. Bolton: He leaves no doubt that as ambassador he will assert U.S. interests.

The question is whether his in-your-face style will work among resentful foreign diplomats who already have had an overdose of it from Mr. Bush.

U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan took note of this particular challenge to Mr. Bolton with his comment reacting to the appointment: "I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push. But an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced, or a vast majority of them, for action to take place."

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Wednesdays and Fridays.

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