John Bolton: Boisterous Bully of Bloviation

There is an excellent review of John Bolton’s new book — Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad by Brian Urquhart (a former UN under-secretary general) — in the March 6, 2008 issue of The New York Review of Books (“One Angry Man”). Urquhart points out that Bolton was unhappy with the Bush administration’s change of course in its second term (from gung ho go it alone militarism to some limited recognition that cooperation with US allies and the broader international community was in order).

The review says that the title of his book refers to not giving up one’s political views and ideals and that, “There is no doubt about Bolton’s vision of himself as the dauntless defender of US principles as he sees them.” And what principles he sees!

A jingoist, xenophobic, America-runs-the-world-so-get-out-of-the-way attitude more or less sums up the Bolton world view which derives, Urquhart believes, not from the neocons but from his early 60s encounter with and support of Goldwaterism. Urquhart alludes to a Col. Blimp flavor to some of his pronouncements, but this does Col. Blimp a disservice. For all of his pomposity and foolishness, Col. Blimp was kindhearted on a personal level. Bolton reveals himself to be petty, nasty, and small-minded.

Urquhart reminds us that as an undersecretary of state, before his stint at the UN, “he did much to undermine America’s leadership and position in the world.” Actually, not a bad thing as undermining and weakening the power of the number one imperialist power strengthens the world progressive movement. Perhaps Bolton is a secret anti-imperialist? What Urquhart has reference to, however, is Bolton’s role in undermining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the International Criminal Court. Of course he could have only done this with the consent of his masters Bush, Cheney and the ineffective Colin Powell.

When Condoleeza Rice took over State, Bolton was bounced over to the UN job, but he was so incompetent for the position that he could not even get confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. He got a recess appointment in August 2005 — he lasted about a year or so and had to resign when it became obvious that the new Democratic-controlled Senate would never confirm him; he was such an embarrassment.

His role at the UN was basically disruptive, as he had no regard for the institution, its goals, or international organizations and treaty commitments in general. His book also reveals his personal animus towards those he disagrees with, blaming them for policy failures which were the results of the actions of others. So his book seems not to be a trustworthy account of his record and the actions of the UN.

For example, he has a great dislike for Kofi Annan whom he says “was simply not up to the job” of Secretary General, a view that history is not likely to validate. He blames Kofi Annan for the Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq. “It was,” however, Urquhart says, “the Security Council, including the US, that allowed Saddam Hussein’s government to negotiate deals and kickbacks directly — without UN supervision — with the hundreds of commercial firms involved.” He also fails to note UN success stories. His book appears to be just a nasty-minded, distorted account of his activities with little regard for truth or accuracy.

He is also stupidly indiscreet. He reveals that when seeking a replacement for Kofi Annan, Rice told him, “I’m not sure we want a strong secretary general.” They then agreed on Ban Ki-moon. Urquhart calls this “a gross disservice” to Ban Ki-moon and, I might add, to Rice as well — but it is good to know what is really going on, so thanks, John, for spilling the beans.

Bolton now works out of the American Enterprise Institute (where else?) and has become a favorite of the corporate media (The New York Times, The New York Sun, etc.) who love to quote his quaint and outrageous opinions on all major world issues. Urquhart tells us that “Reporters seem to feel that if they quote him, they will have included a ‘tough’ conservative point of view.”

Bolton doesn’t think the US should talk with its adversaries. Threats and conventional military actions are all that’s really needed to enforce the Pax Americana. Urquhart calls this outlook an “anachronism” and quotes William Pfaff (born in 1928, Pfaff has written eight books and is a frequent contributor to the NYRB) from a 1998 piece: “[T]he belief that America as ‘sole superpower’ would or could dominate the world, widely held after communism’s collapse, rested on the illusion that military and economic power directly translate into political power, and that power is identical with authority. The exercise of authority requires consent, and rests on a moral position.” A moral position is something Bolton and his coterie of admirers most certainly lack.

His credo is summed in the following four propositions based on Urquhart:

1. Only US interests count. The UN should serve those interests.
2. Allies are not to be trusted and hostiles must be treated by force as they will never abide by their commitments. The hostiles include North Korea, Iran, any enemies of Israel, and others.
3. Hostiles should not be negotiated with on a long tern basis or rewarded for a change of behavior. Force and violence are always a possibility on our part.
4. Idealists, liberals, multilateralists and “most Democrats” are “almost” the same as the hostile foreigners who oppose our country.

Urquhart concludes, as any rational person must, that Bolton’s views and behavior “are a luxury the United States can no longer afford.”

Thomas Riggins is currently the associate editor of Political Affairs online. Read other articles by Thomas.

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  1. maryb said on February 28th, 2008 at 11:03am #

    You say Bolton is brought on the corporate media over there. Well I’m afraid to say that he pops up on British factual programmes, usually with a photo montage of the White House in the background to give some added gravitas. He usually gets quite waxy when challenged about his views or statements and that fine moustache almost starts revolving.