John Bolton’s Limp-Stick Diplomacy
Copyright © 2005 by Russ Daggatt. All rights reserved.
Anyone who doubted whether the crazed, ideological neoconservatives would continue to dominate the foreign policy of the second Bush term, as they did the first, need look no further than the nomination of John Bolton to be UN ambassador.
With the possible exception of Cheney, this guy is the worst — the most extreme — of the bunch. Cheney once remarked that Bolton deserves “any job he wants” in the administration (except VP, presumably). So let’s take a look at his record in the job he actually got: Undersecretary of State for Arms Control.
We all know that the Bush administration came into office with three big arms control challenges. By far the most serious of the three was securing loose nuclear material in the former Soviet states. And then there were the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. So how did the Bush administration respond to those challenges? First, they cut funding for securing the Soviet nukes. Then they invaded and occupied Iraq (a country with no nuclear weapons program) on the pretext of pre-emptive arms control. Meanwhile, Bush lumped North Korea and Iran together with Iraq as part of an “axis of evil.” In the case of Iran, our military now occupies its neighbors on both sides, which has strengthened the position of the hard-line clerics and essentially eliminated any drift toward moderation in that country. Nothing like an external security threat to cause a country to rally around hard-liners, right? And in the case of North Korea, the administration walked away from the Clinton agreement that had North Korea’s reprocessed nuclear fuel rods under international seal and around-the-clock monitoring. (The US had already failed to uphold its end of that agreement when Republicans in Congress refused to fund the aid that had been promised as a quid pro quo.)
If you are Iran and North Korea in this situation, what do you do? Duh. Develop nuclear weapons as fast as you can, while the US military is overstretched and tied down in the Iraq quagmire.
Great work, Bolton.
Hey, but that’s not all. Why not add unnecessarily provocative threats and insults to the mix. In July of 2003, as diplomats from six countries were ready to begin long-awaited talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, Bolton unexpectedly showed up in Seoul for a speech where he referred to North Korean leader Lil’ Kim as a “tyrannical dictator,” heading up an “evil regime,” with life in that country a “Hellish nightmare.” That prompted the North Koreans to denounce him as “human scum” and refuse talks with him. So what exactly was accomplish by that juvenile exchange (I have to admit, I actually agree with what both sides said)? This is a good approach to diplomacy only if your goal is to prevent negotiations from taking place. Which was and is Bolton’s agenda. (Bolton was subsequently removed from the U.S. delegation to those now dormant negotiations.) This is a guy who proudly keeps a bronzed hand grenade in his office to show his pride at his reputation as a bomb thrower. When once asked why he opposed offering incentives to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Bolton said: “I don’t do carrots.” The result, of course, is that North Korea now has nuclear weapons.
Great work, Bolton.
But, hey, you don’t hire Bolton for diplomacy. You hire him for gratuitous insults and rigid ideology. You want carrots? Get Bugs Bunny. Bolton is a stick guy. Too bad that stick is completely useless at the moment as it is fully occupied swatting furiously at insurgents in Iraq. Too bad Bolton’s approach to non-proliferation has been a total failure. That doesn’t prevent the stickless Bolton from talking loudly (to turn T.R.’s foreign policy prescription on its head). Macho talk is fun. It goes over big with smirking frat boys.
How about war with China? Bolton has advocated diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, saying such a move, “is just the kind of demonstration of U.S. leadership that the region needs and that many of its people hope for… The notion that China would actually respond with force is a fantasy …” Damn right! Let’s go mano a mano. Let’s just see what China wants to do about it! Could they, perhaps, decide to “… give themselves legal authority to attack Taiwan if they decide that the disputed territory has ventured too far toward independence”? Who needs China, anyway!
But isn’t the UN all about diplomacy? If you don’t have a stick and you don’t “do carrots”, what are you left with? Bolton still has his mouth doesn’t he? This is the guy who once told the Federalist Society (a group of right-wing lawyers), “there is no such thing as the United Nations.” (This raises an interesting metaphysical question: Can you be the ambassador to an entity whose very existence you deny? Does that somehow abnegate your own existence? What is reality?) He went on to say, “If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” (Excuse New Yorkers if they find that particular choice of words unsettling.) In 2000, Bolton told NPR, “If I were redoing the Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member [the United States] because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.” So much for multilateralism!
Bolton has opposed virtually every multilateral effort to control arms, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the international treaty banning landmines. The guy is just ideologically opposed to multilateralism in any form for any purpose. Which is why he makes perfect sense as Dubya’s UN ambassador. He is a walking, talking poke in the eye of the international diplomatic community. (smirk, smirk)
Bolton’s former employer, Senator Jesse Helms, once said of Bolton that he “is the kind of man I would want to stand with me at Armageddon.” Why do I not find that reassuring?
Russ Daggatt is a private venture investor and corporate advisor. He served as president and vice chairman of Teledesic LLC, CEO of New ICO Global Communications Ltd., and CEO and vice chairman of ICO-Teledesic Global Ltd. He is co-author of the book The Global Negotiator: Building Strong Business Relationships Anywhere in the World (1990) and author of “Why I Oppose An Iraq War.