Delay on Bolton Vote Marks Defeat for Hawks
by a key Republican senator for a two-week delay in the vote by
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on John Bolton as Washington's
next U.N. ambassador mark a significant and potentially strategic
defeat for Vice President Dick Cheney and the administration hawks
he led during George W. Bush's first presidential term.
Bolton's bid is defeated or, more likely, if he is forced to withdraw,
chief beneficiaries will likely be the administration's realist
forces led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy,
their public support for the nominee, according to reports over
the weekend by the Washington Post, the two had excluded Bolton
from internal discussions on key issues that would normally fall
within his domain.
who emerged from the November elections dispirited and dejected,
also stand to gain politically if the delay translates into Bolton's
defeat because it shatters the air of invincibility that the White
House has tried so hard to perpetuate. In what some considered a
risky move, the Democratic leadership decided to oppose Bolton early
in the confirmation process.
a long-standing unilateralist with frankly extreme right-wing views
about the UN and indeed international law in general, had been expected
to be approved on a 10-8, party-line vote by the Committee Tuesday.
forces had focused their lobbying efforts on the most moderate Republican
Committee member, Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, to oppose the
nomination, ensuring a tie vote which, under Senate rules, meant
that the nomination would be defeated.
Chafee, under intense White House pressure, refused to waver, while
the Committee chairman, Richard Lugar, who had privately objected
to the appointment, repeatedly rejected Democratic requests to put
off the vote.
thus came as a major surprise when Sen. George Voinovich, who had
been absent for the confirmation hearings leading up to Tuesday's
meeting, said he was not prepared to vote for the nominee based
on what he heard about Bolton from his colleagues.
the assurance that he would have a majority voting "aye,"
Lugar announced that the vote would be put off until at least the
week of May 7, a move that drew expressions of relief from two other
moderate Republicans, Sens. Chuck Hagel and Chafee, who had reluctantly
pledged to vote for the nomination in committee.
was noted that no Republican during the often rancorous Committee
debate offered a positive reason for voting for Bolton, insisting
instead that the president was entitled to his choice as UN ambassador
and that senators should not interfere.
the delay does not necessarily mean that Bolton ultimately will
be defeated, it makes that outcome far more likely, particularly
given the virtually daily appearance in the media of more damaging
revelations about Bolton's record by former diplomats, including
Republican appointees, and current officials willing to speak to
reporters on background.
Bolton's most important backer by far, Cheney has the most to lose
from his defeat, if only because of his apparent failure to anticipate
the controversy that Bolton's attitudes and past behavior would
White House was reportedly assured by Cheney that it would not have
to spend much political capital on securing Bolton's approval, but,
what with an apparent mutiny by one Republican and great discomfort
with the nomination shown by three others, this now appears to have
been a major miscalculation that could prove deeply embarrassing
Bolton's defeat would mark a big win for Rice and Zoellick, who
appear to be building a major power center at the State Department
that is clearly capable of challenging the often-decisive foreign
policy role played by Cheney during Bush's first term.
who served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international
security under Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, was seen as far
more responsive to Cheney and neoconservative and nationalist hawks
in the Pentagon during the first term than to his putative boss,
particularly with respect to frustrating the State Department's
efforts to persuade the administration to engage Iran and North
was thought that Bolton would eventually find a home either on Cheney's
huge foreign policy staff or in the Pentagon, but the vice president
prevailed on Bush to make him UN ambassador, which was Bolton's
Bush, who had just spent more than a week in Europe trying to reassure
allies there that Washington was committed to the UN, multilateralism
more generally, and international law, went along with Cheney's
proposal was particularly shocking because, of all of the administration's
senior officials, Bolton probably has the longest track record of
open contempt for all three, and for Washington's European allies,
for his belligerence, ideological certainty, self-righteousness,
and a total lack of a sense of humor, Bolton, it has since been
revealed, also has a history of excluding, verbally abusing, and
trying to remove subordinates who disagree with him precisely
the kind of behavior that Voinovich has repeatedly complained about
in confirmation hearings of other nominees, both Democrats and Republicans.
particularly in light of the administration's false claims about
prewar Iraq, disclosures about Bolton's manipulation and exaggeration
of intelligence data relating to Iran and Cuba, for example; and
his peculiar interest in highly classified transcripts of electronic
intercepts concerning colleagues in whom he apparently lacked confidence,
appear to have planted serious doubts with some Republican senators
about his personal and professional integrity.
Bolton's nomination even appears to have divided some of the administration's
most ardent neoconservative supporters.
hard-line neocons, including the American Enterprise Institute's
(AEI) Richard Perle and David Frum, former CIA director James Woolsey,
and even Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol publicly supported
the nomination, other prominent neocons, including Kristol's longtime
foreign-policy sidekick, Robert Kagan, as well as some of Perle's
AEI associates, such as Joshua Muravchik, apparently decided to
stay out of the fray.
neoconservatives and the Christian Right already in some disarray
due to splits in their respective ranks over the administration's
support for Israel's disengagement plan and its opposition to the
expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the hawks who
led the drive to war in Iraq have not been able to gain real traction
on any of their pet issues since the new term began, despite Powell's
Bolton is now defeated or forced by the White House to withdraw
his name, the perception in Washington will almost certainly be
that the hawks' influence, and particularly that of Cheney, are
on the wane not only within the administration but also among Republican
lawmakers for whom Cheney is still a much-feared figure.
so much at stake, Cheney will be very reluctant to give up, and
statements by the White House since the Tuesday debacle so far have
stressed that Bush retains full confidence in Bolton and believes
he will win confirmation.
given the unexpectedly heavy political price already paid by the
White House in very unhappy Republican moderates, Bush may decide
that it's best to pull the plug sooner rather than later so as to
avoid spending any more capital on an ill-advised appointment.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service