No Votin' on Bolton

This doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, I suppose, but President Bush appointed as ambassador to the U.N. yesterday. While some Democrats might feign outrage, I think that the whole affair ended well for everyone.

On the plus side for the Democrats, they proved that Bolton’s views, which almost everyone acknowledges are hard-line, are somewhat undercut by the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the official support of the Senate. On the other hand, Bolton can advance Bush’s (and more likely Cheney’s) views that because the United States currently enjoys immense power, the U.N. should be used as a useful ally when needed, and ignored when convenient. Effectively, it gives Americans an escape valve: we can see how much smoke-screen, realism diplomacy we can get away with, and if Bolton ever pushes us too far, Americans can cry foul, honestly protesting that mainstream voters never supported Bolton. There is a similar dynamic to our recent police actions/wars. For both the Vietnamese and Iraqi conflicts, there was a sizable enough portion of the population that was against military action that most Americans could have it both ways. The peaceniks (who were a fairly small portion of the population in March 2003) could chant “not on our watch,” while essentially free-riding off of any national security gains. America’s moderate mainstream, on the other hand, capitulated to war, but knew that the fledgling anti-war movement would provide cover if the war turned effort sour. Americans have found a fairly useful compromise: we can always be aggressive, while simultaneously claiming to be against aggression.

I thought that in the Bolton situation, the Democrats handled themselves quite well, as an effective minority party. You'll notice that there weren't very many foreceful denunciations of the roadblocks put up in the Sentate Foreign Relations Committee. Commentator David Broder volunteered this Sunday that "[t]he truth is I think that if you had a secret vote in the United States Senate there would be a very small number of votes at this point for Mr. Bolton, Republican or Democratic. But it is the president's choice. " After all, nominations have been stalled with much less justification. Let me betray my New England roots by revealing that I remember well Bill Weld's ill-fated nomination to become the Ambassador to Mexico in 1997. Jesse Helms, who was then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee single-handedly blocked Weld’s nomination from receiving any hearing (or, in today’s idiotic nomenclature, an up or down vote). Helms was adamantly against his fellow Republican because he believed that Weld was too soft ("liberal!") on issues like the use of medical marijuana and gay rights. A CNN article at the time stated “A combative Helms declared that if Weld, also a Republican, wants to start a war between the GOP moderates and conservatives, ‘Let him try.’” The former Massachusetts Governor (who quit his post to lobby for the ambassadorship) was left without a job, all because of the views of one adamant senator. (As an aside, this seems to have been the beginning of the GOP tendency to completely disparage the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Bush referred to John Kerry in the 2004 as “the senator from Massachusetts,” spitting out Massachusetts as though it was a curse word. More recently, sanctimonious Rick Santorum has been disparaging the state, too.) In the Bolton case, though, every Democrat on the committee, plus at least Senator Voinovich, was willing to publicly withhold support for Bolton.

So in the end, everybody got to claim partial victory in the Bolton matter. In actuality, I think that the American public gets the best of both worlds with Bolton at the United Nations. Perhaps Bolton will be able to reform the U.N., which is admittedly corrupt, without permanently alienating its members from the U.S., since Bolton isn’t 100% endorsed by the American public. And after all, how much more pissed at us can the world get anyhow? Best ‘o luck Bolton.


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