Can an Asshole Be a Good U.N. Ambassador?

|

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Carl Ford, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, described how John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the U.N., bawled out a lowly State Department analyst who disagreed with Bolton's claim that Cuba was developing biological weapons. Bolton, then (and currently) the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, "reamed him a new one," Ford said. "There are a lot of screamers that work in government. But you don't pull somebody so low down the bureaucracy that they are completely defenseless. It's an 800-pound gorilla devouring a banana." (More generally, Ford described Bolton as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who "abuses his authority with little people.") The episode shook up the analysts in the State Department's intelligence bureau so much, Ford said, that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had to intervene, reassuring them that they should continue to tell the truth as they they saw it.

Aside from making Bolton look like an asshole (which most members of the committee did not seem to think was a disqualifying trait), Ford's testimony once again raises the issue of whether Bush administration officials have pressured intelligence analysts to exaggerate the weapons capabilities of America's enemies, particularly in the lead-up to the war with Iraq. "I suspect that this is the tip of the iceberg with respect to Mr. Bolton only wanting to hear what he wants to hear on the intelligence front," says Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who worries that confirming Bolton "sends a signal that it is open season on intelligence analysts."

"Only wanting to hear what he wants to hear" is a weird way of putting it. The usual phrase is "only hearing what he wants to hear," and clearly that was not Bolton's problem, although it may have been Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's in connection with Iraq. Nor was Bolton, per Ford's account, simply guilty of tautologically wanting to hear what he wanted to hear. Rather, he was guilty of trying to silence someone who disagreed with him, either because he was certain the analyst was wrong or because he thought the truth didn't matter. Either way, such a habit (assuming it was a habit) does not bode well for the accuracy of future intelligence assessments. Presumably Bolton will have less of a hand in those at the U.N., so maybe his reassignment will be an improvement–although he may have trouble filling his staff.

NEXT: Official Corruption

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Bolton, then (and currently) the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, “reamed him a new one,” Ford said. “There are a lot of screamers that work in government. But you don’t pull somebody so low down the bureaucracy that they are completely defenseless unless they are a stank ho who poured beer on your weave.”

  2. No one with a mustache like that should be given authority.

  3. “Only wanting to hear what he wants to hear” is a weird way of putting it. The usual phrase is “only hearing what he wants to hear,” and clearly that was not Bolton’s problem,…

    Rather, he was guilty of trying to silence someone who disagreed with him,…/

    Jacob…I really don’t get your point here. Regardless of what “the usual phrase” is AND regardless of his reasoning, doesn’t this illustrate that Bolton is:

    1. Guilty of trying to silence someone who disagreed with him because…

    2. He only wants to hear what he wants to hear?

    Now, I wouldn’t reject Bolton out of hand OR simply because he’s an obvious bonafide prick. His numerous criticisms of the U.N. are hard to disagree with.

    Being direct is an admirable thing and our relationship with the U.N arguably needs a little less “go along to get along” and little more “what the fuck are you doing putting Libya on a Human Rights council?”

    But those who are expecting Bolton to be the agent of this directness would to well to notice that stylewise, he’s not only an asshole…he’s an unhinged loony with some serious mental issues.

  4. Being that Bolton was in charge of the secretary of state?s intelligence and research department and given that departments track record, why would the government want to promote him?

  5. Good point, mike2039.

    To add to my previous point, Bolton’s nomination needs to be viewed in the right context.

    If someone is looking for a good ambassador capable of working contructively to advance even state republican goals for the U.N., then Bolton is a perfectly dismal if not disasterous choice.

    If someone, however, is looking for a critic and a naysayer capable of building a case for the republicans actual goal of dismantling the U.N. or further weakening it to the point of irrelevance, John (let’s get rid of the top 10 stories) Bolton’s the man.

  6. Mike2039, Bolton’s work related to WMD intel is only a failure if you define success as producing intelligence that reflects reality, and basing policy on that reality.

    The people promoting Bolton don’t define success that way. Success was producing information that was useful in selling the Iraq War, regardless of its basis in reality. By that measure, Bolton’s done a bang-up job.

  7. Bolton’s moustache is a clear sign of his superior reasoning capabilities. Also, if he’s a problem, his enemies can grab on to the “handlebar” and pull him around, guaranteeing hours of fun on C-SPAN.

  8. madpad and joe beat me to it–rather they beat me to half of it.

    The Bush Administration may have elevated Bolton for being a good little crony, but the crony explanation doesn’t account for the elevation of Gonzales even after his legal advice led directly to the disgrace at Abu Gharib.

    …For all I know, the Bush Administration promoted both Gonzales and Bolton for being good little cronies, but both of these promotions can also be explained by simple incompetence.

  9. Can an Asshole Be a Good U.N. Ambassador?

    Hell yeah!

    I’m an asshole!
    I’m an asshole!

  10. he must really love his brother’s, Michael’s, music.

    which one of our friends will defend this dude?

    and who will be the first to point out how clinton’s choices sucked for worse reasons.

    and when will Rick Santorum’s pet chinchilla show up?

    inquiring minds. indeed.

    can anybody recommend some good reading for Chamberlain’s Method (error component analysis)?

    thanks!
    drf

  11. In all fairness, Bolton only chews people out if they provoke him.

    Senator: John Bolton, I gotta tell ya, I’m a big fan of Michael Bolton’s music. But you must really love him, sharing the same last name and whatnot.

    Bolton: Yeah, he’s pretty good.

    Senator: You’re darn tootin he is! So, tell me, what’s you’re favorite Michael Bolton song?

    Bolton: I don’t know, I guess I just like all of them.

    Senator: Me too! But surely you must have a favorite?

    (Suddenly Bolton stands up, tosses his chair aside, runs up and grabs the Senator’s tie and yanks on it)

    Bolton: LISTEN YOU LITTLE PIPSQUEAK LEFTY WEENY! ARE YOU GOING TO ASK ME SOME SUBSTANTIVE QUESTIONS OR ARE WE GOING TO BS ALL DAY ABOUT SOME BAD 80’S SINGER? I HAVE WARS TO START AND WHOLE REGIONS OF THE WORLD TO PISS OFF AND BUREAUCRATS TO CHEW OUT, AND I DON’T NEED TO LISTEN TO SOME DIPSHIT LIKE YOU GOING ON ALL DAY! NOW GET BACK TO PRETENDING THAT YOUR ROLE AS A CHECK AND BALANCE STILL MATTERS!

    Senator: I see that you are in fact a screamer… I vote to send your nomination to the full Senate. Now please let go of my tie. Please?

  12. Bolton: Why should I have to change my name? He’s the one that sucks.

  13. Karl Rove: The next item on our list is Robert Byrd.

    Bill Frist: Who?

    Rove: Old guy, real blowhard. Southern accent.

    Frist: Oh, right, him.

    Rove: We can’t actually find any record of him being elected since 1962. We looked into it further, and it turns out that he lost the election, but due to a paperwork glitch he was declared the winner anyway and has been receiving a paycheck ever since.

    Frist: So he won’t be coming to the Senate anymore?

    Rove: No, we fixed the glitch. He won’t be receiving a paycheck anymore and the situation will just work itself out on its own.

    (some time later)

    Frist: Hey, Robert, what’s happening?

    Byrd: I didn’t receive my paycheck and I was told…

    Frist: Yeah, you’re gonna have to take that up with the Treasury Department. Listen, I’m going to have to ask you to move your offices to the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

    Byrd: But I was told that I wouldn’t have to move my desk again….

    Frist: So, if you could just take care of that as soon as possible that would be great.

    Byrd: But, I was promised a desk near the…

    Frist: Oh, there’s that stapler.

  14. Is this actually an important issue or just another chance for a “I’m right; you’re wrong” shouting match between the current Ins and the current Outs?
    Can anyone name (without looking it up) the current UN ambassadors from France, Russia, China, or Great Britain? What kind of people are they? Are they more interested in promoting internationalism or their national interests?

  15. “Is this actually an important issue or just another chance for a “I’m right; you’re wrong” shouting match between the current Ins and the current Outs?”

    Bolton appears to have been at the apex of the, what I’ll call, “it’s all about WMD and terrorism.” to the what I’ll call, “American military domination of the Third World is a good thing.” metamorphosis. Bolton appears unapologetic for past sins and, indeed, seems to be a true believer in Reverse Domino Theory.

    …Bolton’s appointment is relevant to the debate.

  16. Mark, I don’t know any foreign UN ambassadors.

    America’s most recent ambassador, on the other hand, was John Negroponte. Before that, I believe it was Richard Holbrooke. Before him, Madeleine Albright.

  17. “Are they more interested in promoting internationalism or their national interests?”

    I’m not down on Bolton because he wants to promote our national interest, but because he’d do such a gawdawful job in the attempt.

  18. Rove: This next one, John Edwards. We had a chance to sit down with this remarkable young man, and there’s a straight shooter with majority leader written all over him.

    Frist: I’m gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there, Karl. He’s missed a lot of votes, and he didn’t even seek re-election in 2004. Plus, he was having some problems with his TPS reports.

    Rove: We feel that the problem is that you aren’t challenging him enough.

  19. Ken, I think you’re wrong about Bolton. He isn’t a neocon, just an old fashioned hawk. He wants to kick the ass of everyone who looks at us funny, and thinks nation building is a load of hooey.

    Conservatives seem to be dividing themselves into neocon moralist imperialists and paleocon realist isolationists, but Bolton’s something else entirely. He didn’t support the Iraq War because of some reverse domino theory, with the overthrow of Saddam being a means to the end. He supported the war because Saddam was a thorn in our side and a threat to our power and security.

  20. How is working in a douchebag, chicken-shit operation like the U.N. considered a “promotion”?

    I, for one, have no problem sending an “asshole” there. Fuck them.

  21. Joe, divided though they may be, the “good old fashioned hawks” are perfectly willing to include neocon justifications if there’s a carpet bombing or a troop deployment in it for them. In that respect, Ken’s got a point about Bolton.

    You’re right that “Bolton’s something else entirely,” though. He’s a asinine, whack job of the first order. I agree he would be a “gawdawful” pick.

  22. I don’t know if joe’s right about Bolton (I don’t know enough about him to say for sure), but I’d say there’s a significant minority of the population (including people who post here now and then) that just wants to go kick some ass.

    While some of us might want to only go after people that we can specifically link to a threat, and neocons might want to fight in a way that will (at least allegedly) make the world a better place, there are some hawks who just want to go kick some ass. Arabs attacked us on 9/11, so those hawks figure that we need to go to the Middle East and kick some ass. Even if we can’t link Saddam Hussein specifically to 9/11, well, dammit, he’s a bad guy, he’s one of them, time to go kick some ass. And if any other Arabs look at us funny, we’ll kill them too.

    That’s a disturbing attitude, to say the least, but I fear that it may be more common than we like to pretend.

    Which is not to say that all war supporters (or even most war supporters) fit into that category.

  23. An asshole? At the UN?

  24. Good point, america’s next top model.

  25. Grasping at straws.

  26. It seems to me that the appointment of an abrasive, anti-UN ambassador to the United Nations sends the message that the United States has contempt for the United Nations and sees little reason to bother being diplomatic towards it.

    But that’s actually a pretty accurate description of reality, when you come right down to it. Perhaps Bolton’s appointment will serve as a wake-up call at the UN, and cause the organization to come to terms with the fact that they’re coming very close to losing the USA — and, along with it, any hope of achieving global significance.

    The simple truth is that they need us, and we don’t need them. We need *allies*, sure, but the UN has never been a source of those and (in the absence of major reforms, like the expulsion of non-democracies) isn’t likely to be. Yet in spite of this simple truth, the UN maintains the delusion that it is our job to make them happy. It is past time that reality dawned on them, don’t you think?

  27. I think if it weren’t for the fact that the U.N. sits on American soil, the right-wingers wouldn’t be so petulant about it.

    In their view, by God WE gave it a home and dammit…they OWE us.

    Considering the volume of money that flows to U.N. countries via aid and commerce from the good ol’ U.S. of A., I suppose they have a point.

    But then we (America) reaps a heck of a reward for that largesse that has little or nothing to do with how U.N. members vote.

    I suppose that further pisses the right wingers off as, in their view, those countries should be voting our way a little more than they do.

    Of course the right likes to forget that we have a hack of a reputation for duplicity and propping up despots to protect our interests.

    Sure, the current spate of U.N. scandals does not speak well for them. They are an inefficient bureaucracy and a poor track record of success in intervention.

    What I’m getting at is that the U.N. and the U.S. have an awful lot in common and there’s more going on than what may be obvious.

    To sum it up as “they need us and we don’t need them” is way overly simplistic.

    For a dozen good reasons:

    1. It is better that the U.N. exists

    2. It is desperately in need of a good relationship with the U.S.

    3. And it would be an appalling disaster if we were instrumental in its demise or its departure from our shores.

    Knock it all you want for its failings. Criticise it for it’s bad decisions. But as an ideal, what the U.N. represents is opportunity in the very land of opportunity.

    We DO need the U.N. The very fact that it is HERE is part of the symbol of America’s (currently) unparalleled leadership.

    If we lose it or kill it, our credibility goes with it.

  28. I think my high school history teacher said it best:

    The UN isn’t terribly powerful, but it’s useful to have around now and then, and should not be thrown away.

  29. What’s wrong with “keepin it real?”
    The U.N. sucks: let’s send ’em a loudmouth asshole who will say so to their faces. Honesty is the best policy, right?

    Also, like Thoreau said:

    “Arabs attacked us on 9/11, so…we need to go to the Middle East and kick some ass….
    Saddam Hussein…he’s a bad guy, he’s one of them, time to go kick some ass.”

    Is that so wrong?
    Why?
    Because War is Bad?
    Good luck unilaterally declaring peace!
    Oh, wait – that would explain the Libertarian electoral strategy, wouldn’t it?

  30. Some of my students are driving me up the wall. I need to relieve some stress. I’ll go to somebody’s house and beat somebody up to relieve stress. McClain’s post annoyed me, maybe I’ll go kick his ass.

    Does that make any sense to the rest of you? It didn’t make sense to me, but I’m sure McClain will approve.

  31. Well…you can come on over and try to kick my ass, if you like.
    Maybe the effort will help you forget that you haven’t even addressed, let alone refuted, my point.

  32. McClain….check that quote.

    thoreau was illustrating the folly of that point of view…not support of it.

    To answer your questions:

    Is that so wrong? Yes…it is. If anything has become obvious over the past 4 years, it’s that not all “Arabs” are the same. Kicking Arab ass for ass’s sake is not winning converts to democracy or fealty to U.S. goals.

    Why? Well, it’s a pretty broad approach that needlessly grinds up innocents and make enemies of those who might’ve become allies. Just going after the ACTUAL perpetrators is more effective and less expensive.

    Because War is Bad? This is a typical ruse right up there with “why do you hate freedom?”. Of course war is bad but some wars need to be fought. But to posit an absolute is moronic.

    Consider:

    Some folks think that every American war was pointless bullshit.

    Still some other folks think that every American war was important to our establishment of democracy throughout the world.

    Lots of folks in the middle think that WW II, the Civil War and Afganistan were important while WW I, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq were more political than justified.

    There’s more than 2 ways to look at things, McClain. That our current political structure has reduced it to “peace vs war/patriot vs traitor/conservative vs liberal” is as sad as it is silly.

    Even I can appreciate Bolton’s honesty and the accuracy of his criticism while at the same time having deep reservation about his ability to be effective as a U.N. ambassador.

    I can appreciate wanting to send someone with strong views and a willing heart to deal with U.N. inanities.

    But Bolton is, on top of all that, a first class prick who will go to the U.N. with zero credibility and is unlikely to gain any while he’s there.

  33. I’d be opposed to the UN even if it were headquartered in France. Here’s why:

    1) It only has the authority that its member nations grant to it, which is to say none. Thus, the one situation in which it’d be relevant is the one no one in their right mind would allow to exist: a UN with it’s own military force more powerful than any other on the face of the earth. Rules w/o enforcement are merely suggestions.

    2) there’s no distinguishing between democracies and other countries, so we get such oddities as Libya heading a commission on human rights…

    3) Because of the comparative ineptness of the militaries of the rest of the world, the US is expected to do all the heavy lifting.

    If the US were to withdraw from the UN it actually wouldn’t collapse, for how can something collapse that was never truly erected? I say we pull out, and tell the rest of the world that unless there’s an angle by which the security of the US is at stake, they and their concerns can go take a 7-foot walk off a 6-foot plank.

    International politics = anarchy. Always has, always will, no matter what globalist hopes there are on either side of the aisle.

  34. Maybe the effort will help you forget that you haven’t even addressed, let alone refuted, my point.

    At the risk of sounding like Gary Gunnels, you never really made a point. In an earlier post I gave a synopsis of a certain point of view. You said “Is that so bad?” You never really said why that point of view has merit. So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to refute.

    But I think madpad said it well. Force is something that should be used with care, not just indiscriminately.

  35. “thoreau was illustrating the folly of that point of view…not support of it.”
    Yeah, I know.
    Even (especially?) when it’s caricatured, I still don’t see the folly.

    “WW II, the Civil War and Afganistan were important while WW I, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq were more political than justified.”
    Yeah, that’s at least arguable. I’m arguing about Iraq: it belongs with WWII, etc.

    “Bolton is…a first class prick”
    I believe you.
    “who will go to the U.N. with zero credibility”
    That’s where you go wrong.
    Credibility on what?
    On whether he represents Bush’s views, or the views of the American majority who elected Bush? No one doubts his credibility on that ground, and it’s the one and only ground on which any other credibility must rest.

  36. “Force is something that should be used with care, not just indiscriminately.”

    I didn’t say we should attack France.

    What’s so bad about promoting liberty by overthrowing evil dictators who hate us?
    I’ve heard it’s, like, “not libertarian.”
    I don’t agree.
    Apparently, you do.
    How could you?
    That was my point.

  37. What’s so bad about promoting liberty by overthrowing evil dictators who hate us?
    I’ve heard it’s, like, “not libertarian.”
    I don’t agree.
    Apparently, you do.
    How could you?

    If the long term consequences of invading Iraq turn out to be positive, as everybody assures me they will be, then I will gladly abandon my policy of non-intervention.

    Only time will tell. But if you’re confident that this is going to work then you have nothing to fear from the test of time.

  38. After the invasion, wouldn’t it have been better to hand Iraq off to the UN? Why not get our money’s worth? Turning our back on the UN was like Cortez burning his ships when he got the New World. “Death or Glory” makes for a great Clash tune, but it’s a rotten foreign policy.

    …What did we gain by turning our back on the UN?

    “What’s so bad about promoting liberty by overthrowing evil dictators who hate us?”

    That’s what Disraeli said to Queen Victoria. Once again, might as well ask, what’s wrong with American military domination of the Third World?

  39. I’m sure that the people of Haiti will back up McClain’s confidence that the US can spread freedom and stability by invading foreign countries under dictatorial rule.

  40. thoreau,

    I totally agree. I supported the war in hopes of freedom for the peoples of the Middle East. (I really didn’t give a shit about WMD, nor do I have any special love for Bush.) I don’t think we’ll know for many years if it was the right or wrong decision. I really hope you’re wrong, but I totally understand your doubts.

    As for it being libertarian or Libertarian. IMO, “intervention” isn’t Libertarian, but it can be libertarian. Here’s my justification: The people of Iraq are humans. I’m a human. The people of Iraq we’re suffering under a despotic and murderous dictator. Were I in their shoes, I might want to be liberated from this oppression. Remember, there’d be no freedom if someone hadn’t decided to fight for freedom. And as long as the fighting is done by volunteers and not military slaves, I support such liberation.

    Weren’t you at least happy to see that bastard Saddam fall?

  41. I meant that I totally agree with
    Only time will tell. But if you’re confident that this is going to work then you have nothing to fear from the test of time.

  42. Weren’t you at least happy to see that bastard Saddam fall?

    Absolutely. And if that were the only factor to consider I’d be so hawkish I’d make McClain look like a lefty.

  43. Haiti would be a mess even if we hadn’t touched it. But remember, it was Clinton that did Haiti. A man that hates the military. Can you really expect someone that hates the military to use it well?

  44. True, it’s not nearly as simple as taking out Saddam. I guess I believe that war is always a mess. Also, I feel that the U.S. has a responsibility to remove the dictators from the countries that we propped up during the Cold War. I think the Cold War required “special” measures, but I don’t think that relieves us of our responsibility to set things right; that is, remove the dictators and try to give them the beginings of representative government. What they do with it, we really can’t control.

  45. Real Bill-

    It’s not like our interventions in Haiti started in the 1990’s. We have a history of mucking things up there.

    That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m not trying to be some stubborn guy who won’t even contemplate spending tax money to free millions and remove a sponsor of terrorism and source of regional instability. I’m just afraid that it isn’t quite that simple, and if we break it we’ll have to buy it. That this won’t be our last intervention. That in 10 years we’ll kick ourselves and wonder what we were thinking, and set out to fix it yet again.

    And it’s not like this is our first intervention in the Middle East either. We helped establish an ethnic and religious minority state that to this very day requires our sponsorship and care, and which remains a key grievance motivating hatred of the US. We installed the Shah in Iran, only to see the backlash of an Islamic revolution a generation later. We tried to contain that mess by sponsoring Saddam Hussein as a counter-weight against Iran. Then we realized that he was bad news and fought a war against him. We thought that overthrowing him outright would be a bigger mess than we could handle, so we tried containment. Some people concluded that containment wasn’t working, so we invaded and overthrew him.

    It’s tempting to say that this time around the people in charge have learned the lessons and won’t make such huge mistakes. History shows that such hopes are usually naive.

    What could go wrong this time? Well, I’m reluctant to predict the form that the Destructor will take next time around. All I’m saying is that I’ll be pleasantly surprised if this doesn’t result in some mess that our leaders decide to come in and clean up in 10-20 years.

    I really hope I’m wrong. I really do. I’ll be thrilled if I’m wrong. If we don’t have to fight another war in Iraq in the next 20 years I’ll do what my Catholic heritage dictates and put up a little shrine to Bush were I’ll light candles and recite rosaries.

  46. Well, I’m reluctant to predict the form that the Destructor will take next time around.

    I tried to think happy thoughts, lest a giant Slor ravage downtown Baghdad. But I just heard on TV that a giant marshmellow man is leading a Sunni Arab guerrilla army to seize the oil fields outside Kirkuk. Many Kurds and Turkomen shall know what it is to be roasted in the depths of the Slor this day, I can tell you!

    ;->

  47. Thoreau,

    The next time someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!

  48. Your point, McClain, that war isn’t better than peace, is self-refuting.

  49. I can dig the idea of sending an ass kicker to the UN to force reforms. But there are different kinds of ass kickers. We need to beat people at the game of diplomacy, not just knock over the board. That just makes us look like losers who can’t cut it in the big leagues.

  50. best point I’ve read on this thread yet

  51. David-

    Oops!

    Look, it’s not too late to fix this. All we need is to send a couple of unlicensed particle accelerators to Kirkuk and point them at each other.

  52. Hey, we could use Saddam’s nuclear technology to do this. It’s all there with the other WMD, right?

    I just hope the EPA doesn’t try to shut us down. Damn bureaucrats.

  53. “I just hope the EPA doesn’t try to shut us down. Damn bureaucrats.”

    In context, I believe the correct term is “dickless” bureaucrats.

  54. In context, I believe the correct term is “dickless” bureaucrats.

    Well that’s what I heard anyway.

  55. “Your point, McClain, that war isn’t better than peace, is self-refuting.”

    Um, that doesn’t make any sense? What you said?

    This post is gonna slide off the front page any minute now, anyway, so, uh…nevermind.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.