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John Bolton: The Right Man for the Job By: James A. Baker III and Edwin Meese III
New York Times | Thursday, May 12, 2005


The image that critics are painting of John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be our representative at the United Nations, does not bear the slightest resemblance to the man we have known and worked with for a quarter-century.

While we cannot speak to the truthfulness of the specific allegations by his former colleagues, we can speak to what we know. And during our time with Mr. Bolton at the Justice and State Departments, we never knew of any instance in which he abused or berated anyone he worked with. Nor was his loyalty to us or to the presidents we served ever questioned. And we never knew of an instance in which he distorted factual evidence to make it fit political ends.

At the heart of the claims made by Mr. Bolton's critics is the charge that he was imperious to those beneath him and duplicitous to those above. The implication is that Mr. Bolton saw himself as something of a free agent, guided by nothing more than his own notions of what he thought good policy might be. Woe be to those who might dare to disagree, according to these critics, be they lower-level analysts or cabinet members.

In our experience, nothing could be further from the truth. John Bolton was as loyal as he was talented. To put it bluntly, he knew his place and he took direction. As cabinet members, we took our direction from our presidents, and Mr. Bolton was faithful to his obligations as a presidential appointee on our respective teams. In his service as assistant attorney general and assistant secretary of state, we had complete confidence in him - and that confidence turned out to have been well placed. In our view he would be no different in fulfilling his duties as our United Nations ambassador.

In any administration there are going to be disagreements over process and policy, both in formulation and execution. It is not uncommon to have battle lines within any administration drawn between idealists and pragmatists. But what has made John Bolton so successful in the posts he has held, and what makes him so well suited for the position at the United Nations, is that he exhibits the best virtues of both idealists and pragmatists.

Mr. Bolton's political principles are not shaped by circumstances or by appeals to the conventional wisdom. He knows, as Abraham Lincoln once put it, that "important principles may and must be inflexible." He also knows that those principles often have to be fought for with vigor.

On the other hand, he understands from his long experience at the highest levels of government that in order to succeed, one has to work with those whose views may differ; he knows the importance of principled compromise in order to make things happen.

A most fitting example was his contribution, when serving as an assistant secretary of state, in getting the United Nations General Assembly in 1991 to abandon its morally noxious doctrine that Zionism was a form of racism. This took extraordinary diplomatic skill, combining the clear articulation of the philosophic position of the United States and his own personal persuasiveness. That this effort succeeded where earlier efforts had failed came as no surprise to anyone who had worked with Mr. Bolton. The power of his mind and the strength of his convictions make him a most formidable advocate.

These skills have been on display more recently in his current position as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Not even his detractors deny, for example, that he was instrumental in building a coalition of 60 countries for President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative to combat the spread of nuclear weapons technology.

At a time when all sides acknowledge that fundamental reform is needed at the United Nations lest it see its moral stature diminished and its possibilities squandered, we need our permanent representative to be a person of political vision, intellectual power and personal integrity. John Bolton is just that person.


James A. Baker III was secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush. Edwin Meese III was attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.


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