As Congress prepares for its upcoming August break, signals have emerged from the White House that President Bush will give John R. Bolton a recess appointment to the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. For a while now, it has been clear that such a move would be damaging to both Bolton and the United States. Now, however, the appointment seems likely to have harmful ramifications for President Bush as well.
The reason is straightforward. According to reports from MSNBC, John Bolton has testified to the grand jury investigating the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Not only is it possible that Bolton may have lied about this testimony in a questionnaire he filled out for his confirmation hearing, but the linkage to the Plame affair places Bolton, yet again, into a scenario in which intelligence was doctored for the sake of political gain. In fact, according to an investigation by the State Department Inspector General, Bolton’s office was responsible for the placement of the Niger uranium claims in the State Department’s December 2002 “fact sheet” on Iraq’s WMD program; claims that have since been exposed as baseless.
For the Bush administration, this means prolonged attention to the Karl Rove saga and yet another member of its “inner circle” associated with an emerging conspiracy. For Bolton—whose credibility is already so damaged it couldn’t possibly be made worse—the Plame linkage is yet another reason why he would do more harm then good at the United Nations. Undoubtedly, Bolton’s primary diplomatic asset—his proximity to the president—will be diminished as the administration distances itself from those involved in the leak. ...
In addition to Bolton’s potential involvement in fixing the facts to the policy in the run-up to war, objections to Bolton are as pertinent today as they were when the nomination was announced on March 7. Simply put: The Senate has recoiled at the prospect of sending an abrasive individual with a history of politicizing intelligence to be America’s chief diplomat at the United Nations. Of course, Bolton and the United Nations were not a harmonious pairing in the first place. Bolton has questioned the United Nations' existence, disparaged international cooperation and scoffed at paying U.N. dues. But for the most part, principled members of Congress worried that Bolton’s lack of credibility, patience and diplomatic experience (not necessarily his anti-U.N. ideology) would make him a liability at the world body.
That lack of credibility and ineffectiveness which made senators so apprehensive to being with—and compelled Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, to call Bolton “the poster child for what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be”—will only be exacerbated should Bolton be sent to New York without congressional approval. In the words of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a recess appointment “would weaken not only Mr. Bolton but also the United States.”
In an extremely bleak scenario, Bolton—should he end up at the United Nations— may have to present America’s case for action against threats from North Korea or Iran. In these instances, Bolton’s reputation for advancing his own agenda and manipulating intelligence already represent tremendous obstacles for building international consensus. Add in the new revelations about his role in the Niger uranium claims, and the fact that he would be at the United Nations without the support of the public he serves, and Bolton would be utterly ineffectual in such crises.
The lack of credibility that would accompany a recess appointment of John Bolton would be damaging in instances other than hypothetical rogue state standoffs. It would also be disastrous during the U.N. revitalization process that is currently underway.