May 21 2006
Bolton at the United Nations
[This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers]
John R Bolton may be called 'the ugly American' and be widely disliked, yet his pivotal role as US Ambassador to the UN makes him extraordinarily powerful and important in world affairs. Obsequious, arrogant, doctrinaire and above all, Americanist - but no fool, neocons hope he may save the Bush administration.
Stan Correy: Things aren't going well for the Bush Administration; and there are fracture lines across the conservative political landscape.
John Bolton: OK, Let's begin please. The purpose of this meeting ...
Stan Correy: Many eyes are on an unlikely player -
John Bolton: ... draft Presidential statement on the Palestinian Legislative Election Council results ...
Stan Correy: - a complex character with an imposing walrus moustache.
John Bolton: ... 65th meeting of the Security Council is called to order.
Stan Correy: An apparatchik who behaves like a politician.
John Bolton: ... Unless I hear any objection, I shall consider the agenda adopted.
Stan Correy: He's the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
This is Background Briefing on ABC Radio National. I'm Stan Correy.
Capitol Steps Comedy: To wrap it up, if you want some namby-pamby globalist who worships at the altar of the U.N., then don't support me.
Stan Correy: Bolton's nomination a year ago made his character an instant success on the Washington D.C. comedy circuit.
Capitol Steps Comedy: Good evening, I'm John Bolton. Now you may have read in the papers if any of you slack job-mouth breeders can read, that I'm the new nominee for U.N. Ambassador. Now, there seem to be a lot of people that are accusing me of not having the necessary skills for the job. So I prepared the following statement:
Now people are concerned about me I guess because I once had an entire room of foreign visitors at the State Department reduced to tears. Was I too hard on the Ukrainian orphans? Perhaps so. Therefore the Administration is launching a new campaign to make me appear to be more courteous and diplomatic, so shut up and listen. Or I'll have you all killed.
Stan Correy: That's a caricature, but it's well known that the real Bolton is disliked by his boss, Condoleezza Rice, and distrusted by many Republicans.
Here's how John Bolton nailed his colours to the mast in 1994.
John Bolton: There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States. When it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along. The United States makes the U.N. work when it wants to work, and that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, the only question for the United States is what's in our national interest. And if you don't like that, I'm sorry, but that is the fact.
Stan Correy: John Bolton is now the US Ambassador to the United Nations, an organisation he's publicly disdained for almost 30 years.
It's not only his politics that has raised hackles, it's personal style.
Colonel Larry Wilkerson.
Larry Wilkerson: John Bolton is a very bad leader. Probably three-quarters of the people in his bureau at the State Department, and that's not an exaggeration, it's probably a conservative estimate, really do not like John Bolton. He doesn't know how to lead people, he doesn't understand that loyalty goes up, out and down. There is no loyalty down for John Bolton, and as a consequence as Chief of Staff for the State Department, I had people ranging from Assistant Secretaries to intelligence analysts in my office complaining about John Bolton at one time or another, almost in a constant stream.
Stan Correy: Colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Since Bolton was nominated to the UN position, he's been portrayed as a bully, yet these days in public performances he comes across as more reasoned and seemingly impervious to strong criticism. He hasn't changed, say the Bolton watchers. It's just that his boss, Condoleezza Rice, is closely monitoring his behaviour.
John Bolton is a mass of contradictions. He works deep in the heart of government circles, but he's a libertarian. That is, he dislikes government and basically thinks it should get out of the way.
In the 1990s he derided the Clinton Administration for getting involved in humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. And yet he was intimately involved in planning the Iraq war, and is now talking tough on Iran.
During the nomination hearings last year, he was confronted with a litany of past put-downs to international issues.
Joseph Biden: You said that if the Security Council were to be made today, that you would have only one permanent member, the United States.
Stan Correy: This is a Liberal Democrat, Senator Joseph Biden.
Joseph Biden: You said that international law 'really isn't law' and that 'While treaties may well be politically or even morally binding, they are not legally obligatory'. You said the International Court of Justice, a body created under the UN Charter, is a 'travesty and a pretend court'.
You said that the peace enforcement operations and nation building should 'be relegated to the history's junk pile at the first opportunity', because they resulted in, as you said 'American personnel and resources being committed to UN operations far removed from America's vital interests'.
Stan Correy: At the same hearing, Republican Senator George Voinovich was more concerned about Bolton's awkward personality.
George Voinovich: The question is, is John Bolton the best person for the job? The Administration has said they believe he's the right man. Mr Chairman, I have to say that after poring over the hundreds of pages of testimony, and you know I wasn't here for those hearings, but I did my penance, I read all of it. I believe that John Bolton would have been fired if he'd worked for a major corporation.
This is not the behaviour of a true leader who upholds the kind of democracy that President Bush is seeking to promote globally. This is not the behaviour that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community and the United Nations. Rather, Mr Chairman, it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.
Stan Correy: That was last year, but not much has changed since Bolton arrived at the UN.
Karl Inderfurth: Well I think that John Bolton, unless he changes his style and his approach, is on his way to becoming one of the least liked and least effective US Ambassadors to the United Nations. He's not leaving much of a mark, except in a negative sense.
Stan Correy: That was Ambassador Karl Inderfurth, a deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton Administration.
Last year, Bush couldn't get Bolton's appointment confirmed by the Congress. But pressured by Dick Cheney to find a role for Bolton, Bush made a special recess appointment.
That runs out at the end of the year, and there's a strong chance he'll be rejected by Congress again. But even those who dislike him and think the appointment is wrong, say Bolton is not to be underestimated.
From the New America Foundation, Steven Clemons.
Steven Clemons: John Bolton is stunningly brilliant. He has the capacity to understand how the NGO beast and the international institution beast work and operate. He has a way to frame discussions and debates and wrap the American flag around them in such a way that's very disarming and very seductive.
Stan Correy: The ability to be charming, Ultra-American above all, and putting in the knife, has Bolton-watchers mesmerised.
The backdrop to all this is a shifting political landscape.
The Republican party is being pulled apart by conflicting views on Iraq and Iran. There are the isolationists who would just pull up the drawbridges and retreat inside America. There are those who think the US should be out there in the world, intervening and policing world affairs, and taking a dominant role at the UN. And then there are the black helicopter crowd.
Steven Clemons: I used to work for a Senator from New Mexico, and you go to some parts of New Mexico or Montana, or Idaho, you get a kind of radical libertarianism there that's so anti-government, that when you even mention international institutions, you could run the risk of getting shot.
We call them the black helicopter crowd, who saw the Year of the Child for instance that the UN announced, as a deeper infringement upon American sovereignty. Now this may sound wacky, but this is a significant portion of one wing of the Republican base; the most respectful way I can call it is pugnacious nationalist.
Stan Correy: Pugnacious nationalism could be John Bolton's middle name, and as such he has made many enemies both inside and outside the Republican movement. It puts him at odds with Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who refused to have him working in her office, and the pressure against him has been powerful since Day 1. So powerful that his supporters took out an ad to promote his ideas, around this time last year.
Ad voiceover: The voters understood that the UN is broken with anti-American dictators and bureaucrats calling the shots. It needs more than reform, the UN needs to be transformed if it's going to be of any help in promoting freedom and securing peace.
Stan Correy: The ad is dismissive of the Democrats and soft Republicans, who think George Bush is too much of a hawk in international affairs. The ad decries what they say is an anti-American agenda at the UN.
Ad voiceover: Now President Bush wants to have a US Ambassador who is dedicated to UN reform, John Bolton. But Senator Kerry and his friends think that if they can block John Bolton's nomination they will succeed where they failed last November. Then they will help a dysfunctional UN stave off real change and continue its anti-American agenda. The Democrats should stop using the politics of personal destruction.
Stan Correy: The angry mood in that ad is something the Republicans want to capture in mid-term Congressional elections at the end of this year. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans, feel the UN is doing a bad job. But Iraq is eating away at the Bush Administration and the Republican party.
Bush's popularity dropped for the first time to 29% in recent weeks.
John Bolton being tough on Iran and the UN might just restore the faith and enthusiasm of war-weary Republican voters.
Steven Clemons: Some people want to run John Bolton for the political value, run John Bolton for a renewal in his current job, because they see these battles he's engaging in as being the kind of thing that would really appeal to that very reactionary part of the Republican voter base.
Stan Correy: Conservative voters may also like Bolton's Spartan work ethic. Bolton is a hard man, who drives himself and others to the point of desperation. Bolton is said to be an early riser, getting up every morning at 4.30 to familiarise himself with what's happening in the world. He goes to bed at 9pm.
Since he's been UN Ambassador, he's appeared at a few parties, but Bolton's special expertise isn't small talk at Embassy do's. It's getting his way in the corridors of power.
One of the most devastating critiques of John Bolton's personality came during his nomination hearing one year ago.
Carl Ford: I consider myself to be a loyal Republican.
Stan Correy: Carl Ford.
Carl Ford: And conservative to the core. I'm a firm and enthusiastic supporter of President Bush and his policies, and I'm a huge fan of Vice President Cheney, who I worked with when he was Secretary of Defense. So the notion of coming before you and making critical remarks about a Presidential nominee is not something I take lightly, not something that I haven't done a lot of soul-searching on, and clearly, it's one of the more difficult assignments I have been given.
There are a lot of screamers that work in government. But you don't pull somebody so low down in the bureaucracy that they're completely defenceless. It's an 800-pound gorilla devouring a banana. The analyst was required simply to stand there and take it. And Secretary Bolton knew when he had the tirade, that in fact that was the case. Now I would argue that that action by itself, certainly brings real questions to my mind about his suitability for high office.
Unfortunately, my judgment, my opinion, he's a quintessential kiss up-kick down sort of guy. There are a lot of them around, I'm sure you've met them. But the fact is that he stands out, that he's got a bigger kick, and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he's kicking. And he stands out. I don't have any other examples to give you of someone who acts this way.
Stan Correy: Carl Ford, the former Head of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department.
John Bolton nailed his colours to the mast in 1994, in what has become almost a famous speech, embodying his Americanist stance in relation to the rest of the world. Here is part of that speech.
John Bolton: The point that I want to leave with you in this very brief presentation, is where I started, is there is no United Nations. If you think that there is any possibility in this country that a 51,000-person bureaucracy is going to be supported by most Americans, you'd better think again. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 storeys. If you lost ten storeys today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.
Stan Correy: Where do these thoughts place John Bolton on the conservative spectrum? He's been called a Neocon, a libertarian, an Americanist, an extremist.
One of the most powerful conservative institutions in the world is the American Enterprise Institute. John Bolton worked there during the 1990s when Clinton was in power in Washington. One of his colleagues at that time at the American Enterprise Institute was Joshua Muravchik.
Joshua Muravchik: I'm someone who is a kind of original neo-conservative, and John, although he's called by that label, is really something quite different. He was more of a traditional national interest conservative. So we were really on opposite sides of lots of issues. For example, Bosnia, which I was a big advocate of intervention, and he was against intervention. And so although we were colleagues, we knew that were usually on opposite sides. We sometimes debated formally in public and we very often debated informally, just in the corridors or whatever, and one of the things that stood out in my mind was what a good guy he was to disagree with, that is, we would be arguing, but it was always with a kind of friendliness and a smile and even often with a laugh trying to duel each other, you know, 'Got you with that one'. You know the part of him that I could recognise was as a guy who was very opinionated and very unabashed about expressing his opinions.
Stan Correy: Joshua Muravchik says that John Bolton's blunt approach to reforming or transforming the UN will have positive results.
But so far, Bolton hasn't had a great deal of success. He's excluded the United States from participating in the Human Rights Council because the United States didn't get the changes it wanted. He's had a victory of sorts in forcing a vote on a short-term new budget for the UN. If a resolution can't be reached next month, the UN closes down. Now Bolton is working hard to have influence over who will replace Kofi Annan as Secretary-General.
Karl Inderfurth: By informal understanding, there is a regional rotation. That regional rotation has Asia as the next region to put forward a Secretary-General. John Bolton has said, and this is a quote, 'We don't believe that the next Secretary-General belongs to any particular region'.
Stan Correy: In other words, John Bolton says the job of Secretary-General should not be rotated. Inderfurth says it's smart public diplomacy to keep the rotation system.
Karl Inderfurth: Now Asia has not held that job since 1971 when Burma completed a 10-year term. Since that time, regions have stood in line to wait their turn, and it's very important for every region to have an opportunity to have a Secretary-General because it puts that region more in focus, and right now, with so much taking place in Asia, which you know very well, this would be a good time to have a Secretary-General from the region. But John Bolton just throws his monkey wrench into the gears, saying Well, you know, the United States really doesn't see this being a regional selection. Why does he do that? What is the purpose to be served by continuing to isolate the United States on the way in which the UN is trying to get its work done?
John Bolton: OK, let's begin please. The purpose of this meeting ...
Stan Correy: At the Security Council at the UN, John Bolton had to open a committee meeting.
John Bolton: ... the provisional agenda for this meeting is before the Council and Document S/...
Stan Correy: Bolton's irritation with the bureaucracy and the business of having to deal with all the members was tested.
John Bolton: ... the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question'. Unless I hear any objection I shall consider the agenda adopted.
Stan Correy: But he rarely shows his intolerance in these public situations.
Plodding through stuff like this must be hard for Bolton, and there's much speculation about why he was given the job at all. One idea doing the rounds in the State Department over the past year has been that it was to get him out of Washington.
Steven Clemons: John Bolton was a flak for Vice President Cheney, and for a long time the often-undiscussed battle in foreign policy is in Republican circles, and it is between Vice-President Cheney's team and everyone else. And Vice-President's Cheney's team included John Bolton, who was essentially his actor, his puppet and his spy inside Colin Powell's State Department.
Stan Correy: When Bolton faced Congress about his UN nomination, several former Secretaries of State came out in support of Bolton. One person not on that list was Colin Powell, who had been undermined by Bolton when he was in power.
Steven Clemons: It's one of the reasons why when Secretary Rice was first discussed as Secretary of State, Vice-President Cheney tried to get her to take John Bolton as her Deputy Secretary of State, and she refused, knowing what kinds of insubordination he had engaged in against Colin Powell. And thus the compromise position was the United Nations. There was not a conscious effort politically by the Bush Administration to put Bolton at the UN, it was a compromise position because she knew she had to take him somewhere, but she didn't want him close to her.
Stan Correy: So Condi Rice got her way, and Bolton was moved to the UN.
Bolton is supposed to answer to Condoleezza Rice, but as you'll hear, she disliked him so much, she put another person, Nicholas Burns, the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, as the go-between.
Steven Clemons: What you see is you've got a battle going on and it was very clear recently on the Iran debate in the UN Security Council, because the Russians so dislike John Bolton, so don't want to deal with him in the Security Council, they've been trying to get Secretary Rice not to deal with Iran through the Security Council but rather through the International Atomic Energy Agency, to change the venue for serious negotiation. And Rice wouldn't do it, but she did send Nick Burns to be the sort of adult supervisor of US interests in this case, and to be the primary negotiator.
John Bolton, just to be quite honest, began a kind of silent campaign to undermine Nick Burns, and Nick Burns' views, in a very kind of sinister, bureaucratic way with the media and press and whatnot. You know, not overtly, covertly through discussions with people, even his staff with me, that Nick Burns is a kind of rival force.
Stan Correy: Bolton doesn't like to be bossed, he likes to subvert and that's what he's been doing at the UN. Like a barrister in a court case, Bolton's role at the UN is to take instructions from his client, in this case, the State Department. But as we've already heard, Bolton works for two masters, the State Department and Vice President Dick Cheney.
When Bolton was Under Secretary of State for Security and Arms Control, he deliberately undermined then Secretary Colin Powell on a range of key diplomatic initiatives. One of the most serious breaches was dealing with North Korea and its nuclear ambitions.
Bolton had to be reprimanded by Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage. Here's how Powell's Chief of Staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, tells the story.
Larry Wilkerson: No-one doubt the fact that Kim Jong Il and North Korea are a criminal state, they are the closest thing to a criminal state we have in the world today. No-one doubts it's a heinous regime and it's caused countless pain and misery for its people, to include the deaths of millions from starvation. But still when one is conducting diplomacy with another country, one doesn't go out and stick fingers in that country's leader's eyes just when you're at the more or less apex of your diplomatic effort.
That is what John likes to do, and so as a result of that, Richard and I wound up reigning John in, and essentially Mr Armitage read John the Riot Act and said, 'Listen, you're not going to say or write anything unless I approve it. Do you understand?' And that's how we came to deal with our Under Secretary for International Security Affairs and Arms Control.
Stan Correy: How did he respond though?
Larry Wilkerson: Well he wasn't too happy about it, and there's no doubt in my mind that John had other ways to get his infamous work done, and that's the reason I say perhaps Richard and I were a little too confident that we had curbed him, when in fact as long as he had a channel to the Vice President, it's very difficult to curb him, because you've got too powerful a partner on your team, so to speak, to curb completely.
Stan Correy: During the time the heat was really on the Bolton appointment, the satirists had a great time. In August last year, as Ambassador Bolton began his job, America's highest rating satirical show went in hard.
Jon Stewart is the presenter.
Jon Stewart: Why did Bush take this bolt step?
George Bush: America has now gone more than six months without a permanent Ambassador to the United Nations. This post is too important leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about UN reform.
Jon Stewart: Bush tried to turn the spotlight on Bolton's positive characteristics, for example: did you know he was born of human parents?
George Bush: John's father was a firefighter, his mother was home maker who took her son to the public library to show him the value of education.
Jon Stewart: He sounds sweet.
Stan Correy: That's from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Under pressure from Condi Rice, Bolton has softened his public persona since arriving at the UN. But his politics are still hardline, and too bad if you don't agree. He has said in the past that he will go to the wall for the conservative cause. As far back as 2000, he wrote one of his most influential legal articles stating that America must always put its own interests first, certainly ahead of any international law or organisation.
Here's a reading from that article.
Reader: My thesis as a convinced Americanist, is that these happy days are over. Like it or not, the Globalists have seized more readily the opportunities provided by the end of the Cold War to advance their agenda, building on an ice-berg like mass produced by years of writing, conference-going, resolution-passing and networking. In substantive field after field, human rights, labour, health, the environment, political-military affairs, and international organisations, the Globalists have been advancing while Americanists have slept. Americanists find themselves surrounded by small armies of Globalists, each tightly clutching a favourite new treaty or multilateralist proposal.
Stan Correy: Bolton's favourite political thinkers are the 18th century conservative philosopher, the original promoter of law and order over revolutionary chaos, Edmund Burke, and that favourite of all conservative libertarians, Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is the 20th century novelist and philosopher. Her classic book, The Fountainhead, was turned into a Hollywood movie.
Rand elevated the free market and individual self-interest as the driving forces of civilised societies. And she hated big government and getting involved in foreign wars.
Bolton of course has worked in 'big government' most of his adult life. And being aligned with the Neocons, is in conflict with his earlier distaste for getting involved in overseas wars. But as Edmund Burke once said, 'You have to change to suit the times'. And when the young John Bolton was growing up, the times were changing.
The '60s were a time of great social unrest in America. The anti-Vietnam War feeling was building up and there were protests at university campuses across the country.
Bolton was in the middle of it all, but not of it. In 1964, he was 16 and working to elect Barry Goldwater, a radical libertarian, as Republican President. Goldwater wanted America to have a small government, and a very limited role in global affairs. Democrat Lyndon Johnson beat him in a landslide, but the Vietnam War haunted Johnson.
Bolton, still in his teens, headed off to the prestigious Yale University in 1966. He became the Director of the Yale Conservative Union and a member of the College Republicans.
Meanwhile, the protests were everywhere, exploding out of an anti-Vietnam War feeling.
Stan Correy: And in 1970, National Guards at Kent State killed four students.
Young Republicans like Bolton didn't get involved in any protests. Instead, it's been reported they hunkered down in their rooms and 'leaned mattresses against the windows to keep out stray tear gas shells.'
At Yale, Bolton studied law. Amongst the other students was Charlie Pillsbury, who still lives in New Haven, but he's at the opposite end of the political spectrum to Bolton. Charles Pillsbury stood for Congress as a member of the American Greens.
Pillsbury says that John Bolton has never wavered from his political position, that all the problems come down to too much government, not enough personal freedom and America trying to spread its wings too far.
Charlie Pillsbury: What's remarkable bout John Bolton was that he was not only a proud conservative while in college, but he's maintained his principles. You have to give him a lot of credit for his stamina and his determination to follow through in what he believes.
Stan Correy: Charlie Pillsbury and many of his classmates had a 35th reunion last year, and found they were aghast at the turn American politics had taken and appalled that their old classmate, John Bolton was going to be Ambassador to the UN. A good majority of them signed a petition stating that John Bolton should not be appointed as US Ambassador to the UN.
Charlie Pillsbury: What hit home was here was our classmate being lifted up as one of the pillars of this Administration, to represent our nation in the United Nations. And I think it just said Well, we can't do much, but perhaps we can speak out and be heard, because it will be certainly unusual to have so many of his classmates sign a petition opposing his nomination to the United Nations. But I think many of us were simply appalled, appalled at his views, and appalled of course that the President would nominate him, but of course I think he represents the President, and what I mean by his views is that the total disregard for international institutions.
Stan Correy: John Bolton had himself attended an earlier class reunion, the 25th one in 1995. He even wrote an essay for the class book about his political position. Here's a reading of some extracts, which give fascinating insights into how Bolton's political persona was created.
Reader: When I graduated, I fully expected to go to law school, and spend my entire career in a large New York or Washington law firm. With one exception, I never intended to work for government of any size or shape.
A White House summer internship in the summer of 1972 with Spiro Agnew (and my governor as a Marylander) changed my attitude. Of course, at the time, I viewed that job as being an infiltrator and a subversive, and not one that really meant I was working for the government.
Stan Correy: After a short stint working for Washington law firms, Bolton began his long march through Republican politics, starting with the Reagan Administration. Conservative optimism was shattered by the return of the Democrats under Bill Clinton, but undeterred, in the conservative think tanks of Washington, Bolton was working towards the inevitable return of a Republican government.
Reader: In fact, our moment may be upon us in the very near future, and I think our number has grown, even among alumni of the Yale Class of 1970. We came in very naïve in 1981 about the intricacies of 'government', because we had opposed it in principle for so long, and not understood what happened 'under the hood'. We have now thoroughly read the government's operating manual, and we are, therefore, far more dangerous. As we gather in New Haven in 1995, Bill and Hilary, our Baby Boomer contemporaries, should watch out!
Stan Correy: They didn't manage to knock off Bill and Hilary, but they did have the wind in their sails. And their day came with the victory of the Bush Republicans.
Man: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me. 'I George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear'
George Bush: I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear -
Man: 'That I will take ...
Stan Correy: During the 1990s waiting in the wings, the neoconservatives were busy and productive. Of particular note is the often-mentioned 'Project for the New American Century'. This was a foreign policy lobby group, who in 1998 wrote to President Clinton with a detailed plan for invading Iraq.
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Francis Fukuyama, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton were signatories.
Joshua Muravchik's name wasn't on the list, but he agreed with the project. His most recent work is a book about the UN. On the phone from his home in Maryland, Joshua Muravchik.
Joshua Muravchik: We're in a moment when the UN itself is really in crisis and would say in jeopardy. That is, you know we had the big blow-up in the Security Council in 2003 over the war in Iraq, and you could say Well, that didn't hurt the UN as much as it hurt the US, you might say, because certainly the US failure to get UN backing for going to war in Iraq, did hurt us a lot. On the other hand it also did mark a failure by the UN to deal with the Iraq issue, which had been on its plate for more than decade.
Stan Correy: The failure of the United Nations to deal with a range of problems is something that friends and enemies of John Bolton agree on.
Joshua Muravchik: You had the oil for food scandal, as well as a handful of scandals not that big, but awfully embarrassing in terms of the sexual abuse of young women and children by UN peacekeepers in a number of countries in Africa; the forced resignation of the High Commissioner for Refugees because of molesting members of his staff; and I think a guy like John Bolton who's a very outspoken critic of the UN is what the moment needed, someone that would hold the organisation's feet to the fire.
Stan Correy: John Bolton has certainly been lighting fires under the UN, but most of them have fizzled out. And wherever he goes, he's constantly reminded of his association with the Neocons and their projects to rearrange the world.
Woman: We go live now to the United Nations. Here is US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton talking about Iran.
John Bolton: ... Council action just as soon as possible. With that, maybe I'll stop and take a few questions.
Reporter: Sir, you've talked quite often about the credibility of the UN, and it seems that -
John Bolton: And so has Secretary Rice recently.
Reporter: Yes, and Rice has as well. But that seems to work in your favour when they do what you want them to do, but you violated the UN Charter when you went to war against Iraq, and you consistently lied to us about the reasons that we went to war. And this war was drawn up in Herzliya, Israel, in 1996 with the Project for a New American Century. And you know, why do you have credibility other than that you've just got the biggest guns?
John Bolton: Can I ask what media outlet you're from?
Reporter: Muslim's Weekly.
John Bolton: I see. We did not violate the UN Charter in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. And that plan was not drawn up at Herzliya at the Project for a New American Century. OK, well then perhaps you can refer them to somebody.
Stan Correy: John Bolton, being relatively polite, although fairly dismissive to a young reporter from Muslims Weekly. Bolton rarely displays his legendary bad temper in public these days, but the behind-the-scenes tirades are still remembered well in Washington D.C., as illustrated by this sketch from the Capital Steps Comedy Troupe.
Capitol Steps Comedy: Right. Now as part of this effort to improve my image, I promise to go to the United Nations with a new campaign, and it's called Up Your Opinion.
Now first, my new motto is going to be If you don't want us to bomb you back to the Stone Age, all you heathen enemies of America had better vote with us. Please.
Second of all, I promise to use at least 20% less f-words in each of my tirades.
And finally, I will drop my insistence on having the Darth Vader theme played every time I enter a room.
So, to wrap it up, if you want some namby-pamby Globalist who worships at the altar of the UN, then don't support me, but if you think Lichtenstein and St Lucia are getting a little too big for their britches and need to be pimp-slapped every now and then, then I'm your man!
Remember, support Bolton, because unpopular starts with U.N. Thank you.
Stan Correy: A link to Capitol Steps, a Washington comedy site, can be found on the Background Briefing website.
As for the 'namby-pamby Globalists', the NGOs, the do-gooders who want to save the environment, they are the people who really annoyed John Bolton when he was out of government in the 1990s.
Working at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, he churned out a series of articles for legal journals, attacking and literally deconstructing international laws that he didn't like.
Professor of International Law at University College London is Philippe Sands QC. Over a decade ago, he first started reading Bolton's devastating critiques of international law and international organisations.
On the phone from his office in London, Philippe Sands.
Philippe Sands: And Mr Bolton's thesis and the Project's thesis, is that global rules constrain American sovereignty and basically they should be done away with. Their particular targets are the rules on the use of force, the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, all arms controls agreements. And the basic line that Mr Bolton has peddled is that these agreements are not legally binding, they're basically nice political statements and they can be shredded at will by large powerful countries. That's obviously indicative of the way in which the US has proceeded under the Bush Administration, contrary to its historical approach, and I think it's got the Bush Administration into tremendous difficulty.
Stan Correy: That difficulty won't be overcome, says Philippe Sands, if the Bolton approach to international law is followed.
Philippe Sands: There is now within the Bush Administration, a real fight going on, about the nature of its engagement with global rules. On one side of the equation you've got Mr Bolton, along with Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney. ON the other side of the equation I think you've got Condoleezza Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, all of whom are fighting a rearguard action to stop these rather extreme views on the absence of international laws and global rules from being taken any further.
Stan Correy: Philippe Sands knows John Bellinger, Condoleezza Rice's new legal adviser. He thinks this relatively new battle between two Bush Administration legal experts over international law is one to watch. And he says John Bellinger is not about to be toyed with.
Philippe Sands: He is a very decent man and a person of real integrity. I think John Bolton's efforts really rather undermine what John Bellinger and Condoleezza Rice are trying to do, and I think from my own dealings with him, and I've spent much time with him, he has a genuine commitment to the International Rule of Law and I would have thought he is made very uncomfortable by some of the statements that Mr Bolton makes.
Stan Correy: For the moment, Condoleezza Rice has the upper hand. Although Bolton has constantly tried to undermine her more diplomatic approach, most notably on dealing with Syria and Iran.
Condoleezza Rice is one of the toughest operators in the Bush Administration. But she still have to be careful when taking on an infinitely more powerful figure like Dick Cheney.
Steven Clemons: After 9/11 it was very clear that she deferred to the sort of Cheney-Rumsfeld camp and turned away from Colin Powell, but she seems to be very Powellesque in this Administration. That may undermine Rice, because she doesn't want to be seen by this White House as leaning too left, and that would be perceived to be leaning left. So she needs to have people that can get by this kind of pugnacious nationalist crowd without too much paying too high a price. You have to recognise that John Bolton is an absolutely key player in part of this battle, and the outcome is unresolved. We don't know, we're going to see it play out in the next six months particularly over Iran policy.
Stan Correy: Bolton is the kind of man, said one friend 'with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon'. It's normal in any Administration to have divisions over foreign policy, but the recent brawling between conservatives has a different intensity. The once-invincible grand schemes for remaking the Middle East are on the nose. As one of the original Neocon intellectuals, what does Joshua Muravchik think of this?
Joshua Muravchik: I think that's certainly, you know, I don't want that to be so, but it's certainly a fair enough supposition. When it comes to the most urgent regional matter, that new matter before us, which is Iran, then I suppose you could say the Neocon position towards Iran would be to be very tough towards Iranian nukes. The Administration keeps sending out messages, that if it can't solve this issue by diplomacy, or no-one else can, that we are prepared to use force to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, and public opinion polls show a large majority of the American public support that position. And I'd be surprised if many members of Congress opposed it. So on the one hand, I do confess the point, painful though it is to me that Neocon ideas are not in such good odour at the moment. On the other hand they still seem to be the dominant ideas.
Stan Correy: Just a couple of weeks ago, John Bolton faced a Congressional Committee in Washington. One of the more interesting exchanges came when Bolton was cross-examined about Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker magazine. Hersh claimed that US troops were already operating in Iran.
Democrat Congressman Kucinich wanted to know if Bolton had informed the Security Council that US troops were operating in Iran.
John Bolton: There's no notification that's been given, but by saying that I don't want to leave any implication that there's some operation that we haven't reported, because I think to the extent that's implied in your question, it's inaccurate.
Congressman Kucinich: Do you agree that the US would have an obligation as stated under Article 51, that if the US had inserted combat troops in Iran, or co-ordinated anti-Iranian insurgent groups like MEK to notify the Security Council?
John Bolton: I'm not going to speculate on something that's entirely hypothetical.
Congressman Kucinich: If the US has troops in Iran, would Iran be justified in invoking Article 51?
John Bolton: I'm not going to speculate on that either.
Congressman Kucinich: Now I want to get this straight for Members of the Committee. Ambassador can't comment about troops in Iran, he can't talk about troops in Iran, or he has no knowledge of troops in Iran, and he calls Mr Hersh's article asserting troops in Iran 'fiction'. Mr Ambassador which is it? Are there troops in Iran and you can't talk about it, or are there not troops in Iran?
John Bolton: I have no knowledge one way or the other of that subject. Nor is it appropriate. I work at the State Department not the Defense Department.
Stan Correy: In the coming weeks John Bolton's work will be focused on getting a Security Council resolution condemning Iran about their nuclear program. Colonel Larry Wilkerson worked and fought with Bolton n the State Department under Colin Powell. He ways 'We can expect a lot of tough talk, brinkmanship and little diplomacy. That's the only way,' says Wilkerson, 'that Bolton and the Cheney elite, know how to work'.
Larry Wilkerson: I give John credit for being a member of the Dick Cheney elite. They are ruthless, they have a vision, they are single-minded and they relentlessly pursue their vision, and that's why they ran circles around a lot of the rest of the people in the government, because other people in the government, they do other than black and white. You know, other people in the government, whether they're bureaucrats or political appointees, like to listen to dissent, like to have debates and discussion about crucial and critical matters, like to entertain other points of view than those they had developed in their own heads, and like to come to good decisions, realising that there are ten correct answers to every question, but you've got to find one of them. These people, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Doug Feith, John Bolton, were all cut from the same cloth. It's remarkable, and historians when they study this in this fashion in the years to come, will remark on this. 'They were single-minded, they had a vision, and they were ruthless in pursuing it.'
Stan Correy: You've been listening to Background Briefing. Co-ordinating Producer, Linda McGinnis; Technical operator, Leila Schunner; Research and website, Anna Whitfeld; Readings by John Gregg; Capitol Steps Comedy created by Moose Hill Bitworks. The Executive Producer of Background Briefing is Kirsten Garrett. I'm Stan Correy. You're with ABC Radio National.
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