Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bolton appointed ... So yesterday President Bush bypassed the Senate and unilaterally made John Bolton our "temporary" ambassador to the United Nations. Ed Kilgore has a nice post on why Bush should have done this only if Bolton is indispensible to that position -- and why, given Bolton's past professional performance, there's really no way that Bush can claim this is so.

I'm not going to be as kind as Kiglore and grant Bolton the courtesy of a professional review alone. Any serious evaluation of Bolton's qualifications must also incorporate whatever public statements Bolton has made regarding the U.N. as an institution.

And Bolton is on the record as saying the following:
There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States. ...

The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.
When I first came across these remarks last March, I assumed Bolton made them flippantly, as a kind of glib aside to a larger point. But if you watch the video of the remarks, what becomes so troubling is how deeply convicted he appears to be. This is not a man tossing off a quick headline to a reporter; this is a guy in the middle of a conference making the very deliberate point that the United Nations should not exist.

My deepest fear about Bolton is that Bush considers him indispensible precisely because of how fervently he rejects the U.N. mission. Clearly, no one should have pretensions about the U.N. functioning as a supra-national state, and further, no one should deny that, as corrupt and inefficient as the U.N. is, it is in desparate need of reform. But just as clearly, a limited form of international governance is indeed necessary: the world needs its peacekeepers, its relief workers, its diplomatic channels. There's simply no other global body with the resources, infrastructure, and, yes, legitimacy needed to provide those goods.

So if Bolton has been appointed to undercut even the U.N.'s minimal services -- and if he were, however implausibly, to succeed -- it would be difficult to exaggerate the damage he would do to the international community at-large. Perhaps he believes America alone could fill the vacuum it would leave, or that regional organizations would arise to take its place. But I doubt it. My guess is that he simply doesn't care what would happen -- his sole concern being the national interest of the United States, where "national interest" is defined as narrowly as possible.

Needless to say, such a mindset is a profound shame. Leaving aside the tenuous morality of such a position, on a pragmatic level alone it simply doesn't work. The U.N. was founded because the theory that a stable global order could arise out of competing national interests had, in the wake of two world wars, demonstrably failed. So at a moment of resurgent nationalism such as this -- where Japan, China, Iran, Russia, etc are all focusing intensely on their own cultures and interests -- it's hard for me to think of a more reckless position for both Bolton and Bush to hold.


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