TOPICS > Politics

President Bush Nominates John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to U.N.

March 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: The nomination was announced and accepted at the State Department yesterday.

JOHN BOLTON: Madame Secretary, you and the president have done me a great honor in nominating me to be the United States’ permanent representative to the United Nations.

RAY SUAREZ: With that, John Bolton, a prominent conservative and longtime critic of the United Nations, became the nominee for ambassador to the 191-nation body.

Bolton once said the UN headquarters in New York “has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

In 1994, Bolton said, “There is no such thing as the 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.”

Bolton acknowledged his previous comments on the UN yesterday.

JOHN BOLTON: I have consistently stressed in my writings that American leadership is critical to the success of the UN, an effective UN, one that is true to the original intent of its charter’s framers.

RAY SUAREZ: The blunt talk has peppered a long career in government service, spanning three Republican administrations.

Bolton served as assistant secretary of state for international organizations during President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Before that, he worked as an assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.

His current position as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security has taken him around the globe, where he sometimes dispenses with diplomatic niceties.

In Switzerland last year, Bolton riled European allies when he voiced skepticism about European negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.

And in 2003, on the eve of six-party talks with North Korea, Bolton made an unexpected trip to Seoul, where he described Kim Jung Il’s North Korea in stark terms:

JOHN BOLTON: While he lives like royalty in Pyongyang, he keeps hundreds of thousands of his people locked in prison camps with millions more mired in abject poverty. For many in North Korea, life is a hellish nightmare.

RAY SUAREZ: Bolton’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

RAY SUAREZ: So, is John Bolton the right man to represent the United States at the UN?

For that, we’re joined by Joshua Muravchik, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. John Bolton was senior vice president of that organization from 1997 to 2001.

And Nancy Soderberg, who was a senior member of the United States’ delegation to the UN during the Clinton administration. She recently authored the book “The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might.”

So, Joshua Muravchik, good choice for the UN post?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: I think it’s a great choice. I think it will be a breath of fresh air in the UN to have someone who speaks as directly and bluntly as John Bolton does.

I think our best representatives to the UN, in my memory, were Jane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan who, like Bolton, were very outspoken intellectuals who, of course, made other people angry some of the time, but who dispensed… dispelled some of the diplomatic fog that tends to envelope the UN all too often.

RAY SUAREZ: In fact, those two ambassadors were the ones cited by Secretary of State Rice at the ceremony naming Mr. Bolton. Nancy Soderberg, what do you think?

NANCY SODERBERG: It’s a bizarre choice. It’s one thing to be a blunt speaker in the tradition of Moynihan and Kirkpatrick. It’s another to be a flame thrower.

And that’s John Bolton’s record. He has derided the UN saying that if you took the top ten stories off, nobody would notice; there is no such thing as the UN

And his record as is chief arms control officer in the State Department has been to undermine arms control, whether its the chemical weapons, the biological weapons, convention, the nonproliferation treaty, small arms, he doesn’t like arms control.

He doesn’t believe in international institutions. He is reviled at the United Nations. So it’s a very confrontational choice. I think it says more about President Bush’s need to accommodate the right-wing than it does about any intention to reform the United Nations.

Now there could be a change of heart. He may decide he is going to try to reform the UN and work as a coalition builder. It’s possible he can change his stripes.

People have done that in the past. And I think it’s a good sign that Condi Rice moved him out rather than up. It is well known he wanted the number two position at State. She has now put him in a job as a diplomat but not as a policy maker.

And that could be, I think, part of their effort to have a second term conversion away from the unrealistic policies of the first administration to a more realistic policy in the next four years.

RAY SUAREZ: Joshua Muravchik, you just heard Ms. Soderberg suggest that by temperament, by history he may not be someone who is able to work in that institution.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Well, I think that’s just wrong. First is of all, I’ve worked with him. He was, as you mentioned in the intro, he was the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, where I work.

And actually he and I disagreed lots about substantive issues, but he was a great colleague and he is a person who has very strong opinions but knows how to express them in a way that is completely without any personal rancor, without engendering any spirit of poisonousness.

But he is a blunt speaker. I think Nancy’s description is not quite fair. When he said they could do away with the top ten stories of the UN building, he was alluding to the awful history of bloated bureaucracy at the UN, which, in fact, Kofi Annan’s high-level panel had just recommended reform of the UN

In effect, admitted the same thing and said one of their reform proposals was to pension off lots of the dead wood at the UN They wouldn’t propose that kind of thing if it wasn’t for blunt speaking people like Bolton holding the feet to the fire.

And I think he will be holding the feet of the UN to the fire over the next four years as the U.S.’s permanent representative. And I think that’s all to the good.

RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead.

NANCY SODERBERG: There is a real difference Josh, between blunt speaking and debating in think tanks and actually trying to get things done at the United Nations. And it’s very hard to convince others to follow you.

The Bush administration, you know, followed the myth that as is a superpower, we can bend the world to our will. We don’t need allies. I think they’re changing that tune.

And what Josh Bolton [sic] is going to have to do, if he decides to try and work within the system and be an effective UN ambassador is get people to follow him; that is something he has never done before. I hope he does it.

I think the other thing is he will help on the Hill. If he decides to try and push for something, he does have a lot of credibility as the chief UN critic on Capitol Hill.

But there’s virtually nothing in his record to indicate he can do that. I wish him all the best and I hope he can do it, but it’s a far cry from debates and think tanks to actually getting others to follow you. I hope he does it.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Joshua Muravchik, you’ve talked about blunt speech and refreshing clearing of the air.

But in the past, Mr. Bolton has expressed real skepticism about international treaties, about agreements that include the United States, about the necessity of the United States to share sovereignty over certain shared responsibilities.

Will that give — will some of that come back to bite him? Does it give him a problem coming through the front door?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Well, when you say coming through the front door, I’m sure that a lot of the same quotes that are controversial that we’ve seen in the lead-in to this discussion will be played in other countries and other representatives of the UN may look upon him with some trepidation.

But I think that will be dispelled readily enough. I don’t think, Nancy, that you’re right in saying that he hasn’t worked effectively with others; with other countries.

One of the most important things that has happened in the first term out of the State Department is the nonproliferation initiative.

NANCY SODERBERG: Proliferation security initiative.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Proliferation security initiative — that was his baby that involved cooperation of a lot of other countries and trying to strengthen the procedures we have for controlling the proliferation.

NANCY SODERBERG: That’s a perfect example. This is his proposal several years ago to have the US basically be able to patrol the high seas, seize any cargo they thought might be involved in proliferation and Josh Bolton was very much part of it.

He said let’s do this on our own. Don’t use the UN, don’t use the wimpy little multilateral treaties. And nobody really signed up, ten countries.

Ultimately, they did something I think has gotten very little attention. They brought that whole proposal to the UN last spring, forced the UN Security Council to address it and it is now law of the land.

But that was not his instincts. Now that’s an indication maybe he can learn. If you look at the agenda —

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: It’s also an indication that maybe the others will be more likely to come on board if the United States takes a forceful position and if other countries realize that they have to deal with us as we are.

NANCY SODERBERG: Exactly. And I think you have to also though convince them that you’re right. And if you look at the range of issues on the plate of Bush’s second term, Iraq is what it is. We own it.

We are going to have to run it for the foreseeable future at high cost to Americans. But some good will come out of that. You’ll have the Iraqi people better off, certainly.

But the range of issues focusing on Iran and North Korea for instance, the other legs of the axis of evil, that is going to take negotiation, some involvement of the UN and Bush is beginning to shift in that direction.

You are going to need the UN to accommodate the needs for more terrorism conventions, more nonproliferation conventions. We cannot do this on our own.

Bolton has spent his life trying to do things on their own, and that may well shift. I hope it does but we cannot keep America safe without returning as the world’s persuader, not enforcer.

RAY SUAREZ: But what you’ve described as flame throwing and Joshua Muravchik has described as refreshing intolerance for bureaucratic fog is something that’s cheered in many circles in the United States.

And when it is suggested by your colleague that here’s a man that is not going to tolerate inaction, the sort of talking shop at great expense that goes on, on the East River.

Why don’t you respond to his suggestion that maybe the United States needs a tougher, more forceful diplomat who is willing to hold people accountable once it gets there.

NANCY SODERBERG: There is nothing wrong with tough talk and I’m all for frank blunt talk. There is nothing more onerous than long-winded diplomats who don’t really accomplish anything.

The question is, is criticizing them is not going to change it. You have to get in there and build coalitions and convince them to change and begin to reform the UN The UN needs lots of reform. And I hope he can achieve that.

But if you look at the history of when you’d actually achieve something at the UN, it’s working with the UN, pushing them certainly. I think there is a full possibility that John Bolton can do this. He is going have to undergo a major transformation.

But when people are thrust into the limelight of these senior positions is, they can sometimes change. I wish him well and hope he does.

But it makes the administration’s second term job at reforming the UN much harder because there is so much skepticism and just resentment of this. This is the one man that the diplomats at the UN did not want nominated.

The fact that they’ve done it makes their job harder. It is still doable. We are still the superpower. We are still the US People will follow us, and I hope he gets it right but they’ve made the job a lot harder by picking him.

RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, Joshua Muravchik, that appointment comes at a time when there is open discussion in Republican circles in the United States about Kofi Annan’s future, speculation about taking Mohammed elBaradei out of the leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Is the appointment of John Bolton a sign that the United States really intends to start changing spots at the top?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Well, I don’t know if it signifies that we are going to start changing the personnel of the UN, but there was a push over the last several years, to sort of use the UN as the big constraint on American power.

And the UN — and I think you’ll probably agree with this, Nancy, the UN will never succeed as an institution against the US The UN can only be effective if the leading nation of the world is seen as the most important pillar.

And I think having John Bolton there is sort of the next best thing to having George Bush himself there. Bolton is a lot like Bush in terms of what he believes in and in terms of his style.

And I think that if the UN is going to recover from the terrible crisis that it has been in, a key for the UN will be to come to terms with the United States as it is, not as some of the diplomats there wish we were

RAY SUAREZ: Joshua Muravchik, Nancy Soderberg, thank you both.