Time to Bolt


Los Angeles Times

June 22, 2005

Two months ago, we urged John Bolton to step aside to allow President Bush to appoint someone else as ambassador to the United Nations. With the Republican failure on Monday to gather enough Senate votes to force a vote on his nomination, Bolton would do his nation, and his president, a big favor by heeding our advice.

The brinksmanship over the Bolton nomination is one of those Washington battles that acquires a life of its own, until the principals step back and scratch their heads, wondering: "How did we get to this point?"

After all, in the halcyon days of the transition between the first and second Bush terms, the administration made it known that it wanted a kinder, gentler diplomacy. Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was applauded by the likes of this editorial page for choosing Robert B. Zoellick, a pragmatic negotiator, over Bolton, the indefatigable ideologue, as her deputy secretary.

Trouble is, Bush decided that the United Nations would be a pleasant, face-saving posting for Bolton, the influential neocon who served most recently as undersecretary of State for arms control. But as the disclosures emerged about Bolton's past bullying of subordinates and manipulation of intelligence, many senators rightly concluded that he is unfit to represent the U.S. in the world's premier multilateral forum.

So positions hardened in a capital primed to turn even minor squabbles into epic confrontations that no side can presumably afford to lose. What started as an effort to simply get Bolton out of the State Department has turned into a ridiculous fight between a president who claims Bolton is the indispensable reformer the U.N. needs, and Democrats who either argue that he is not qualified or want to see every last file on him before declaring him unqualified.

This page has argued that the Senate should abolish the filibuster, but it's unhealthy for America's representative at the U.N. to lack bipartisan support. A resigned Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist first indicated on Tuesday that he saw no way for the White House to prevail, other than by making Bolton a recess appointment, which would only compound the mess by sending to the U.N. an emissary who couldn't even get approved by his own government.

Later in the day, after meeting with the president, Frist changed his tune, saying Bush wanted a vote on the nomination. This sounds like we're in for more brinksmanship, maybe even the decisive showdown on the filibuster, all at a terrible cost to the nation's diplomacy. Unless, that is, Bolton calls a halt to the madness and beats a retreat to the conservative think tank of his choice.