News your connection to The Boston Globe

The right bull for UN china shop

MUCH CRITICISM has been leveled at the president's decision to nominate John Bolton as our next ambassador to the United Nations. While equally outspoken intellects like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick were accepted as appropriate for their time, Bolton's bluntness and penchant for courting controversy in a diplomatic quiet zone like the UN, his critics say, make him ''uniquely ill-suited" to the UN's current demographics.

This argument misses the forest for the trees. As even Vice President Cheney noted last Friday, Bolton's historic views about the UN and how it functions, combined with his strong ties to President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, make him the right person for this job. ''If being occasionally tough and aggressive and bracing were a problem," the vice president added, ''then a lot of the United States Senate wouldn't qualify."

While it is certainly true that Bolton sometimes breaks china, it is also true that he carefully selects the pattern first. One example stands out.

In May 1991, while serving as assistant secretary of state for international organizations (which included the UN), Bolton was privately briefed by analysts on whether the United States had enough votes to reverse the UN's Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism. He believed to his core that this resolution was an insult to the intelligence of the civilized world, and in that belief he was supported by the secretary of state himself, James Baker.

In Bolton's mind, the time had come to repudiate this lie. But the prospects for success in repealing Resolution 3379, as outlined for him that spring morning, were discouraging. Most of the State Department's bureaucracy, especially in the Near East bureau, thought it was a fool's errand and believed that pursuing it would only damage our diplomatic priorities in the Middle East. The initial reaction of even many of our European allies was cool, and the Soviet Union was uninterested in repeal. But to Bolton it was a matter of fundamental American principle, and in that spring briefing he startled the analysts by refusing to accept the dreary picture that had been painted for him. Instead, he instructed his staff to change votes, and he set his considerable energies to first changing minds.

After standard State Department cables were seemingly ignored when they arrived at foreign embassies overseas, Bolton took matters into his own hands. Starting in the summer of 1991 and continuing well into the early fall, Bolton arrived at his office early each morning and began calling ambassadors around the world, as well as here in Washington, one by one, each time using his keen mind and reputation for bluntness to their full effect. Citing from memory Senator Moynihan's Nov. 10, 1975, contention that ''The United States declares that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act," Bolton refused to accept their excuses and their schedule conflicts and called repeatedly until he talked on multiple occasions to virtually every ambassador whose country would be called upon to cast a vote. In time, his perseverance began to winnow down the naysayers.

By late fall, the entire State Department had come together, and success, literally unthinkable only a few months earlier, had become a probability. By the time the tally was finally taken, on Dec. 16, 1991, the UN's General Assembly repealed Resolution 3379 by a vote of 111-25 (with 13 abstentions and 17 delegations absent or not voting). American leadership was restored to the General Assembly, and this stain on the prestige of the UN had been removed. But more important, a terrible wrong had been righted, and a critically important and historic principle had been vindicated.

Senator Moynihan's outrage, too, had been validated by his soon-to-be successor, John Bolton, and some very good china was still left on the shelves.

Thomas M. Boyd is a former assistant attorney general and former deputy to John Bolton.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months