Friday, August 05, 2005

More on Comparative and Foreign Sources in US Courts

Elizabeth Kandravy Cassidy has posted an interesting response to my posting on the relevancy of European developments in gay marriage to the debate in the US. Here is the link back.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

ICJ Campaign Season Begins

It's ICJ selection season with five of the 15 ICJ seats open for replacement. New Zealand is fast out of the box, as this article suggests, by sending its candidate on a global tour to drum up support. Of course, this is very early because, as I understand it, the selection won't be made until the fall of 2006 with the new judges seated in February 2007. (Update: I've been corrected by a knowledgeable source that tells me the new judges will be selected this fall and seated in February 2006).

The ICJ selection process is not exactly high-profile, but it is prestigious enough so that countries like New Zealand are willing to pony up to get their judges appointed. It will be interesting to see which countries will push to get their judges appointed and how much effort they will put into this process.

The Relevancy of Diplomacy

Let me try to unpack several of the assertions Julian made in his argument that the UN ambassadorship (wait, all ambassadorships!) is “irrelevant.”

Does the job of UN ambassador matter? It matters on two levels. First, it matters to the foreign policy making process as much as the President decides it will matter. Over the years, some presidents have made it a cabinet-level job, most have made sure that the UN Ambassador was a member of the National Security Council principals committee (along with the Secretaries of State and Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, etc.). So the extent to which the UN ambassador has a strong voice in policy-making within the government depends on what the particular administration wants to do with the job. (On this first point, it appears that Bolton will not be given a seat at the cabinet table, and that he will officially have to report through the Assistant Secretary of International Organizations up to Secretary Rice.) Second, it matters to the process of decision making at the UN and to promoting the US agenda at the UN. A lot goes on at the UN besides the rare televised meetings of the Security Council. The UN ambassador has to manage the US team in NY, the process and yes, to actually meet with UN management and counter-parts from around the world, and communicate US views on a range of issues to those counterparts.

Does it matter who is UN ambassador? Well of course. Historically, we remember those UN ambassadors who were present at certain crises moments (Adelai Stevenson and the Missiles in Cuba come to mind). But we also remember those who made a difference to the organization and the US relationship with it, e.g., Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke made a difference at the UN beyond what the administration might have envisioned for the job. He directly and successfully lobbied across party lines to get Congress to pay US arrears to the UN. He succeeded in part through sheer force of personality, in part through convincing the Hill that paying the dues would be central to the US ability to clean up some of the messes at the UN and to get a fairer funding structure in place. And he was right.

I’ve blogged before on why the question of personality might be relevant to how the US is able to forward its agenda in NY. But Julian dismisses all high-level diplomacy -- “ambassadors almost never matter, one way or another.” Even (perhaps especially) an uber-realist would recognize that the ability to effectively manage US bilateral (and multilateral) relationships around the world is at the heart of our national security. It’s not for nothing that we have a professional Foreign Service, that ambassadors are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and that, when in those positions they serve as personal representatives of the President. It is the curse, I suppose, of diplomacy that it is most successful when it is least noticed. That is, when nothing bad happens. Fortunately, the US Senate and even this administration do not share Julian’s view on the complete irrelevancy of diplomacy. Secretary Rice appears to recognize that the Bush administration ignored the UN at its peril during the first four years. See this post at America Abroad on the contours of the new policy – including the reform agenda -- that has been pursued since early this year.

The problem with Bolton has less to with whether he is smart, conservative or blunt-speaking, and more to do with whether he will be effective. Of course, if you don’t think the UN matters, and you don’t think diplomacy matters, then we don’t need an ambassador at all, much less an effective one. But in making the recess appointment, Bush seemed to indicate that it was vitally important that we have an ambassador there (not withstanding the fact that a career foreign service officer has been competently filling the job temporarily for the past few months). And all the objections to Bolton seem to provide evidence that the public cares what happens at the UN. If that is the case, then we should all want someone there who will be an effective diplomat and an effective member of the policy team. At this point, the extent to which Bolton himself is "irrelevant" is entirely in the hands of the President and his Secretary of State.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bolton's Irrelevancy

I don't really understand why Bolton's nomination (and now recess appointment) has drawn so much criticism and, for that matter, why conservatives are so excited about his nomination. Bolton appears to be a smart, experienced, conservative guy. He isn't going to figuratively blow up the U.N., but he isn't going to go out of his way to be nice to the U.N. either.

But in the end of the day, what Bolton does as U.N. Ambassador pretty much won't matter, one way or the other, because (apologies to Peggy) ambassadors almost never matter, one way or the other. This is true even for U.N. Ambassadors (especially U.N. ambassadors). Quick: name the last 5 U.N. Ambassadors? The only ones we remember are the ones who were eventually promoted (e.g. Madeleine Albright or John Negroponte). Even U.N. reform, supposedly so important that we either can't allow/must support Bolton appears to be moving along smoothly, according to the NYT.

Finally, even if UN reform makes this nomination different, critics of Bolton keep forgetting that Bolton's main job will be to try to convince 2/3 of the Senate to approve a U.N. Reform Treaty and that the problem there will not be Sen. Ted Kennedy, but the conservatives who have been supporting Bolton. If I wanted to help the UN, I would want the most conservative UN Ambassador from the U.S. as possible, to give credibility to any reform package presented. After all, folks may think Bolton is conservative, but he is a real softy on the U.N. compared to some of the members of the U.S. Senate.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bolton Appointed

President Bush has appointed John Bolton in a recess appointment. CNN's story is here. The BBC has a report here.

While President Bush has gotten his way with the Bolton nomination, despite not being able to muster the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster, this is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory at best. With the looming free-for-all this fall over Security Council reform, the last thing the U.S. needs is an envoy who doesn't seem to even have the support of his domestic government. And, coupled with scepticism as to whether Bolton can even make the type of bargains that will be necessary, the President has sought a path that may win him plaudits from U.S. conservatives, but is unlikely to lead to effective U.S. foreign policy.

This is particularly sad given recent Washington whispers for other possible candidates for the post of U.N. ambassador that had suport from both sides of the aisle. Perhaps the most interesting name floated was Newt Gingrich. But this was the road not taken.

This is also particularly troubling given the gravity of issues facing the U.S. and the U.N. come the opening of the General Assembly this fall. Between Security Council reform, the ongoing Iraqi situation, and nascent crises such as the possible collapse of Haiti's government, we need someone in the U.N. who actually wants the U.N. to succeed in its tasks, who understands the mechanisms of international organizations, and who has the diplomatic clout to rally support behind U.S. interests.

No one has ever made a credible claim that John Bolton is that person.

Update:

I edited this post to weed out a typo caught in the comments.