We are told that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan gasped when informed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that President Bush intends to send John Bolton to New York to represent this nation’s interests before the world body.
Annan had been hoping, no doubt, for someone more malleable who would politely look the other way or at least keep his mouth shut as the various scandals rocking the United Nations play out, someone more like departing Ambassador John Danforth. Danforth may have represented the Bush administration, but he was a team player who did little to upset things and he was unfailingly polite.
Indeed, in the face of the oil-for-food scandal and revelations that U.N. forces were raping civilians in the Congo, Danforth actually called a news conference to support and praise Annan for his service to the United Nations and to humanity. It didn’t seem to bother Danforth that Annan’s son and highest appointees apparently have accepted kickbacks from deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or that Annan himself facilitated a genocidal uprising in Rwanda.
Danforth’s commitment to the world body was never in question. The former Missouri senator seemed to share Annan’s stated view that support for the U.N. concept is so important that the truly committed are obligated to ignore the United Nations’ real-world shortcomings.
It is difficult to imagine Bolton holding such a news conference. Before being named ambassador, Danforth’s experience with Annan and his pals was largely theoretical; he was a believer in international cooperation, a nice fellow who no doubt viewed the world body with hope untempered by reality.
His successor brings a different temperament and a far different view of the United Nations’ strengths and weaknesses. Bolton has spent a lifetime working with and observing the goings-on in New York. As assistant secretary of state for international organizations under James Baker, Bolton fought to keep international thugs of one stripe or another from using the world body to advance not world peace but their own ideological and racist agendas.
Bolton is as unabashedly willing to stand up for this nation’s interests as were Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan when they served previous presidents at the United Nations. He combines that laudatory trait with an understanding of what can and cannot be expected of the United Nations in today’s world. Those factors alone uniquely qualify him for the job Bush has given him.
Bolton’s critics suggest that his recognition of the weaknesses of the world body and his persistent calls for reform over the years disqualify him for the job. They seem to share the secretary-general’s view that a true friend of the United Nations would keep his mouth shut no matter what. Some in the Senate are even suggesting that they might oppose Bolton’s confirmation because he has been too willing to stand up for U.S. interests and to speak the truth about the United Nations.
What they don’t seem to realize is that the United Nations has become its own worst enemy and that unless it is reformed and reformed fast it will not survive. The president and Secretary Rice say that Bolton will go to New York to lead an effort to reform the place before it is too late. Bolton is one of the very few people who might be able to handle or even understand the assignment.
I’ve known Bolton for nearly 30 years — I was working for Vice President Agnew at the time and hired him for Agnew’s staff. He’s as tough as his critics fear and as realistic as he seems. He sees the world as it is rather than as he might wish it to be and deals unflinchingly with that reality. He’s succeeded in every job he’s ever held and has done so without sacrificing either his principles or the interests of those he has served. He is, above all, a truth teller — just what we need right now in New York.
It is unfortunate but true that, in today’s world, men and women with such qualities are feared more often than they are celebrated. We live in an era in which speaking the truth is seen not as strength but a sign of naiveté. The folks who have made such a mess of the United Nations survive because they know just how to manipulate people and nations anxious to avoid unpleasantness, even if it means ignoring the reality around them.
They don’t know how to deal with someone like Bolton. That’s why Annan gasped when informed of his appointment, and it’s exactly why Bolton’s the right man for the job.