A New Ambassador at the U.N.
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JIM LEHRER: The (John) Bolton recess appointment: President Bush pointed to his nominee’s credentials at the White House this morning.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Ambassador Bolton believes passionately in the goals of the United Nations charter: To advance peace and liberty and human rights. His mission is now to help the U.N. reform itself to renew its founding promises for the 21st Century. He will speak for me on critical issues facing the international community, and he’ll make it clear that America values the potential of the United Nations to be a source of hope and dignity and peace. As he embarks on his new assignment, Ambassador Bolton will bring tremendous wisdom and expertise.
Over the past two decades, John Bolton has been one of America’s most talented and successful diplomats. He’s been a tireless defender of our nation’s values and a persuasive advocate for freedom and peace. As a senior leader at the State Department in the 1980s and 1990s, he brought people together to achieve meaningful results at the United Nations, from resolving payment issues to helping rally the coalition in the Persian Gulf War to repealing a shameful resolution that equated Zionism with racism. And over the past four years as undersecretary of state, he’s shown valuable leadership on one of the most urgent challenges of our time: Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
As the newest member of America’s diplomatic corps, Ambassador Bolton will defend our nation’s interests with character and resolve that were instilled early in life. John’s father was a firefighter. His mother was a homemaker who took her son to the public library to show him the value of education. I know that Jack and Virginia Bolton would be proud today to see the boy they raised in Baltimore appointed to serve as our permanent representative to the United Nations.
AMB. JOHN BOLTON: I’m profoundly honored, indeed humbled, by the confidence that you have shown by appointing me to serve as the United States permanent representative to the United Nations. You have made your directions for U.S. policy at the United Nations clear, and I am prepared to work tirelessly to carry out the agenda and initiatives that you and Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice direct.
We seek a stronger, more effective organization, true to the ideals of its founders and agile enough to act in the 21st Century. It will be a distinct privilege to be an advocate for America’s values and interests at the U.N. and, in the words of the U.N. Charter, to help maintain international peace and security. My deepest thanks to you both for the opportunity to continue to serve America.
JIM LEHRER: Now, two views of what happened today with John Bolton. Edward Luck is a professor of international affairs at Columbia University. He’s a former president of the United Nations Association of the USA, a private advocacy group. Abraham Sofaer was legal advisor at the State Department in the Reagan administration. He’s now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Professor Luck, a Democratic senator (Edward Kennedy) charged today that Ambassador Bolton is going to New York to the United Nations as damaged goods. Do you agree?
EDWARD LUCK: Well, I think there’s something to that. He had one strike against him because of his career bashing the institution. Second of all, he didn’t get confirmation from the Senate and was evasive with some of the answers.
Now, I only hope he doesn’t get strike three when he’s up there because we need him to do a good job, because if he strikes out there, it’s not only damaging him, but it damages the U.S. and damages the UN as well.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sofaer, do you agree he has two strikes against him and a third’s coming maybe?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: Certainly not. Just because a senator says he’s damaged goods doesn’t mean he is. That’s the senator’s view. The fact of the matter is that recess appointments are common. They’re perfectly legitimate. There were 700 in the last four administrations. There are over 100 in this administration.
The president has the constitutional authority to do this. And John would have been approved clearly by over a majority of the senators if the minority had allowed a vote. So he is a perfectly legitimate appointment. It’s unfortunate they did not have a vote and give him the full confidence that he’s entitled to.
JIM LEHRER: Professor Luck, do you think the fact that it’s a recess appointment and did not get a full vote in the Senate hurts his credibility or hurts his ability to function?
EDWARD LUCK: Well, I think it does partly because the content of the debate over his nomination was not helpful to him. I think his performance could have been better during that debate.
Second of all, while indeed there have been many recess appointments not at this level; I don’t remember any appointment to be permanent representative of the U.S. to the UN — really the voice and the personification of the U.S. before the world — that was ever so controversial.
That doesn’t mean he can’t overcome it, but it does mean he starts from a very difficult place. I think and I hope very much that he’s learned some lessons from this experience that maybe he’s undergone some reforms himself even as he goes to try to reform the UN.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sofaer, I checked the record as well today. This is the first time that a UN ambassador has gotten this kind of recess appointment. Does that concern you at all?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: Of course, it’s always concerns me. But whose fault is it? It’s certainly not his. If there had been a vote, he would have been confirmed. And there were four ambassadorial-level recess appointments under President Clinton, one of which incidentally I thought was excellent; Ambassador Hormel who was blocked in the Senate because he’s a homosexual. That is the kind of thing that is inappropriate to block a person from a vote on the merits in that kind of a situation.
JIM LEHRER: Professor Luck, as a practical matter though, whether or not you approve of this nomination or not and the way he was appointed to the job today, the fact of the matter is he’s representing the United States of America. Doesn’t he bring a lot of clout to the job regardless of how he got there that will overcome what problems you may have with the way he got there?
EDWARD LUCK: Well, no doubt everyone at the UN, whether they’re ambassadors from other countries or the secretary general, they all have to respect and pay attention to the word of the U.S. Ambassador. That’s very important. But at the same time we have to be sure that ambassadors there try to represent the country as a whole and not just one particular ideological viewpoint.
And I think, you know, if John stretches himself, he’s intelligent, he knows the UN well; he can certainly do this job. But it has to be with a different kind of attitude than we’ve seen in the last several years where he seems to prefer to go it alone, to do it unilaterally, to bash the UN. And I don’t think he’s ever met a sound bite that he didn’t like. And this is not the place to use it simply as a bully pulpit. This is a place to build alliances and coalitions with other countries including some that we don’t like all the time.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sofaer, what do you think of that assessment?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: I certainly agree with that in principle, but this man is eminently qualified to do this. The fact of the matter is, as the president said, he’s been assistant Secretary of State for international organizations and while he was there, he was the point man on putting together the coalition on Iraq. That was something everybody supported. He was the point man on overturning the Zionism as racism resolution. I was in the State Department at the time in 1990, and I used to discuss with some of the people who signed the statement against John why can’t we overturn the Zionism-racism resolution?
And they would say, oh, you can’t do that. They would never overturned a General Assembly resolution. Well, Secretary (James) Baker and John Bolton did it. And John was the point man on that. And he was the point man on the proliferation initiative. It’s the most important arms control initiative of the last decade. And John was responsible for that. I think John has, to his credit, in those three achievements more — each one of them is greater than most of the people who’ve served in the State Department in any capacity.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sofaer, but ambassador or Professor Luck is essentially suggesting that John Bolton is going to have to go through a personality change in order to function effectively as the UN ambassador. Do you disagree with that?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: No, I don’t disagree with that. I think what happens is people do go through personality changes when they get important appointments. He knows he’s got a different role now. There’s no doubt he’s right when he said ten out of the thirty-eight floors of the UN building were unnecessary. Of course there’s that much duplication in the UN.
There’s a lot of reform to be done in the UN. The UN Association says so. The president says so. The high-level commission says so. Every study says so. Sen. (Richard) Lugar’s bill says so. There’s a lot of things to be done there: Sexual abuse, to auditing, to a better professional appointments. John is going to be aware that he has a new role to play and he will play that role professionally and capably in America’s interests.
JIM LEHRER: Professor Luck, is it all personality from your perspective at least on John Bolton or is it beliefs as well? Has he got a lot to change in order to function effectively in your opinion?
EDWARD LUCK: Well, I think he said some things; he stood for some things in the past that are not at all helpful. For example, he has said that we have no legal obligation to pay our dues to the UN. I hope that’s not administration policy. It doesn’t seem to be administration policy. And I hope he refutes that. He has argued, in fact, that there is no such thing as international law, that it’s not an obligation; it’s simply a moral or political commitment one makes.
And the UN is of course where most of international law is created so I think those things he has to reverse course substantively. And that’s a lot harder to do in some ways than it is to have a change in personality because these are not ideas that come to him lightly. These are deeply, deeply held beliefs of his.
Also, he has bashed the international criminal court from day one. And yet at the end of March the U.S. agreed for the Security Council to refer potential war criminals from Darfur from Sudan to the international criminal court. Now had John been our permanent representative, would he have agreed with that or would he have fought the administration against that? Because that could be a very important thing in the years to come not only in Darfur but other places where it looks like war crimes have been committed. Will he stand up and say, “Well, there are occasions whether we like the international criminal court or not, where these people have to be held accountable, and if this is the only way to do it, I’ll hold my nose and look the other way.”
JIM LEHRER: Professor Luck, as a practical matter though, does the — any United Nations’ ambassador function as an independent agent in all those areas you just mentioned or isn’t he going to get orders from Washington and is he going to be implementing orders rather than making orders and making policy decisions?
EDWARD LUCK: Well, the theory is that certainly that they’re supposed to take instructions from Washington. But John has his own constituencies and his own views and is known as being rather independent-minded. As an act of admission that would be terrific, but as a U.S. Ambassador I hope he recognizes as he insisted when he was assistant secretary of state back in Bush the father’s administration that the U.S. Ambassador had to be reporting through the assistant secretary and not making a public spectacle of himself.
And that’s a very hard thing to do quite frankly because this is a wonderful forum for making a reputation. And we’ve had several ambassadors who have done that. They have played to the press. They have played to the public. And you would have thought they were the lonely voice for freedom, the only one standing up for values in the organization. So that’s a tough temptation. I’m sure he can overcome it. I only hope that he will overcome it.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sofaer, what’s your view of that?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: He knows that Condi Rice is a powerful lady who has the president’s confidence. And he knows that the president wants him to implement American policy as the president states it and as the secretary of state states it. And he will do that.
If you look at who his supporters are, all the secretaries of state who knew him particularly Secretary (George) Shultz and Secretary Baker and Secretary Rice — all three of them have been extremely supportive of John. And these are outstanding people with great reputations. And I think that one is entitled to place some reliance on the judgment of men like that and women like that in this kind of a matter.
JIM LEHRER: So you expect – yes, go ahead -
EDWARD LUCK: Excuse me. I would like to point out that Colin Powell was left off of that list, the person he most recently worked with.
JIM LEHRER: What about that Mr. Sofaer?
ABRAHAM SOFAER: Well, I don’t know whether Secretary Powell is opposed to the nomination. I doubt it. He certainly — I’ve heard, had some run-ins with John. John does make his views very clear. And he evokes some terrible words from people like the leader of North Korea who called him scum and a blood sucker and God knows what because he called the man a tyrant, which is exactly what he is.
So, you know, sometimes you get — you get criticized for saying things that are out of line with diplomatic practice and you deal yourself out of playing a particular role. But the role he’s going to play at the UN is the kind of role that he’s suited to do and he knows that he has to modify his conduct somewhat. And he will not overstate things, which is one of his propensities.
JIM LEHRER: You go for that, Professor Luck? Do you expect him to be successful and to suppress whatever problems you think he has?
EDWARD LUCK: I certainly hope so. I have no –
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect him too; you don’t have any problems?
EDWARD LUCK: I expect that he’ll make an effort. I certainly hope so. But there are a lot of temptations to go in other directions. And, frankly, if this had been before the hearings, I think I would have been more enthusiastic than after the hearings because he did not do very well.
And if it was after his service in Bush the father’s administration, I would have been much more positive. The last couple years though have given me a lot of pause. And I hope he just has the willpower and the understanding that his job is to serve the administration and not make a political career on his own by bashing the UN.
JIM LEHRER: And in a word -
ABRAHAM SOFAER: I think he’s going to be Kofi Annan’s best ally in reforming the UN.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much. We’ll see which one of you is right. Thank you.