Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | Never has a diplomatic appointment created as much controversy as exists over John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations. Despite the Senate’s duty to advise and consent, ambassadorial nominees, even when dubious, tend to fly though unscathed because they are regarded as presidential prerogatives.
But Bolton is so dramatically unqualified to serve in this job – even Republicans are holding their noses – that his confirmation is in doubt, and that’s too bad. Seldom has an ambassadorial nomination so clearly reflected an administration as this one. The Bush Administration deserves to have Bolton as a symbol of its foreign policy.
But no, some protest. Ambassadors do not represent the administration, they represent the nation. How can the nation put someone in charge at an institution for which he has nothing but contempt? Such an appointment doesn’t reflect on Bush, it reflects on all of us, say the protesters. As long as we believe in the importance of the United Nations – and opinion polls show it still stands high in American eyes – we should have someone there who believes in it.
I don’t think so. I believe the standing of America under Bush has sunk so low that Bolton should be the symbol of how far we have sunk. Because Bush has shown total contempt for the United Nations and the collective effort led by Americans since World War II to outlaw wars of aggression through the United Nations, it is fitting that our U.N. representative reflect that contempt. After what Bush has done to weaken the United Nations, it would be a sham to send someone there who actually respected it.
The more we allow Bush to heighten the contradictions of his own policy, the sooner we will have the whole bad dream swept away.
Ronald Reagan, whom Bush takes as a model, understood that his second term goal was to correct the mistakes of his first term to achieve an enduring legacy. Reagan’s first-term arms race became arms control in the second; the first-term “evil empire” became the negotiating partner of his second; seeing how his first-term tax cuts created record federal deficits, he raised taxes in his second term in an effort (unfortunately a failed one) to get the books back in balance.
Because he promised to move policy back to the center, Reagan won a second term by 19 percentage points and with a record 525 electoral votes. Bush, meanwhile, won a second term thanks to Ohio, a state that, had he lost, would have cost him the election. Bush strategy was not to reconcile with those who had opposed him or to compromise on first-term failures, but to mobilize his supporters in the belief that they represented a majority, which they did, by a whisker.
Let no one mistake Bush policy for the kind of national consensus that existed under Reagan. The Iraq war was designed to divide and conquer Americans as much as Iraqis. In a masterful political calculation, Bush calculated that Iraq – good or bad – would rally Americans to him at least enough to win the election. It is altogether fitting that Bolton, as a symbol of that horrible war, become a symbol of it at an institution that clearly recognized the war both as a mistake and a crime from the beginning.
It is interesting to contrast how the Iraq war, which has done more to blacken America’s reputation than any other event in our history, has played out in the three nations that were its most fervent supporters: Spain, Britain and America. Spanish voters threw their government soon after the war began and pulled out.
In Britain, we saw the results this month, when the Labour Party stayed in power despite winning barely a third of the vote. Under a system nearly as outrageously undemocratic as our own “electoral college,” Labour won 35 percent of the votes and 57 percent of the seats in Parliament. Tony Blair, who continues to believe in the Iraq war as fervently as Bush, “won,” even though he has become more loathed than any prime minister since Anthony Eden.
Last week, the London Sunday Times published documents showing that Blair was informed by his attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, in the earliest Cabinet meetings on Iraq that there were no legal grounds for going to war against Iraq. Blair withheld that information from the public.
Like Blair, Bush was re-elected despite the obvious distaste of the electorate for his war. Smart politicians know war creates a “rally around the flag” effect that wins elections even if large parts of the electorate are skeptical. Bush won his re-election by cleverly – if falsely – linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Blair won re-election thanks to his party, not his policies, and the consensus is he will soon stand down in favor of the chancellor, Gordon Brown.
The new Anglo-Saxon Crusade against the infidels is a disaster. We have killed tens of thousands of innocent people with our bombs and turned a functioning nation into a hellhole. The murdering will not stop and our reputation will not begin to be restored until we are gone – and even then it will take decades or even centuries. Our armed forces, which opposed this war, have seen their reputation besmirched again, and we are implicated in torture and human rights abuses as never before.
This is the America Bush has given us. This is the America that deserves John Bolton at the United Nations.
James O. Goldsborough has written on foreign affairs for four decades, both from the United States and abroad, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, International Herald Tribune, and Newsweek magazine for 14 years, reporting from more than 40 countries. Most recently, he was a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.