Give Bolton the Boot

STEPHEN SCHLESINGER is the author, most recently, of "Act of Creation," on the founding of the United Nations.

ALL SUMMER, the Bush administration has been pressuring the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make John Bolton the permanent U.S. envoy to the United Nations. Bolton is serving until January on a temporary assignment because his notorious anti-U.N. reputation and difficult temperament (among other things) made the Republican-controlled committee unwilling to confirm him to the post last year.

Now, Bolton has had 12 months to show his stuff. And frankly, there is still no evidence to suggest that he deserves a full-time posting.

Bolton has never been a diplomat — which, among his supporters, is regarded as a mark of honor. He hails from the Republican Party’s extreme conservative wing. Bush chose him to please the most fervent right-wingers in his administration, most of whom either scorn or want to terminate the United Nations.

Bolton has for a long time been an excessive and unrestrained critic of the U.N. Among his infamous utterances: that it wouldn’t make a difference if 10 stories were sliced off the U.N. building; that the U.S. has no obligation to pay its dues to the organization; that the Security Council should be reduced to one member, namely the U.S. And, perhaps his most notable sally, that “there’s no such thing as the United Nations.”

His record since taking over as ambassador in August 2005 has shown that his adversarial stance toward the institution has not softened. In his first month as U.N. envoy, he gleefully undermined the most comprehensive reform movement in U.N. history by insisting on the adoption of hundreds of irrelevant amendments that were never going to be accepted by the General Assembly.

Later, when the U.N. did agree on one important change — creating a new, reformed Human Rights Council — he argued furiously against it, rallied just three other nations to the cause (out of 191) and eventually saw the U.S. go down to a humiliating defeat. Then he turned around and said he would work with the council and help it financially but not join it. Which left Washington looking not just like a loser, but a whiny one at that. As Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) remarked, Bolton was not just a bully, but an “ineffective” one.

In furtherance of his mission, Bolton also has promoted various pet causes at the institution. For example, when issues of population control or limiting the use of small arms come up, he brings into his office antiabortion activists and National Rifle Assn. members, respectively, to take the other side.

He has, on occasion, reportedly sneaked around his own nominal boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office to get support for his own hard-line views at the U.N. — for example, his refusal last summer to endorse the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing poverty in the developing world. Rice eventually forced him to reverse that stance.

To the extent that he has been able to operate at all at the United Nations — most recently in the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire — he has had to bow to a new realism within the Bush administration, and yes, sometimes, to international pressure. Even then, though, according to published news reports, he doesn’t get along well with our allies. His bristling nature has left many bruised feelings among his colleagues. His accomplishments are marginal at best. He may be among the most ineffective envoys the United States has ever sent to the U.N.

Just when the administration thought Bolton was finally going to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) began to raise questions about Bolton’s performance and pushed to delay the vote. The Bush administration is said to be exploring other ways to keep Bolton in the job.

A responsible nation that intends to harmonize differing viewpoints and work out compromises to further U.S. national security interests makes a serious error in appointing a Jacobin to work inside a collegial global body.

Bolton’s presence on the same roster with previous U.S. envoys such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Adlai Stevenson, Arthur Goldberg, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke and Bush appointees John Negroponte and John Danforth — or, for that matter, with George H.W. Bush — is a blemish on our nation. His nomination should be rejected again by the Senate.