Going diplomatic

December 05, 2006

John R. Bolton is on his way out as ambassador to the United Nations - another casualty of last month's election - and this gives President Bush the opportunity to nominate as a replacement someone who could better advance America's worldwide interests at so critical a moment. It wouldn't be a bad time to give that a try.

Mr. Bolton is abrasive, confrontational and bullying. He kept those particular qualities more under wraps once he got to the U.N. than some of his critics had predicted. But behind closed doors, reports suggest, he was the same as ever, busily alienating even some of America's closest friends at the world body.

He had never received Senate confirmation for the post, and now with Congress changing hands there was no hope of that happening. His exit is an early sign of just how significantly the landscape was transformed on Nov. 7.

Could this be a full-circle moment? In late 2002 and early 2003 (before Mr. Bolton took his seat) the U.N. was the scene of intense and, as it turned out, misleading lobbying by a Bush administration looking for support in its determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The climax of that was the presentation by Colin Powell, then secretary of state, purporting to demonstrate that Iraq possessed biological, chemical and nuclear weapons components. The U.N. balked, the U.S. went to war anyway, and for a while it seemed that America's chest-thumping approach to world affairs was not to be thwarted.

But the insurgency in Iraq took hold, and now nearly four years of bloodshed, incompetence and rising anger has turned Iraq into a debacle. Because of Iraq, the Republicans lost the election, and because the election was lost the administration has lost Mr. Bolton. It would make sense to seize on this opportunity to send a fresh face to the U.N. - someone who could start repairing some of the damage America let loose by going to war in Iraq in the first place.

This isn't too much to ask, though it may be too much to expect. Mr. Bush is not one to re-visit a mistake, so he may be inclined to nominate any acceptable warm body and then ignore the U.N. altogether. That would be both dangerous and irresponsible. The president has two years left in office to deal with a world that threatens to spin out of control; the U.S. needs a first-class diplomat at the Security Council table.

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