John Bolton has another zinger oped today in the Financial Times offering withering criticism of Tony Blair and the British government for actions in the recent soldier detention case that Bolton argues only embolden Iran's hard-liners.
Ambassador Bolton is brimming lately with hard criticism of the Brits, the Europeans, and even the American government. I've been looking but I haven't found anything "complimentary" the guy has said about his former employers or any of America's key allies since he resigned his unconfirmed perch as US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador Bolton has lost little time in grilling the presidency of George W. Bush, pretty much all parts of it except the Vice President's office. Not too long ago, White House spokesman Tony Snow publicly spanked Bolton for his criticism of President Bush after American progress in managing the North Korea nuclear challenge. Snow specifically addressed Bolton and said:
I would like to remind Ambassador Bolton that the President he served believes the North Korea deal is a good deal and is in America's interests.
Snow made the comment with some vigor -- emphasing the words "he served" to make the implied point of "disloyalty."
One of the things that has to be noted is how vigorously the Bush White House worked to secure John Bolton's confirmation as Ambassador in the Senate; Rove & Co. worked this hard and made three huge pushes to get him confirmed. The positive commentary that Bush and his team manufactured about John Bolton was impressive.
Contrast this with the testy, usually arm's length distance that the White House treated Secretary of State Colin Powell, who worked hard in my view to further the country's basic diplomatic interests.
Today, Powell won't say a negative word about President Bush -- and he will only make nuanced criticisms of America's current foreign and defense policies. In January 2009, I believe Powell will finally come out of the closet on his real views -- or start to. Later than I would prefer -- but it will be important to get Secretary Powell's views on the record.
But Bolton demonstrates none of the courtesy offered by Powell to Bush. I really wish that Colin Powell could be a bit more like Bolton in tactics -- and Bolton a lot more like Powell in substance.
But three quick points about John Bolton's rant against the Brits today for all that may have been done to get the 15 British soldiers released.
First, Bolton keeps referring to Iran's nuclear efforts as a "nuclear weapons program" as if this is fact. Iran presently has no such nuclear weapons capacity and has a nuclear 'energy' program still in early stages (including today's announcement). Bolton's framing seriously distorts the empirical reality. This program may eventually evolve into a nuclear weapons program -- and I believe that there are key parts of the Iranian political world that want such weapons capacity -- but it is not a nuclear weapons program today. Without qualifying it, Bolton is fear-mongering and committing serious overstatement.
This style is reminiscent of Bolton's claims about bioweapons production in Cuba and his bullying State Department and CIA intelligence analysts to generate intel reports that conformed to his diagnosis of Iraq WMD activities.
Second, Bolton does not mention at all -- not one word -- about the unanimous UN Security Council resolution that UnderSecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns and Acting US Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff successfully secured because of Iran's failure to suspend enrichment activities. Where is this action in Bolton's formulation that Iran's hardliners have been "rewarded."
Third, Bolton does not offer his own alternative on what the content of engagement with Iran should be, although I believe if asked, the Ambassador would offer something that sounded like hard-edged, military brinksmanship that moved a notch closer to delivering forced regime change and thorough bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities (which must include killing Iran's American and European trained nuclear engineering talent).
And there is little reflection by the Ambassador -- actually none that I know of -- on the sorry state of America's military capacity today and the current limits on our ability to manage yet another war and its aftermath. The Ambassador and many of his allies helped lead the nation into its current war without calculating the likelihood of long term success and the costs to American interests and prestige. And before remedying our current mess, Bolton would like to double up the bet and venture into yet another poorly considered set of risks.
John Bolton will remain a key participant in the debates about America's engagement with Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and others. But he needs to be held accountable for his message as well. He is a diplomat who believes in talking only to friends -- and many of those friends he thinks hardly deserve our time. And for the most part, he thinks we ought to be bombing our rivals and those with whom we have clear and complicated national security challenges.
Bolton's binary world is a scary one. It's either appeasement or war -- when American history shows that in most cases, there are great numbers of other solutions and possible courses of action to secure our interests.
Pugnaciousness of Bolton's sort can sometimes be useful diplomatically when mixed with other strategies and tactics -- but pugnaciousness for it's own sake and at all times can be very dangerous and at minimum is ineffective, predictable and gets stale.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note