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Lighten Up on Bolton

I SPEAK NOW not so much in praise of John Bolton as in dispraise of Boltophobia. Bolton is a fine man, a sharp intellectual, a committed public servant and has the most aggressive mustache in American politics today. He's done a first-rate job as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during his yearlong interim appointment, and were it not for the waffling of Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who has sorta-kinda-maybe changed his mind on Bolton in order to get reelected in liberal Rhode Island, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Even Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who's had a feck transplant since his acute bout of fecklessness last year — when he melodramatically decided that he couldn't support Bolton — has changed his mind. His reason for his opposition back then: Bolton was a meanie. The U.N., Voinovich seemed to be suggesting, needs more Hallmark card moments, and Bolton doesn't come with heart-shaped candies and a tickle-me button on his tummy for the ambassador from Syria to poke when he's blue.

Instead, in Voinovich's view, Bolton was a "kiss-up, kick-down" kind of guy, which made a weepy Voinovich "worried about my kids and my grandchildren." We now know that Voinovich was simply a victim of Boltophobia, a kind of St. Vitus' dance that causes otherwise reasonable people to go into twitching fits over the fact that Bolton doesn't love the U.N. enough. The problem is most Americans agree with Bolton that the U.N. is a cesspool of its own crapulence, stealing American tax dollars intended for global do-goodery while working against American interests.

"We can't argue that this guy is unfit just because he's said mean things about the U.N.," a "top Senate Democrat" admitted to Time magazine last year. "Don't forget, most Americans agree with him."

So instead, his opponents went after him by launching a bizarre assault on his character, using partisan and sometimes loopy accounts of his behavior from more than a decade ago. (Remember Melody Townsel? The Dallas woman who said that Bolton had chased her down the halls of a hotel in Moscow in 1994, throwing things at her and "behaving like a madman.") Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut — who's reportedly hated Bolton for decades because of disagreements over Latin America policy — hysterically claimed that Bolton's behavior toward subordinates "ought to be indictable," and California Sen. Barbara Boxer wanted to send him to "anger management counseling." It was all nonsense, and everyone knew it.

The real, underlying issue was that Bolton (like most Americans) thinks that the U.N. is the problem, while those infected with Boltophobia think that it's the solution — and that the U.S. is the problem.

It is a conflict of visions. Bolton thinks that his role is to use the U.N. as a tool for advancing American interests, and if that means we need to work with others, then hurray for working with others. Boltophobes believe that working with others is its own reward and that any talk of U.S. interests that doesn't involve ceding more sovereignty to Turtle Bay is denounced as "cowboy unilateralism." Bolton believes that his job is to conduct the foreign policy of the president of the United States. Boltophobes think our ambassador to the U.N. should also work as the U.N.'s goodwill ambassador to us. Bolton thinks that he should follow the examples of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a vocal and principled defender of American ideals. Boltophobes think that this is hubristic Bush-speak.

Depending on which of these visions you subscribe to, Bolton has either been terrible or terrific. He has rallied the Security Council behind important resolutions on Iran, North Korea and the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire. He scuttled Kofi Annan's attempts to ban weapons in space and to, in effect, tax wealthy nations through a wealth transfer scheme that ignores U.N. inefficiency and corruption. He stood on principle against the whitewash restructuring of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which has been more likely to include human rights abusers than to condemn them (earning him praise from the New York Times). And he has put the onus on the U.N. to prove its relevance by fighting genocide in Darfur and cleaning its own Augean stables on the East River.

There's no cure for Boltophobia. The best we can do is keep it from controlling our lives. And that means Bolton should be confirmed. Let the man do his job.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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