Still wrong for the UN

Jul 31 2006

The New York Times

SUNDAY, JULY 30, 2006 – When President George W. Bush nominated John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations last year, we argued that this convinced unilateralist and lifelong disparager of the United Nations should not be confirmed. The Senate agreed. Bush sent him to New York anyway, using the constitutional end run of a recess appointment. That appointment expires in January.

Now the Senate is being asked to confirm Bolton again. With one of last year’s critics, George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, having recently changed sides, confirmation seems more likely. But after a year of watching Bolton at work, we still believe the Senate should reject his nomination.

As ambassador, Bolton’s performance has been more restrained than many of his opponents feared. He has, as far as we know, faithfully carried out any instructions he was given. And on some issues, like this spring’s botched reform of the United Nations’ human-rights monitoring body, Bolton was right not to accept a bad result.

But overall, American interests at the UN have suffered from Bolton’s time there. At a time when a militarily and diplomatically overstretched Washington needs as much international cooperation as it can get – on Iraq, on Iran, on North Korea and now on the latest fighting between Israel and Lebanon – Bolton is a liability, not an asset at the United Nations.

No ambassador, however tactful and multilateral-minded, can persuade other countries to change their votes on high-profile issues in the face of contrary instructions from their home governments. But some of the most important business that goes on in the UN does not fall into that category. On a wide range of issues – winning the support of smaller countries for needed management reforms, mobilizing a strong international coalition to halt genocide in Darfur, attracting wider European support for stabilization and economic development in Iraq – an effective ambassador can make a huge difference.

Bolton, by temperament and conviction, is far too dismissive of the results that can be achieved by this kind of traditional diplomacy. That is what makes him the wrong man for the job. America desperately needs to repair the alliances and relationships damaged by the shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy of the Bush first term.

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