Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Dec 4 2006 (IPS) — In a new blow to the dwindling number of hawks in top administration positions, U.S. President George W. Bush Monday accepted the resignation of his ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

The resignation came less than three weeks after Bush had resubmitted Bolton’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation, a move that was apparently designed to reassure his hard-line constituency that he would stick by them despite the Democrats’ sweeping victory in the Nov. 7 elections.

Praising Bolton’s controversial 21-month tenure at Turtle Bay, Bush said he was “deeply disappointed” that a “handful of… Senators” had prevented Bolton’s confirmation to the post.

“They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time,” added Bush, who last year gave Bolton a “recess appointment” to the position after it became clear that Bush lacked the required support to defeat a Democratic-led filibuster.

Bolton’s foes hailed the White House’s decision to give up on its fight to get Senate confirmation and called on Bush to nominate someone who could rally bipartisan support.

“With the Middle East on the verge of chaos and the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea increasing, we need a United Nations ambassador who has the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community to tackle the serious threats we face,” said Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in the 2004 presidential elections.

“I think this really shows that (former ultra-nationalist Sen.) Jesse Helms-style pugnacious nationalism has been definitively knocked back,” according to Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Programme of the New America Foundation and a leader in the nearly two-year effort to defeat Bolton’s nomination.

“While this should be seen more as a victory for Bolton’s opponents than a change of heart by the White House, it does offer Bush a chance to start afresh and send someone to the U.N. who can be a good steward of American interests there and still be consistent with the values of the Republican Party,” he added. “Whether Bush will take advantage of that remains to be seen.”

Among the most frequently named possible successors to Bolton, according to Washington insiders, are Bush’s current ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad; and the State Department’s neo-conservative Under-secretary for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky.

Also mentioned for the post have been three moderate Republican lawmakers who were defeated in their bids for re-election last month: Iowa Rep. Jim Leach; Ohio Sen. Michael DeWine; and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, whose outspoken opposition to Bolton’s nomination during the past year, however, was deeply resented by the White House. State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow has also been considered a strong candidate, but he announced two weeks ago that he was leaving the administration.

A protégé of Helms who got his start in mid-level political posts in the Reagan administration, Bolton served during Bush’s first term as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, a post from which he often and with some success tried to sabotage efforts by Secretary of State Colin Powell to promote engagement with U.S. foes, notably Syria, Iran and North Korea.

In doing so, Bolton played a key role in furthering the goals of the coalition of aggressive nationalists, Christian Rightists and neo-conservatives led within the administration by Vice President Dick Cheney who, after Powell’s departure, reportedly pressed Powell’s successor, Condoleezza Rice, to promote Bolton to deputy secretary of state. All too aware of Bolton’s role in undermining Powell, Rice rejected the idea but went along with the U.N. nomination as a compromise.

His nomination, however, proved instantly controversial, particularly in light of Bolton’s long history of statements, especially during his association in the 1990s with the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, that showed little but disdain for both the United Nations and international law or any other multilateral mechanism, such as the International Criminal Court, that he thought might be used to restrain U.S. power on the world stage.

“There is no such thing as the United Nations,” he once said during a public debate in New York. “If the U.N. secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

While such remarks clearly raised questions about his fitness for the proposed job, testimony during Bolton’s confirmation hearings by several State Department officials, including one prominent Republican appointee, about his brusque and intimidating management style and his efforts to manipulate intelligence in the interests of his hawkish agenda persuaded a sufficient number of members of the Foreign Relations Committee that the nomination should not go forward.

Faced with the prospect of a successful filibuster on the Senate floor, Bush decided during Congress’s summer in August 2005 to give Bolton a “recess appointment”, a rare procedural manoeuvre that permits the president to fill a post without Senate confirmation until the end of whatever Congress is then in session. The current Congress will end in early January at the latest.

Lacking the legal authority to grant Bolton a second recess appointment for which he could be paid, Bush resubmitted the nomination to the Senate at the height of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, apparently in hopes that key Democratic lawmakers who depended heavily on campaign contributions from Jewish supporters would switch their votes, particularly in light of Bolton’s strong defence of Israel at the U.N. at the time.

But Chafee, who had supported Bolton the previous year, moved into opposition, and, with Democrats holding firm, Sen. Richard Lugar, the moderate Republican Foreign Relations Committee chairman who had never been enthusiastic about Bolton, let it be known that the nomination was dead.

Particularly damaging was a Jul. 23 New York Times article based on interviews with dozens of other countries’ U.N. ambassadors. “(M)any diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself,” it reported. Instead of furthering his mission of U.N. reform, the report noted, “(e)nvoys say he has in fact endangered that effort by alienating traditional allies.”

In the last several months, State Department and White House lawyers considered a number of different ways that Bolton might legally stay on – such as appointing him to a post that did not require Senate confirmation and then making him “acting ambassador” – but eventually concluded that such manoeuvres were likely to create more ill will, not just among Democrats, who will take over the Senate next month, but also among Republicans who increasingly see Bush’s stubbornness as a major political liability..

“President Bush’s decision to accept Amb. Bolton’s resignation should serve to more closely align U.S. foreign policy with the wishes of the American people,” said Don Kraus, director of the Washington office of Citizens for Global Solutions, a lobby group that also opposed Bolton’s resignation.

“It is our hope that he nominates a new U.N. ambassador who can help to return the United States to the partnership-driven, consensus-building, and problem-solving approach that characterised its first six decades of relations with the U.N.”

Bolton’s departure is the latest in a number of prominent hawks who have resigned over the last two years, including former Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz; former Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Douglas Feith; and Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Since last month’s election, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his intelligence chief, Stephen Cambone, have announced their resignations, and the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, Peter Rodman, is also expected to leave soon.


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