“A capacity for straight talking rather than peddling half-truths is a strength and not a disadvantage in diplomacy,” wrote Margaret Thatcher in a letter of support for John Bolton. “In the case of a great power like America, it is essential that people know where you stand and assume you know what you say.”
It is unfortunate that the words of the former British prime minister, who has strongly backed Bolton’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the UN, have not been heeded by his detractors on Capitol Hill. Instead, they have embarked upon an odious campaign of character assassination that has undermined American interests on the world stage.
The campaign to discredit Bolton has been ugly and undignified. It culminated this week in a 54-to-38 cloture vote, just six votes short of the 60 needed to beat a Democratic filibuster and bring Bolton’s confirmation to a final vote on the floor. The Democrats are refusing to allow an up-or-down vote of the Senate unless the White House provides documents relating to Bolton’s handling of intelligence assessments of Syria.
This request is both unrealistic and irresponsible, and, if carried through, would compromise U.S. intelligence gathering in a highly sensitive region. The Bush Administration is now pushing for a further vote in the Senate, while holding out the prospect that Bolton may be sent to the UN on a recess appointment, a highly unusual move.
Nearly six months have passed since the United States has had an ambassador at the United Nations. In the meantime, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran looms large on the horizon, thousands continue to be slaughtered in the Sudan, and dictators and tyrants continue to find refuge in the halls of the UN. The oil-for-food scandal continues to unfold, with a growing number of UN officials implicated, and horrific peacekeeping abuses in the Congo remain largely unchecked and unpunished.
The U.S. badly needs a powerful voice at the UN at this time, both to advance the much-needed reform agenda, and to aggressively push American interests at the Security Council.
Those who have used the Bolton nomination as a political football have done a huge disservice to American taxpayers, who are pumping $3 billion a year into the UN system, and expect accountability and strong representation. Bolton’s opponents are also helping to perpetuate the survival of the ancien rÃ©gime at the helm of the United Nations, a regime resistant to change and submerged in a culture of corruption and anti-Americanism.
Bolton’s critics seem strikingly out of touch with an American public that is tired of seeing their money squandered by a bureaucratic elite in Turtle Bay that sneers at U.S. policy. The recent revelation that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan may have actively intervened on behalf of a Swiss company (the employer of his son Kojo) that was bidding for an oil-for-food contract, will further undermine the legitimacy of the world body in the eyes of a disillusioned American public.
Last week’s overwhelming 221-to-184 vote in the House of Representatives in favor of the UN Reform Act sent a clear signal to Annan and the UN establishment that change is on the way, and that U.S. funding for the United Nations will be dramatically cut unless the institution is fundamentally reformed. As Rep. Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee eloquently put it, the vote was a clear rebuttal of “a mindset in the upper realms of diplomacy that worships at the altar of the United Nations.”
There is little doubt that the UN’s comfortable bureaucracy fears Hyde and his UN reform juggernaut. They also fear Bolton, who is similarly committed to serious reform of a declining institution that no longer maintains the trust of the American people. The United States needs a revolutionary at the UN, not a Neville Chamberlain, a diplomatic warrior who will aggressively pursue the national interest rather than appease an international consensus. In short, it needs a “straight talker” like Bolton.
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