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Veteran UN Reporter: "John Bolton is to Diplomacy as Jack the Ripper was to Surgery"

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After a five month deadlock, President Bush used his Presidential powers to appoint John Bolton as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the first business day of the Congressional recess. Opponents charged Bolton with trying to manipulate intelligence and intimidate intelligence analysts to support his hawkish views as the top State Department diplomat for arms control. We speak with Ian Williams, U.N. correspondent for the Nation Magazine, about the future of the United Nations with Bolton at the helm of the U.S. mission. [includes rush transcript]

After a five month deadlock, President Bush has appointed John Bolton as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bush invoked his Presidential powers to appoint Bolton during a Congressional recess, effectively bypassing Democrats and Republicans who had blocked a vote in the Senate. A United States president has never before filled the UN post using a recess appointment.

  • President George W. Bush, speaking yesterday in the White House Roosevelt Room, on the first working day of the five-week congressional recess that began last Friday.
  • John Bolton, speaking yesterday.

Soon after the announcement, Bolton was sworn into office and went immediately to New York. He was reportedly booed on the sidewalk outside the United States mission to the U.N.. Bolton has been one of the fiercest critics of the United Nations within the Bush administration. He has drawn major fire for allegedly bullying subordinates. Last March, 59 former diplomats and other officials called for the Senate to reject Bolton’s nomination in an open letter to Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Opponents charged Bolton with trying to manipulate intelligence and intimidate intelligence analysts to support his hawkish views as the top State Department diplomat for arms control.

More recently, Democrats vowed to block a vote on the nomination until they received classified documents related to Bolton’s State department service. When the White House refused the requests, the Democrats refused to end debate in the Senate. Republicans twice failed to secure the 60 votes required to cut them off.

  • John Bolton, speaking at an event called "The Global Structures Convocation" on February 3, 1994, in New York. The tape was released in March by Citizens for Global Solutions. He said, "The United States makes the U.N. work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, the only question for the United States is what is in our national interest. And if you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that is the fact."
  • Ian Williams, U.N. correspondent for The Nation and author of "Deserter: George Bush, Soldier of Fortune." His new book is, "Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is President Bush speaking yesterday in the White House Roosevelt Room on the first working day of the five-week Congressional recess that began last Friday.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Nearly five months ago, I nominated John Bolton to be America’s ambassador to the United Nations. I chose John because of his vast experience in foreign policy, his integrity and his willingness to confront difficult problems head-on. I told the nation that John Bolton would provide clear American leadership for reform at the United Nations. I told him that he would insist upon results.

The United States Senate held thorough confirmation hearings, and a majority of United States Senators agree that he is the right man for the job. Yet because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up or down vote that he deserves. As a result, America has now gone more than six months without a permanent ambassador to the United Nations.

This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform. So, today I have used my Constitutional authority to appoint John Bolton to serve as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. John Bolton will be an important member of my State Department team, led by Condoleezza Rice. I’m sending Ambassador Bolton to New York with my complete confidence.

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 will make it clear that America values the potential of the United Nations to be a source of hope and dignity and peace.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush, announcing his appointment of John Bolton as new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations yesterday. Standing with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this is John Bolton speaking.

JOHN BOLTON: Mr. President, Madame Secretary, my wife, Gretchen, and our daughter, J.S., in absentia, I’m profoundly honored, indeed humbled, by the confidence that you have shown by appointing me to serve as the United States’s 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 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.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton, speaking Monday after President Bush nominated him the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bolton soon afterwards was sworn into office, went immediately to New York. He was reportedly booed on the sidewalk outside the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

Bolton has been one of the fiercest critics of the United Nations within the Bush administration. He has drawn major fire for allegedly bullying subordinates. Last March, 59 former diplomats and officials called for the Senate to reject Bolton’s nomination in an open letter to Richard Lugar, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Opponents charged Bolton with trying to manipulate intelligence and intimidating intelligence analysts to support hawkish views as the top State Department diplomat for arms control.

More recently, Democrats vowed to block a vote on the nomination until they received classified documents related to Bolton’s State Department service. When the White House refused the request, Democrats refused to end the debate in the Senate. Republicans twice failed to secure the 60 votes required to cut them off.

This is John Bolton more than ten years ago. He was speaking at an event called the "Global Structures Convocation." It was held on February 3, 1994 in New York. This is some of what John Bolton had to say.

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. 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, and I think it would be a real mistake to count on the United Nations as if it’s some disembodied entity out there that can function on its own. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will lead. When it does not suit our interest to do so, we will not, and I think that is the most important thing to carry away tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, speaking February 3, 1994. This another clip from that event.

JOHN BOLTON: The League of Nations was a failure because the United States did not participate. The United Nations would be a failure if the United States did not participate and, in fact, I remember as vividly as though it were yesterday, right after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Jim Baker said to me, we’re going to make this United Nations work, or we’re going to find out whether it is the League Nations or the UN. And that’s the fact. And if you don’t like it, then I’m sorry. The United States makes the UN work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, the only question for the United States is what is in our national interest. And if you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that is the fact.

AMY GOODMAN: That tape of John Bolton released at end of March this year by Citizens for Global Solutions. Here is one more excerpt from that event, more than a decade ago.

JOHN BOLTON: 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 better think again. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. The United Nations is one of the most inefficient, intergovernmental organizations going. UNESCO is even worse, and others go downhill from there. The fact of the matter is that the international system that has grown up, and again, I leave out the World Bank and the IMF, because I do think they’re in a separate category, has been put into a position of hiring ineffective people who do ineffective things, that have no real world impact. And we pay 25% of the budget.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton, new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaking in 1994. We’re joined in our studio by Ian Williams, U.N. correspondent for The Nation magazine. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

IAN WILLIAMS: Hello, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: I hope your office isn’t one of those top ten stories of the United Nations.

IAN WILLIAMS: The bottom floor. The bottom floor.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re safe, perhaps, for now.

IAN WILLIAMS: I’m safe, yes. Well, he didn’t say which ten he wanted out. So, he might want to collapse it from underneath.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your response to the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N.?

IAN WILLIAMS: Well, you listen — I mean, sometimes when conservatives like him speak, it — we’re looking at a sort of really brutal view of the world. He’s saying the U.S. is number one, and what we do is in our national interests. And I think the real problem is that he takes no account of other nations’ interests and, more to the point is, in the case of John Bolton, he doesn’t take account of the sort of 70% or so of the American public who disagree with his view of the national interest.

As we’ve seen, he has a very peculiar view, and he’s prepared to bully people, just as he’s been up in the Senate on charges of bullying the State Department officials. He managed to sack the head of the chemical weapons inspectorate organization, because he was — because the chemical weapons inspectors wanted to go into Iraq, and he felt this would interfere. He tried to sack Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, because he felt he wasn’t producing the results he wanted about Iran; and this is even before he’s got to the U.N. He has a long record of trying to use the organization when it suits him and to twist it to sack people, and it’s always in his own peculiar sectarian interests.

AMY GOODMAN: George Voinovich, the Republican Senator from Ohio who cast the vote that meant that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would not be recommending John Bolton to be the next U.N. ambassador said — Voinovich said: "I’m truly concerned that a recess appointment will only add to John Bolton’s baggage and his lack of credibility with the United Nations. That said, the President has made this decision, and I’ll do everything in my power to support Mr. Bolton as he takes his new position." What is the feeling at the U.N. right now? Already today, John Bolton is going to give his credentials to the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

IAN WILLIAMS: I thought it was very interesting yesterday when Kofi Annan was — He said: "We welcome Mr. Bolton, as we would welcome the other 190 ambassadors." So, he really puts him in his place. You know, I’m sorry, Mr. Bolton, you are really just the equivalent of the ambassador for — the permanent representative for Nauru or Palau, or Liechtenstein, no bigger, no less. But, of course, in the real world, that’s not true. You’ve got to — Kofi Annan has to work with the United States. The question is just how much negotiation you can do with John Bolton, because John Bolton is to diplomacy what Jack the Ripper was to surgery.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about countries’ reaction, what you’re hearing at the United Nations, and, of course, John Bolton has been talking a great deal about corruption at the United Nations?

IAN WILLIAMS: Well, I think the — Most of them are rolling their eyes. I mean, the serious players will want to try and work with Condoleezza Rice, rather than through —- rather than through Bolton. They’ll bypass him and try to do things on a higher bilateral level, I suspect. He doesn’t do the type of compromises and horse-trading. He has famously also said that he doesn’t do carrots, which implies he only does sticks, which is very much on a par with it. He’s -—

The whole idea of the U.N. as a nest of corruption, I mean, this is something that his supporters have been whipping up there. The government that gave the world Enron, the government that took $8 billion of Oil-for-Food money and spent it in Iraq without being able to produce any accounts for it after two years, is not really in a position to go to the United Nations and say, 'We can reform you.' One of the points that they make is they’ve just appointed a new Republican supporter as head of administration at the U.N. For the last 15 years, the heads of the United Nations administration have been Americans appointed by the President. So, if we’ve had 15 years of corruption, this is under American direct presidential control. This is just something that they wave around to terrify the U.N. into doing what the American political sort of right wing wants.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for Kofi Annan, the Secretary General? You’ve written about the — what you call the right’s assault on Kofi Annan.

IAN WILLIAMS: Of course, you know, publicly, he’s got to welcome him. It’s a government’s choice. All the indications are that he is, let’s say, 'less than ecstatic' at having to deal with John Bolton. Kofi Annan is trying to make his legacy this reform package before he goes. That’s already running into the ground; not just American fault, but because so many countries are sort of shouting about seats on the Security Council rather than, I think the far more important part of Kofi Annan’s reforms, which is what the Security Council does and can do about the serious threats to human rights and life in the world.

I don’t think John Bolton’s presence there is going to help genuine reform in the slightest. It’s going to set it backwards, because his idea of reform — his idea of reformed United Nations, as he’s made very plain. First of all, he objects to the very idea of the United Nations. He doesn’t accept there’s such a thing as international law. He doesn’t accept the thing that — that it’s binding on anyone — on the United States. So, he’s already sort of personally abrogated the United Nations Charter before he goes any further. But, he’s prepared to support the United Nations insofar as it’s an instrument of the political right here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What about John Bolton and Iran?

IAN WILLIAMS: Iran or Iraq?

AMY GOODMAN: Iran.

IAN WILLIAMS: Iran — well, let’s — This is my serious worry is that on his — he is one of — his agenda after Iraq, like a lot of the other — the neo-cons, is that he wants to get Iran on — he wants to get Iran in the sites. And it’s going to be very funny because he wants to bring Iran, which isn’t breaking international law, in front of the Security Council, which John Bolton has said doesn’t — he doesn’t believe in, and stand it in the dock there. He’s saying international law doesn’t exist. He wants to apply it against a country that’s not breaking it, and use an instrument that he says shouldn’t exist. So, I mean, you know what the old saying was that a diplomat was somebody sent abroad to lie for his country. We have John Bolton staying in his own country to do the lying in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the U.N. correspondent for The Nation magazine, Ian Williams. He’s author of Deserter: George Bush, Soldier of Fortune. His new book is Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776. Well, what about John Bolton and Iraq? That war is ongoing, in fact, is intensifying. Some might say that the U.S. is losing that war.

IAN WILLIAMS: Well, I — You have to remember his colleagues, Richard Perle, for example, a few weeks after the invasion of Iraq crowed in the Guardian that the U.N. is dead, thank God; but the U.S. had to go back to the United Nations, because contrary to what John Bolton and Bush and Richard Perle said, the United Nations was the only body that could help them get out of the hole that they dug themselves into. And even now, there’s a lot of reluctance. He will be trying to bully people into possibly sending troops to replace the Americans. He’s not going to get any takers, not, you know, the traditional troop suppliers; the Indians and the Bangladeshis and the Pakistanis have a lot of troops on their hands, but they don’t really want to see them mashed up in the streets of Baghdad on behest — because of American incompetence and stupidity and what they consider to be an illegal invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ian Williams, our headline today, Washington Post reporting a major U.S. intelligence review on Iran has projected the country is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon. Yet you have John Bolton saying last year: "If we permit Iran’s deception to go on much longer, it will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons." That was the reason given for attacking Saddam Hussein. That was the reason for the invasion.

IAN WILLIAMS: Exactly, and this is why he was — one of the reasons he was trying to sack El Baradei as the head of the Atomic Energy Agency, was he was in support of that first ten year cycle, whereas John Bolton is supporting I think some Israeli intelligence sources that want us to attack Iran who were saying that they could have weapon by 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ian Williams, I want to thank you very much for being with us, U.N. correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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