Jeffrey LewisDon't Make Us Call Him Mister Ambassador

Undersecretary Bolton hard at
work, fighting proliferation.

Michael Roston—author of Looking for Someone to Lie to Me and Nuclear Test Watch—has written a scathing opinion piece for Arms Control arguing against Bolton’s nomination. The full text is reproduced here.

Don’t Make Us Call Him Mister Ambassador
Michael Roston

Most of the criticism of John Bolton zeroes in on his disdain for international law. The praises all say that his blunt approach makes him an effective diplomat. But no one has closely examined his record of accomplishment since 2001.

Although Bolton certainly bullied lots of small countries with threats of economic ruin if they didn’t help him sack the International Criminal Court, that activity was hardly his primary responsibility as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. The State Department describes that post as managing “global U.S. security policy, principally in the areas of nonproliferation, arms control, regional security and defense relations, and arms transfers and security assistance.”

Indeed, in his acceptance speech for Secretary Rice’s nomination to be Ambassador, Bolton reaffirmed that his record should primarily be judged on the basis of “the Proliferation Security Initiative, the G-8 global partnership or adopting UN resolutions.”

Within those terms of reference, Bolton’s main “accomplishment” is usually considered clear cut – his stewardship of Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative, which is generally credited with Libya’s relinquishing of its WMD programs.

But, a closer examination of the record shows PSI played no role in Libya’s decision to disarm. Instead, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted on Dec. 22, 2003, that PSI was “a more recent development” than the effort that intercepted Libya’s nuclear technology. In February 2004, President Bush himself conceded that British and American intelligence had “pieced together” Libya’s connection to the Pakistani proliferation network “over several years.”

In a July 2004 address in South Korea, Bolton acknowledged on the public record that factors like “years of isolation and being caught up in a web of sanctions” persuaded Libya to knuckle under and give up its WMD programs.

That same web of UN-sponsored sanctions might have been dispatched if Bolton had his way. In a 2000 law review article he warned that the effort to isolate Libya via prosecution of the terrorists it sponsors and the UN sanctions “marks the final collapse of United States policy against Libyan terrorism.” It leads one to wonder where else Bolton might prefer dogma to successful policy.

Since PSI was linked to Libya’s decision to disarm, the effort has yielded no major successes. Now-retired Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald looked at PSI’s informal structure last July and asked one of Bolton’s lieutenants “how do we know…you’re not shirking your other duties?”

Fitzgerald was not the only Republican Senator asking this question. In June 2004, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chair of the Energy Committee, took the unusual step of requesting to testify before Senator Richard Lugar’s Foreign Relations Committee. Domenici was concerned that progress was not being made on the liability dispute that now impairs US-Russian cooperative disposition of excess weapons plutonium, a key part of that G-8 Global Partnership Bolton trumpeted in his acceptance speech.

As Bolton sat within arm’s reach, Domenici went as far as to declare on the record that he was “not sure to this point that [Bolton is] up to” resolving the dispute, that he was uncertain “that he attaches the significance” to the program that the Senators did, and that if Bolton “doesn’t think it’s important enough to solve, this issue of liability, then I submit that you ought to get somebody that can.” With Bolton’s tenure at an end, the dispute remains unresolved.

Domenici has finally repeated his reservations about Bolton as a nominee. Will he repeat on the record for us that Bolton’s not up to the job, or will we have to call him Mister Ambassador until the day we die?

Michael Coleman, writing in the Albuquerque Journal, (via NukeBeat) has picked up on Senator Domenici’s concerns about the Bolton nomination.


  1. Patricia Kushlis (History)

    The Coleman piece – which I read in the Journal on Sunday – made me decide to write my first ever e-mail to Senator Domenici to register my opposition to the Bolton nomination. I figure letters to members of Congress are usually fruitless – but since Coleman indicated that both New Mexico Senators Domenici (R); and Bingaman (D) were in the undecided on this one column – I would note my views as a registered NM voter. This may be fruitless, too, but at least I’ve made my opinions known directly to Domenici’s Congressional staff as well as more generally for those who read whirledview. PKushlis

  2. Maria Leyba (History)

    I also have written numerous times to both New Mexico Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman. I have always been contacted back, either by email or letter from Senator Bingaman, I am still waiting on Senator Domenici. I hope that Senator Domenici keeps to his “former” ethics and concerns and votes against Bolton. I am not holding my breath, Senator Domenici has become a very partisan man as of late.

    I was however, very interested to learn in Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal that he had actual said some of the things he did about Bolton. Bolton scares me. He was a former chaiman of that neocon organization Project for a New American Century. All of their policies are becoming law. Thank you 51% duped!!!

  3. Steve Clemons (History)

    As former Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Jeff Bingaman, I can say that Jeff is usually reticent about saying beforehand which way he will vote on a nominee. Most Senators are that way—but I have it on good authority that Bingaman is tilting against—and he did vote against John Bolton’s confirmation for his current Unsecretary of State position.

    But both Domenici and Bingaman need to hear from as many of you as possible.

    But much more important than both of those right now—are Feingold and Lincoln Chafee who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Best regards—and really thought that this blog post was very important.

    Steve Clemons

  4. Stygius (History)

    An excellent piece. When combined with Bolton’s failure to support and extend CTR, and the emasculation of the FMCT, his record is so dismal.

    I just began reading Bolton’s 2001 confirmation hearing transcript, when Jesse Helms was chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. I’m hoping he will find Sen. Lugar’s reception somewhat less warm.

    But I’m writing wondering what the full cite is for the 2000 law review article you allude to.

  5. Michael Roston (History)

    The 2000 law review article is the Spring 2000 issue of Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems. Bolton penned the article “Is There Really “Law” in International Affairs?” I’m guessing you can bet what the answer is.

    The passage in question reads:

    Moreover, there are undoubtedly issues, such as those involving terrorism, that are not really suitable for a “legal” resolution. One such example may be the case of Pan Am 103, blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. Nine years after the UN Security Council  [*23]  condemned Libya for its involvement in the conspiracy to destroy Pan Am 103, and subsequently imposed limited economic sanctions, Libya agreed to turn over two of its intelligence agents who had been indicted for murder by prosecutors in the United States and Scotland. Although the beginning of their trial on May 3, 2000, before a special Scottish court, sitting in the Netherlands (at Libya’s insistence) might seem like something to celebrate, a time for rhetoric about “the international rule of law,” the trial actually marks the final collapse of United States policy against Libyan terrorism, and the end of its efforts for a real vindication of Pan Am 103’s victims. This collapse embodies both a failure of will to use military force to respond to a brutal attack on United States citizens, and self-imposed, potentially crippling limitations on even the narrow avenue of prosecution.

    The basic wrong turn in policy began with the Bush Administration’s decision in 1991-92 to judicialize the Pan Am 103 matter rather than to use force, in effect treating this Libyan act of terror like a domestic murder case, rather than the political-military attack that it was. In January 1992, the Security Council took the unprecedented step of deploring Libya’s failure to cooperate with international law-enforcement efforts. Two months later, in another unprecedented step, the Council’s Resolution 748 imposed economic sanctions against Libya. Although hailed at the time as great victories, in fact, there was little enthusiasm for the initial Council condemnation of Libya, and there was barely enough support for the subsequent imposition of sanctions. Since 1992, the United States has faced continuous pressure to scale back or eliminate the sanctions on any pretext, largely from Europeans who would rather trade with Moammar Gadhafi than punish him for murder. Ironically, not even Gadhafi played along with this charade. In an April 3, 2000 speech to the African-European summit in Cairo, just before the opening of the trial, he declared that “Africa is not a ping-pong ball to be hit  [*24]  once by Europe, once by the U.S.,” and “we do not need democracy; we need water pumps.”