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ROBERT KUTTNER

Bush's hawks moving up -- or out?

PRESIDENT BUSH has nominated two of his most belligerent and dogmatic hawks to key positions abroad -- Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank and John Bolton as United Nations ambassador. For America's allies who value the UN and who opposed Bush's Iraq strategy, of which Wolfowitz was a principal architect, these choices are an astonishing slap. And for Democrats who heard Bush promise to govern as ''a uniter, not a divider," this is one more challenge.

Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has long ridiculed the United Nations, international law, and multi--lateralism. In 1998, speaking of the risk of losing a vote in the UN, Bolton declared that ''This will simply provide further evidence [as] to why nothing more should be paid to the UN system."

Bolton was among the most ferocious in promoting the fake story that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear material in Niger, long after intelligence agencies had discredited it, and he sought to mislead allies on a false report that North Korea has supplied nuclear materials to Libya. Bolton will also face questions for his role a decade ago in a foreign money-laundering scheme when he headed a think tank that lost its tax status as a Republican Party front.

In terms of who's up and who's down, there are different readings of these nominations. One reading is that two senior neoconservatives are being hustled out of town. But while good losers in Washington power struggles are sometimes consoled with ambassadorships, the United Nations and the World Bank are not exactly Ruritania or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Though these two appointments of leading hawks have been linked in press coverage, there are significant differences. For starters, the World Bank nomination doesn't require Senate confirmation. But it does require the consent of America's allies. The United States holds just 16.5 percent of the World Bank's voting stock. The European Union nations jointly hold almost 25 percent, and Japan has 8 percent.

A longstanding gentlemen's agreement provides that a European heads the International Monetary Fund, while the top World Bank job goes to an American. However, five years ago, in March 2000, the United States vetoed the European Union's choice to head the IMF. The Europeans then replaced their nominee, German Deputy Finance Minister Ciao Koch-Weser, with a German more to Washington's liking, Horst Kohler.

European leaders still seething from US unilateralism on Iraq may conclude that turnabout is fair play. The EU has yet to formulate a common position on Wolfowitz. Well-placed sources say Bush must have pre-cleared this controversial nomination with key allies during his recent European trip. However, Britain's Tony Blair and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder are facing close reelection campaigns, relations have lately soured with Italy, and Wolfowitz is monumentally unpopular with the European public.

Europe has been more assertive lately. The EU persuaded the United States to embrace the European diplomatic approach to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program while resisting US demands to help with the Iraq occupation. Europe did agree to Washington's demand not to resume arms sales to China. However Europe this week is on the verge of referring the Darfur genocide to the International Criminal Court (an institution long ridiculed by neoconservatives) over Washington's objections. A veto of Wolfowitz might be very tempting payback.

Had Wolfowitz never been a key architect of the Iraq war, he might have seemed a plausible nominee to head the World Bank. Some Democrats have said as much. But Wolfowitz was a leading planner of the war and subsequent occupation. And what Iraq suffered afterward is surely the opposite of the economic development that is the bank's franchise.

Bolton, meanwhile, faces serious domestic opposition. While few Democrats have yet issued public statements, Senate Democrats will be united in their opposition when confirmation hearings begin April 7.

On the Foreign Relations Committee, just one Republican no vote would produce a 9-9 deadlock. Activists are mounting a grass-roots campaign to persuade Rhode Island's independent-minded Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee not to just rubber stamp the nomination in committee. A major Internet organizing campaign is also underway (see stopbolton.org and thewashingtonnote.com).

Give Bush credit for consistency. He plays hardball and doesn't give a damn what the world thinks.

On the other hand, there's hubris in the air. Social Security privatization is sputtering. Before recessing, the Senate rejected Bush's attempted gutting of the Clean Air Act, Medicaid, and education outlays. Bolton and Wolfowitz could be the next casualties of Bush's presidential overreaching.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.


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