Jeffrey LewisRoston: J-Bolt Screwed Iraqi Scientists

Michael Roston adds to the list of reasons that John Bolton was a lousy Undersecretary of State—apparently he held up efforts to secure Iraqi scientists after Operation Iraqi Freedom:

Regular readers of Arms Control Wonk know that the pro-international institution critics of John Bolton pursued the wrong strategy in blocking his confirmation. By playing up inconsequential instances of personal dispute between him and colleagues or underlings, or snarling remarks he made at the expense of the United Nations, they ignored the blunderbuss of Bushian bluster—that Bolton is an effective diplomat with “vast experience in foreign policy…integrity and…willingness to confront difficult problems head-on.” How could we oppose having an ambassador to the UN with such a record of success?

The truth was that Bolton was a disaster for American nonproliferation policy in his position as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. While this blog has raised awareness of Bolton’s wrecking ball routine on US-Russian cooperative threat reduction and other important nonproliferation activities, another chapter in Bolton’s record of failure has only now fully surfaced. As we watch Bolton implement the Bush administration’s strategy to obstruct meaningful United Nations reform, it is worth adding to the record another instance that shows we had plenty of warning of this man’s craven ineffectiveness, his willingness to sacrifice sound policy to unswerving ideology.

At the end of the Iraq war, Bolton sat astride a Proliferation Threat Reduction Office of the Bureau of Nonproliferation at the State Department that was eager to take on a critical mission. The State Department had already spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the 1990s containing the same threat from the former Soviet Union. With Saddam’s regime out of the way, thousands of weapons scientists were now unemployed and unmonitored. These individuals, knowledgeable in the manufacture of chemical weapons and with technical expertise relevant to biological and nuclear weapons, represented a major proliferation danger. Bolton’s warning in June 2003 that “The biggest threat that we now face from Iraq’s defunct WMD program is … that other rogue states or terrorist organizations will hire and offer refuge to these WMD experts” marked the first public acknowledgment of the danger by an administration official, and was echoed briefly in President Bush’s nonproliferation strategy speech before the National Defense University in 2004.

Indeed, Bolton’s seeming prescience on this danger in 2003 was confirmed in the report of Charles Duelfer to the CIA on the search for WMD in Iraq. Buried deep in an appendix of the report’s third volume was the Iraq Survey Group’s discovery that a group of Iraqi terrorists, the “Al Abud network” had employed a civil Iraqi chemist to attempt the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons to use against Coalition forces. But the threat was not limited; the report frighteningly highlighted that Al Abud is “not the only group planning or attempting to produce or acquire CBW agents … availability of chemicals and materials dispersed throughout the country, and intellectual capital from the former WMD programs increases the future threat to Coalition Forces.”

Before any of these statements had been made, Bolton’s staff were already moving quickly to transfer their expertise at securing Soviet weapons know-how, and easily saw the possibility for a $20 million program to be kicked off in late 2003 to assist Iraqi weapons scientists. Meanwhile, the Cooperative Monitoring Center at Sandia National Labs worked with Energy Department officials to promote a $50 million program to support both civilian and weapons scientists as agents for the reconstruction of Iraq.

But, the time since Bolton made his statement in 2003 has seen no serious action on the part of the United States. No more than $2 million in emergency Nonproliferation and Disarmament Funds have “been spent by the United States to secure the deadly know-how possessed by the thousands of engineers and scientists who worked in Saddam’s weapons programs.

As with so many things, Bolton was in the middle of the trouble. In the September/October issue of Mother Jones, journalist Kurt Pitzer quotes David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security as stating, “All of this was going to land on Bolton’s desk…he was in the camp that thinks all these scientists are criminals.?”

We shouldn’t be surprised, and we already had our suspicions. In February 2004, in an address at the US Institute of Peace, I asked David Kay, who had previously worked in Duelfer’s job, why it was that no considerable amount of money had been spent on re-employing Iraq’s WMD scientists. His response was candid and cut to the quick, noting that the proposed program had been held up by “some of the worst … most pointless inter-agency wrangling I’ve ever seen.”

It’s not clear who was driving the policy to “exploit” weapons scientists, which both Duelfer> and Kay publicly acknowledged was driving Iraqi scientists into hiding, and thus possibly into the arms of would be proliferators and WMD-users. But Albright’s public statement confirms at last that Bolton certainly wasn’t fighting for the saner policy of earning the trust of WMD scientists, one that has its empirical basis in the World War Two-era.

[See also, Arms Control Wonk on 5 May 2005 ]

As usual, where this hard charger “confronting difficult problems” was involved, effective public policy took a backseat to ideology. And until January 2007, whenever we hear “pointless inter-agency wrangling” referred to in State Department-related affairs, let’s know that two words are involved: John Bolton. UN reform will wither on the vine and we can say these same two words once again.

Michael Roston is organizing The Mister Ambassador Project, an initiative of the Human Rights Working Group at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He blogs at Looking for Someone to Lie to Me

On the l’affaire du J-Bolt, check out Steve Clemons’ breaking news on Bolton’s efforts to post a friend to the UN. I think Steve’s being unfair—after all, Steve has Oakley the Amazing Weimaraner. Doesn’t J-Bolt deserve a lap dog, too?

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