Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Non-Debate on Bolton

David Brooks defends Bolton's nomination today on very straightforward grounds: Bolton is opposed to creeping global governance in the form of the ICC and a strong U.N. Here's an excerpt:

They know we're not close to a global version of the European superstate. So they are content to champion creeping institutions like the International Criminal Court. They treat U.N. General Assembly resolutions as an emerging body of international law. They seek to foment a social atmosphere in which positions taken by multilateral organizations are deemed to have more "legitimacy" than positions taken by democratic nations.

John Bolton is just the guy to explain why this vaporous global-governance notion is a dangerous illusion, and that we Americans, like most other peoples, will never accept it.

It is interesting that critics of Bolton have refused largely to attack him on policy grounds by, say, criticizing his opposition to the ICC, as Bill Kristol notes here, even though this seems to be the real basis for opposition. Instead, the critics have been scrounging up so-called Republicans like Carl Ford (who donate to Kerry and work for Democrats) to dish dirt on Bolton's management style. This is a classic Washington tactic but it also reveals how opponents of Bolton have been largely unable (or unwilling) to gain traction by exposing his supposedly far-right views.


Blogger Kevin Jon Heller said...

It's interesting how cavalierly Julian dismisses critism of John Bolton's "management style" as "dirt." That "dirt," let's not forget, is a far-from-baseless allegation that Bolton tried to have a well-respected intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, fired because he wouldn't allow him to include an unsubstantiated allegation about Cuba's bioweapons capacity in a 2002 speech.

(Westermann's similar refusal to rubber-stamp faulty Iraq WMD intelligence was, of course, fulsomely praised by Colin Powell, that noted far-left critic of the Bush Administration.)

We shouldn't be surprised, though, by Julian's dismissiveness. Trying to discredit a critic of the Bush Administration by accusing him of being self-interested or motivated by partisan politics is his standard rhetorical move. Two weeks ago it was William Taft, whose statements about the military's support for following the Geneva Conventions at Gitmo were unreliable because he had left the Administration and thus had "an interest in bolstering his reputation."

Now it's Carl Ford, who can't be trusted because he donated money to the Democrats -- something far more relevant to evaluating the valdity of his claims than 20 years of intelligence service and the fact that INR, which he ran, was the only intelligence agency that was right about Iraq's WMD capacity.

Let's call this the "DeLay Gambit": if you can't rebut the message, attack the messenger. It's a gambit the Bush Administration knows well -- just ask Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson, Larry Lindsay, Eric Shineski...

4/14/2005 1:50 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I don't know the full story on everything Kevin is saying, but he clearly needs to get his facts straight. It seems clear that he has formed an opinion, yet obviously has not even bothered to either watch the Bolton nomination hearing or read a transcript.

The reason that Bolton gave for trying to transfer Wastermann to a position where he would not work with Bolton was because of Wastermann's behavior. Basically, instead of bringing concerns to Bolton directly, Wastermann informed third-parties. That is bad behavior in any relationship built on trust. Disagreements should not be aired with third-parties until a serious effort has been made to come to agreement within the relationship. Wastermann violated this principle, perhaps for political motives. Bolton was absolutely right to lose trust in Wastermann and seek to have him transferred so that he could work as a team with someone he could trust. The issue does not appear to be one of trying to punish an intelligence analyst for his views on intelligence, but rather for the disloyal manner in which that analyst tried to undermine Bolton. It is amazing that this analystis bad behavior seems to be a basis for some to criticize Bolton. I suppose one should not underestimate the power of ignorance.

Overall, I think it casts a cloud on the rest of Kevin's comments on this matter, given his failure to even address Bolton's explanation concerning Wastermann. It either demonstrates ignorance concerning the issue on which he is providing his opinion, or a very one-sided view such that he feels that Bolton's explanation is not even worthy of evaluation.

4/14/2005 3:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Jon Heller said...

Obviously, Bolton has an explanation for his actions. I don't know whether his explanation or Ford's is correct, but my money -- as I explained in the post -- is on the guy (Westermann) who was so enthusiastically praised by Colin Powell for his unwillingness to tell his superiors what they wanted to hear about Iraq WMDs. Powell has had nothing to say in support of Bolton.

Given that Powell clearly believes Westermann is a man of integrity when it comes to intelligence analysis, I think it's logical to assume Ford, not Bolton, is telling the truth about Westermann and the Cuba situation. After all, Ford's claim is that Bolton was pressuring Westermann to manipulate intelligence on Cuba's bioweapons to satisfy Bolton's political agenda -- the same situation that occurred in Iraq, where the Bush Administration pressured the CIA and other intelligence agencies to tell it only what it wanted to hear about WMDs.

4/14/2005 5:07 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Ostrovsky said...

One thing that I couldn't help thinking as I read the Brooks piece this morning is that he seems to confuse U.S. internal and external relations. A functional "law of nations" is not going to take anything away from our constitutional rights as citizens of the United States. In fact, if anything it will protect those rights; particularly if another nation tries to interfere with them (as the United States itself has done countless times).

To argue that the international framework is a dysfunctional technocracy lacking democratic legitimacy in my mind misses the point. Brooks is making normative observations about the function of the system as a means of criticizing it very existence. The same thing happened to the WTO; but in the end we have a binding international tribunal. Ok, its specialized, ok, its a technocracy which imposes Free Trade as a value over other normative regulatory preferences (such as a functional welfare state) but these things get worked through and pretty soon, what happens? Brazil beats the U.S. in a cotton case. I think I have heard this somewhere before: "if the sink is broken, you don't tear down the whole house."

4/14/2005 8:54 PM  
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