War Stories

John Bolton, Survivor

Plus, the cowardice of Lincoln Chafee.

John’s not gone

And so, John Bolton lives another day—battered, bruised, and crippled, but it doesn’t matter because all he needed to do was to survive today, and, now that he’s done that, he’ll almost certainly be confirmed as the next U.N. ambassador.

This afternoon the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent Bolton’s nomination to the floor “without recommendation”—an extremely unusual slight for an appointment of such stature. Bolton got a C-minus, but it was a pass-fail course.

The Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the committee. It would have taken only one deserter to wreck the nomination. They enjoy a 55-45 margin on the Senate floor. It would take six dissidents to stop Bolton there, and that isn’t likely.

Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was the sole Republican today to resist the White House’s demand for total loyalty—but even he didn’t resist it enough. Voinovich held up the vote three weeks ago, surprising everyone by saying that he’d listened to the debate and concluded he couldn’t support Bolton. His party mates scurried to postpone the vote, fearing they might lose it. Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat, agreed to the delay as long as the committee could interview more witnesses and request more documents in the interim.

This morning, as the committee resumed deliberations, the big question was whether Voinovich would cave or hold firm. As it turned out, he did both. He noted that he’d pored over all the documents, spoken to dozens of officials, met again with the nominee himself—and concluded that he was still the wrong man for the job, calling Bolton “the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.”

But then came his punch line: “I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective…on the rest of my colleagues.” He would oppose the nominee but vote for a resolution to send Bolton’s name to the floor without endorsement.

One can imagine the pressure that has come down on Voinovich the past three weeks. When the White House lobbyists realized he wasn’t budging on the substance, they made an appeal to fairness: At least give Bolton—and your president—the courtesy of an up-or-down vote on the floor. It is very difficult for a member of the president’s party to refuse such a request—especially when he is the clearing committee’s only party member standing in the way.

A special place in the halls of cowardice should be reserved for Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the Republican from Rhode Island. Chafee was an early waverer on Bolton who came under particularly intense pressure—and caved, though with a sour face. He seemed delighted when Voinovich threw a wrench in the works three weeks ago, telling reporters afterward, “The dynamic has changed,” and adding how “refreshing” the moment was: “As long as I’ve been in politics…I’ve never seen someone make a decision on the spur of the moment and with…some justification.”

But yesterday, Chafee fell short even of Voinovich’s hesitations. He too recited some of Bolton’s many shortcomings—his intimidation of intelligence analysts who dared disagree with him, the dismal signal his appointment will send to the world—but ended by endorsing the nominee. Bolton had testified he would follow the president’s instructions, to work with Congress and the committee. “I want to take him at his word,” Chafee proclaimed.

Chafee took over the seat when his father, John Chafee, died in 1999. John Chafee, a Marine veteran who fought at Guadalcanal and in Korea, was a principled moderate and internationalist who served 23 years as a Republican senator for a Democratic state. Lincoln Chafee, who faces his first real vote next year, may go down, not because he voted for Bolton but because he did so knowing full well that it was the wrong thing to do.

It takes enormous self-deception to believe that John Bolton is truly qualified—much less the “best man”—for this job. He has long held the United Nations in contempt. He has disparaged the legitimacy of international law (the basis for enforcing U.N. resolutions). As an undersecretary of state in Bush’s first term, he repeatedly sought the removal of intelligence analysts who dared to disagree with him. He was such a loose cannon that Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, forbade him to say anything in public without prior approval. A half-dozen officials, most of them Republicans who served in this administration, say that Bolton would make—in the words of Colin Powell’s chief of staff—”an abysmal ambassador.”

Voinovich said today that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured him that Bolton would be firmly supervised in his new job. Voinovich wondered, “Why in the world would you want to send somebody up to the U.N. that has to be supervised?”