Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good riddance: Bolton for the exit?

A play on words. I do apologize. It was too easy.

I have spent much of the past week thinking and writing about the papal election, but allow me a brief diversion tonight. In the coming days, I intend to write (and post) a fairly lengthy piece on Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI -- a man I admire, despite serious concerns about what he brings to the papacy and about the direction he will take the Church in the immediate future. He was not my pick, but I think he deserves our respect and, above all, our patience. But, as expected, there has already been a rush to judge him, especially in the American press, often along the familiar left-versus-right bipolarity that I loathe with as much passion, if not quite as much humour, as Jon Stewart (who famously condemned CNN's Crossfire to the very faces of its hosts) does -- the right trying to make him one of its own, the left objecting to him as if he were the new face of Republican orthodoxy. He is neither, of course, but such is the limited vocabulary of American political "discourse". Regardless, I cannot do him justice at the moment. I'm not only too tired, but I have a new DVD player to hook up -- yes, that's true, but, above all, I want to take a pause to think and read and listen, lest I too rush to comment prematurely. Such a world-historical moment, as I put it in my last post, needs to sink in. The problem with the blogosphere, however, and with instantaneous media generally, is that there isn't nearly enough time, and with the power of this medium at our disposal, where anyone with a computer and even the most basic internet access can get out there and "pontificate" in virtually real time, there isn't nearly enough contemplation. Pardon me for being old-fashioned, but I'll think before I write.

So I'll hold off until I think I'm ready to post my thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI. I invite you all to keep checking back. I'll likely have something by Thursday or Friday.

In the meantime, I will continue to post daily and begin to shift back to other and more diverse topics. And, now, the topic is Bolton, John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Just hours after Pope Benedict appeared on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square yesterday afternoon, there was good news from Washington for those of us who worry about the convergence during the Bush presidency of American exceptionalism, unilateralism, and idealism in the form of an arrogant, tongue-wagging foreign policy. Okay, so Powell, the voice of reason among the unreasonable, is gone, and Rice was moved up to Secretary of State, and Rumsfeld is still running the Pentagon, Goss is turning the CIA into a vehicle for pro-Bush unintelligence, and Cheney is still pulling the strings from some underground bunker...

But the nomination of Bolton -- by reputable accounts a reprehensible man who has intimidated and harassed subordinates at the State Department (where he is still -- God help us -- Cheney's minion (and formerly Powell's nemesis) as undersecretary of state for arms control... something he doesn't even believe in!), who childishly lashes out in red-faced rage at any and all disagreement from his staff, who seems to lack anything in the way of humility, who rejects the legitimacy of international law, who doesn't seem to grasp the complexity of international relations and the nuanced shades of international diplomacy, who amorally evaded the question of Rwandan genocide during his recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, and who has repeatedly attacked the United Nations, even saying publicly that "if the U.N. Secretariat Building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference" -- yes, the nomination of Bolton, supported by a knee-jerk defence of Bolton mounted in recent days by the White House and neoconservative outposts like The Weekly Standard, is perhaps the most grotesque personnel move yet.

Well, all seemed to be going well for Bolton. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was poised yesterday to vote to send his nomination to the floor of the full Senate. With 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats on the committee, and with even the moderate Republicans -- Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- set to vote along party lines, Democratic opposition to this awful nomination was about to fall short. Until George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican committee member who hadn't even attended any of the hearings, suddenly came forward and expressed reservations about Bolton. At last, an act of decency, moderation, and common sense from a party that has, of late, eschewed decency, moderation, and common sense. And that was it. The vote was put off and committee chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana, along with ranking Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware, agreed to bipartisan investigation into the various allegations of intimidation and harassment that have been made against Bolton. The vote has thus been put off, and, indeed, Bolton's nomination may never see the floor. If so, good riddance. I hope he goes on to rot in obscurity, if not more likely in some noxious right-wing think-tank, where he'll be free to spew his madness with reckless abandon and irresponsible bravado... as befits the president he serves.

Bolton would be bad for the U.S., bad for the U.N., and bad for the world. He is no Daniel Moynihan or Jeanne Kirkpatrick, as some have claimed, both former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. who took on that bloated and beleaguered institution. No, at a time when the world needs America to engage the international community, to pursue multilateral solutions to emerging crises in places like Iran and North Korea, to take a stand against atrocities in places like Darfur, and to bolster the flagging reputation of the U.N. in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, what is most needed is the very opposite of John Bolton. Given Bush's track record, we won't get the opposite, but at least we might get someone with some decency, moderation, and common sense.

Note: I have benefitted immensely from the brilliant deconstruction of Bolton and his nomination by Fred Kaplan in Slate. Kaplan's writings on foreign and military policy are always a must-read, but check out his recent pieces on Bolton: here, here, here, and here.

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