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Bush Nominates Fierce UN Critic and Unilateralist John Bolton As Ambassador to United Nations

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President Bush nominated John Bolton to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. We take a look at Bolton’s record, his criticism of the UN and why his nomination stunned many in Washington with journalist Jim Lobe. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush nominated John Bolton to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the announcement on Monday saying Bolton had a “track record of effective multilateralism.”

But Bolton’s nomination has stunned many in Washington because he has been one of the Bush administration’s fiercest critics of the UN. In 1994, he said, “If the UN secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Four years later he said, “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 is the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along.”

Bolton has worked in federal government–mostly in the State Department–for the past 25 years. He presently serves as the Undersecretary of State for arms control and international affairs. The Senate confirmed his appointment to that job in May 2001 by a vote of 57-43, with all the votes in opposition coming from Democrats. But this time around, some Senate Republicans have expressed concern regarding his nomination as ambassador to the UN. Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told The New York Times “We need alliances, we need friends. To go up there and kick the U.N. around doesn’t get the job done.”

After the announcement of his nomination Monday, Bolton said this is now a time for the UN to achieve reform.

  • John Bolton, United Nations Ambassador Nominee, March 7, 2005.

We are joined in our DC studio right now by Jim Lobe, journalist with Inter Press Service. He has closely followed the rise of the neo-conservatives in Washington.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is John Bolton.

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. This is a time of opportunity for the UN, which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform. I know you and the President will provide that leadership. If confirmed by the Senate, I will roll up my sleeves to join you in that effort, which will require close, bipartisan Congressional support.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is John Bolton. We’re joined in our DC Studio by Jim Lobe, a journalist with Inter Press Service, has closely followed the rise of the neoconservatives in Washington. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jim Lobe. It’s good to have you with us. Jim?

JIM LOBE: I don’t hear anything as yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim’s having a little trouble hearing us. Jim, can you hear us? We will have to double check his mic, and while we do that, just to let you know, Democracy Now!'s schedule. Tomorrow, on Thursday night, we're going to be at the University of Michigan, talking about the role of independent media in a time of war. And then on Sunday in Miami, and you can check our website at I think Jim Lobe has his ear piece in now. Hi, Jim.

JIM LOBE: Hi, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Good. Well, why don’t you go through the record of John Bolton. First of all, were you surprised that he has been nominated to be US Ambassador to the United Nations?

JIM LOBE: Oh, yeah. I was very surprised. And I think there was scarcely anybody in Washington who wasn’t very surprised by the nomination. He had been passed over as Deputy Secretary of State, a post that he really wanted very badly and that he campaigned for and that Vice President Cheney had also supported him on, and then he didn’t get it. Condoleezza Rice chose Strobe Talbott — I’m sorry — chose the special trade representative, Robert Zoellick, instead, who is almost the polar opposite of John Bolton. So, it was felt that he would not land in the State Department in any event, and then suddenly, he gets the second most visible job in US diplomacy, at the United Nations. I think that caught just about everybody in Washington up short.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about John Bolton.

JIM LOBE: Well, John Bolton is often called a neoconservative, which I think is incorrect. He’s never — most neoconservatives come from a fairly liberal or left wing background. And there’s never been anything even remotely liberal or left wing about John Bolton, going back to the Goldwater campaign, in which he took an active role as a young man. John Bolton is very smart. He went to Yale and Yale Law School, graduated with honors. He writes lots of articles and has over many years, but his record has been one, what he would call, as an Americanist, which is one that is just very, very strongly nationalistic, who doesn’t believe the United States should be bound by multilateral institutions or constrained in any way by them, or even necessarily by international law. He served under Secretary of State Baker as head of International Organizations under the first Bush administration, or Bush’s father, in which he did not have a particularly high profile. But after that, he moved over to the American Enterprise Institute, eventually becoming vice president there, wrote lots of op-eds and law review articles which argued very much this ultra-nationalist, ultra-unilateralist kind of position, often mocking the United Nations for its ineffectiveness, suggesting that the United States did not have any kind of legal obligation to pay its dues, being paid by and supporting and promoting the cause of Taiwanese independence against China, and so on. Until his appointment as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security under the first — in the first term. It was during that term that Secretary of State Colin Powell found that he was — that Bolton was systematically undermining the State Department’s position, apparently taking orders from Cheney’s office and the hawks around Donald Rumsfeld instead. He really kind of proved to be a fifth columnist for Powell and the State Department during the first term, being much more in tune with and in communication with the hawks that really drove US Policy after 9/11.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about John Bolton and the Federalist Society? First, what the Society is?

JIM LOBE: The Federalist Society is an association of lawyers that started, I believe, around 1980, 1981. Bolton has always played a very prominent role in the Federalist Society, as have, for example, one of its founders who would be Ed Meese. It is a strange group, and I would invite all viewers and listeners to Democracy Now! to go to one of its conventions, because it really is a very extremist organization. I think they’re kind of the spiritual heirs to the John Birch Society or maybe the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. They are very, very states’ rights oriented, but on the international level, they very, very much oppose international law as again having any kind of — as providing any kinds of obligations that the United States is required to follow. They favor the notion that the United States should be sovereign, and that multinational or multilateral organizations such as the United Nations or international law, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, are really almost foreign plots designed to undermine and emasculate American sovereignty and American democracy. And they are particularly influential in this administration in that they seem to vet Bush’s judicial appointments to the federal bench. They seem — rather than the ABA, it’s the Federalist Society that more than any other group seems to have the strongest say in who should be appointed as judges in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about John Bolton, and his role in the 2000 Florida election scandal?

JIM LOBE: Well, I wasn’t — I’m relying entirely on other media reports, but when the election went to the courts in Florida, Baker, James Baker, kind the consigliere to the Bush family, called on Bolton to help out on the team. And he was in Florida for that month, and I think he is best known for kind of breaking into the Tallahassee Public Library just after the Supreme Court decision, and kind of shouting that, “I am from the Bush-Cheney team, and I’m here to stop the vote.” A number of election officials who were present apparently were deeply offended by the way he acted in that situation. And that he is kind of known for that kind of very kind of arrogant and self-righteous behavior, which is why again so many people are scratching their heads over his nomination to serve at the UN, because the UN style still has a place, diplomacy still has a place, and you can’t imagine anyone less diplomatic or humorless or having any of the characteristics that go with good diplomacy than John Bolton. It just is incongruous.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the message that — if, in fact, John Bolton is confirmed, sends to the other countries of the world? Ambassador Friedman, the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said Bolton’s nomination is, quote, “the equivalent of dropping a neutron bomb on the organization.” But here President Bush has just come back from Europe, some saw him trying to mend fences, and saying we can work in a multilateral way. What about the appointment of John Bolton or the nomination of him?

JIM LOBE: Yeah. I think whatever goodwill Condoleezza Rice and Bush gained in their tours of Europe has probably been undone by this one gesture. The Europeans are very well acquainted with John Bolton, as for that matter are our Asian allies, China, and China, with respect to Korea, in particular. And I think they find him extremely abrasive, very, very difficult to work with, and very, very arrogant. Sometimes not even following the directions he has been given by the State Department. As a result, I would say that just as people here in Washington were bewildered by the choice, I think people in foreign capitals are saying — are also in a sense scratching their heads and saying, “Why is he slapping us in the face by giving us John Bolton at the UN?” I think what will come out of this is a reassessment just about everywhere here in Washington and certainly abroad about the kinds of impressions that the Bush administration was trying to give in the second term, that it wanted to reach out more, it wanted to listen more, it wanted to coordinate more. Because with this single appointment, I would argue that the message is exactly the opposite and that now it’s the hawks who are very clearly in charge, and it looks as if Rice is much less powerful than had been thought, as recently as a few days ago, or that had been hoped in foreign capitals over the last few months. I think that this really shows that the balance of power within the administration lies very, very strongly with the hawks led by Dick Cheney.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, and we only have a few seconds, is he going to be confirmed? It was very close last time, and Republicans are raising some questions as well now.

JIM LOBE: Yeah. I think the answer to that is if the democrats, and particularly the non-governmental community in Washington, which supports disarmament and the UN and so on, decide that this is a line, or a red line, I think they have a real shot at preventing the nomination. I think Lincoln Chafee — sorry…

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Jim Lobe, I want to thank you for being with us, of Inter Press Service.

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