In a new blow to the dwindling number of hawks
in top administration positions, President George W. Bush Monday accepted the
resignation of his ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
The resignation came less than three weeks after Bush had resubmitted Bolton's
nomination to the Senate for confirmation, a move that was apparently designed
to reassure his hard-line constituency that he would stick by them despite the
Democrats' sweeping victory in the Nov. 7 elections.
Praising Bolton's controversial 21-month tenure at Turtle Bay, Bush said he
was "deeply disappointed" that a "handful of … senators"
had prevented Bolton's confirmation to the post.
"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority
support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic
work at a sensitive and important time," added Bush, who last year gave
Bolton a "recess appointment" to the position after it became clear
that Bush lacked the required support to defeat a Democratic-led filibuster.
Bolton's foes hailed the White House's decision to give up on its fight to
get Senate confirmation and called on Bush to nominate someone who could rally
"With the Middle East on the verge of chaos and the nuclear threats from
Iran and North Korea increasing, we need a United Nations ambassador who has
the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community
to tackle the serious threats we face," said Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic
nominee in the 2004 presidential elections.
"I think this really shows that [former ultra-nationalist Sen.] Jesse
Helms-style pugnacious nationalism has been definitively knocked back,"
according to Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program of the
New America Foundation and a leader in the nearly two-year effort to defeat
"While this should be seen more as a victory for Bolton's opponents than
a change of heart by the White House, it does offer Bush a chance to start afresh
and send someone to the UN who can be a good steward of American interests there
and still be consistent with the values of the Republican Party," he added.
"Whether Bush will take advantage of that remains to be seen."
Among the most frequently named possible successors to Bolton, according to
Washington insiders, are Bush's current ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad,
and the State Department's neoconservative undersecretary for global affairs,
Also mentioned for the post have been three moderate Republican lawmakers who
were defeated in their bids for reelection last month: Iowa Rep. Jim Leach;
Ohio Sen. Michael DeWine; and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, whose outspoken
opposition to Bolton's nomination during the past year, however, was deeply
resented by the White House. State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow has also
been considered a strong candidate, but he announced two weeks ago that he was
leaving the administration.
A protégé of Helms who got his start in mid-level political posts
in the Reagan administration, Bolton served during Bush's first term as undersecretary
of state for arms control and international security, a post from which he often
and with some success tried to sabotage efforts by Secretary of State Colin
Powell to promote engagement with U.S. foes, notably Syria, Iran, and North
In doing so, Bolton played a key role in furthering the goals of the coalition
of aggressive nationalists, Christian Rightists, and neoconservatives led within
the administration by Vice President Dick Cheney, who, after Powell's departure,
reportedly pressed Powell's successor, Condoleezza Rice, to promote Bolton to
deputy secretary of state. All too aware of Bolton's role in undermining Powell,
Rice rejected the idea but went along with the UN nomination as a compromise.
His nomination, however, proved instantly controversial, particularly in light
of Bolton's long history of statements, especially during his association in
the 1990s with the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society,
that showed little but disdain for both the United Nations and international
law or any other multilateral mechanism, such as the International Criminal
Court, that he thought might be used to restrain U.S. power on the world stage.
"There is no such thing as the United Nations," he once said during
a public debate in New York. "If the UN secretariat building in New York
lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
While such remarks clearly raised questions about his fitness for the proposed
job, testimony during Bolton's confirmation hearings by several State Department
officials, including one prominent Republican appointee, about his brusque and
intimidating management style and his efforts to manipulate intelligence in
the interests of his hawkish agenda persuaded a sufficient number of members
of the Foreign Relations Committee that the nomination should not go forward.
Faced with the prospect of a successful filibuster on the Senate floor, Bush
decided during Congress's summer in August 2005 to give Bolton a "recess
appointment," a rare procedural maneuver that permits the president to
fill a post without Senate confirmation until the end of whatever Congress is
then in session. The current Congress will end in early January at the latest.
Lacking the legal authority to grant Bolton a second recess appointment for
which he could be paid, Bush resubmitted the nomination to the Senate at the
height of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, apparently in hopes that key
Democratic lawmakers who depended heavily on campaign contributions from Jewish
supporters would switch their votes, particularly in light of Bolton's strong
defense of Israel at the UN at the time.
But Chafee, who had supported Bolton the previous year, moved into opposition,
and, with Democrats holding firm, Sen. Richard Lugar, the moderate Republican
Foreign Relations Committee chairman who had never been enthusiastic about Bolton,
let it be known that the nomination was dead.
Particularly damaging was a July 23 New York Times article based on
interviews with dozens of other countries' UN ambassadors. "[M]any diplomats
say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration
itself," it reported. Instead of furthering his mission of UN reform, the
report noted, "[e]nvoys say he has in fact endangered that effort by alienating
In the last several months, State Department and White House lawyers considered
a number of different ways that Bolton might legally stay on – such as
appointing him to a post that did not require Senate confirmation and then making
him "acting ambassador" – but eventually concluded that such
maneuvers were likely to create more ill will, not just among Democrats, who
will take over the Senate next month, but also among Republicans who increasingly
see Bush's stubbornness as a major political liability.
"President Bush's decision to accept Ambassador Bolton's resignation should
serve to more closely align U.S. foreign policy with the wishes of the American
people," said Don Kraus, director of the Washington office of Citizens
for Global Solutions, a lobby group that also opposed Bolton's appointment.
"It is our hope that he nominates a new UN ambassador who can help to
return the United States to the partnership-driven, consensus-building, and
problem-solving approach that characterized its first six decades of relations
with the UN."
Bolton's departure is the latest in a number of prominent hawks who have resigned
over the last two years, including former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz,
former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, and Cheney's former
chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Since last month's election, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his intelligence
chief, Stephen Cambone, have announced their resignations, and the assistant
secretary of defense for international security affairs, Peter Rodman, is also
expected to leave soon.
(Inter Press Service)