Yesterday's surprising postponement of the committee vote on whether to recommend confirming John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador raises important policy issues in its own right, but it also provides fascinating analogies with past controversies over high government officials. Conservatives were so embittered by the way Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was treated on Capitol Hill in 1988 that they made his name into a verb, a very appropriate one at that. Senator Voinovich (R-OH) withdrew his support for Bolton at the last minute, forcing Chairman Lugar to postpone the vote. See Washington Post. Voinovich was vilified today by Rush Limbaugh and quite a few Republicans today, but I watched that committee meeting on C-SPAN2, and I thought he made an excellent point: If being an arrogant S.O.B. disqualifies a prospective nominee, then what about Richard Holbrooke, who served in that post under President Clinton? By all accounts, he was a brutal bully in private meetings, and was used to getting his way at the negotiating table by indiscriminate use of bluster. And what about the legendary (but concealed from the public) fury of Bill, Hillary, Henry Kissinger toward hapless underlings? Are we detecting a pattern here? Clearly you don't claw your way to the top of the heap in Washington by being Mr. Nice Guy, nor should we expect to get much reform done at the United Nations with a "Herman Milquetoast" approach.
So, I am less concerned about Mr. Bolton's social graces or the way the Democrats are gleefully taking cheap partisan potshots at him than I am about the possibility that he may have persecuted and isolated dissenting analysts. If he indeed kept vital intelligence information away from Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, as is alleged, that alone would be grounds for rejection, I think. There is nothing wrong with allowing more time to find out whether some of the accusations against Bolton might be valid.
Holbrooke on Kosovo
Coincidentally, Mr. Holbrooke had a piece in the Washington Post today, putting an upbeat spin on the continuing ethnic conflict in Kosovo. The 1998 U.S. intervention there was as much his doing as anyone else's, so he has a lot to answer for. What should have been a job for Europeans instead ended up with U.S. forces enmeshed in an intractable conflict that had no direct bearing on U.S. interests. As The Economist put it at the time, it was "liberal imperialism" at its finest. I must say, though, I was struck by Holbrooke's conciliatory words towards Condoleeza Rice and praise for recent active engagement by the Bush administration with regard to the Darfur/Sudan atrocities. That is one issue on which nearly all Americans can agree. Is this the rebirth of bipartisan foreign policy?