May 1, 2005


Never Shy, Bolton Brings a Zeal to the Table (SCOTT SHANE, 5/01/05, NY Times)

Seemingly untroubled by self doubt, Mr. Bolton, whom former Senator Jesse Helms once called "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon," has never shied from a dispute nor hesitated to shatter a consensus. In his office he displays a grenade designating him as "Truest Reaganaut," a telling gift from former colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development.

From his battle, as a Justice Department official, for the doomed Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork to his dramatic declaration to poll workers tabulating presidential ballots in Florida in 2000 - "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team and I'm here to stop the count" - Mr. Bolton has proved himself a fighter, fiercely committed to a bedrock American nationalism.

But now his brash performance as under secretary of state threatens his nomination, as government officials high and low who have clashed with Mr. Bolton strike back. Complaints that he bullied intelligence analysts who rejected his views have particular weight with Congressional critics, who are still fuming that administration claims about Iraq's arsenal and Al Qaeda turned out to be wildly inaccurate.

But as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee extends its consideration of Mr. Bolton's candidacy, President Bush has shown no sign of wavering in his determination to win confirmation for this least diplomatic of diplomats.

"See, the U.N. needs reform," Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Thursday night. "If you're interested in reform in the U.N. like I'm interested in reform in the U.N., it makes sense to put somebody who's skilled and who's not afraid to speak his mind at the United Nations."

Mr. Bolton, 56, has won loyalty from other bosses, too. They include former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, whom he served at the White House and the State Department and who summoned him to Florida for the recount, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who told an American Enterprise Institute audience after the 2000 election that Mr. Bolton deserved "anything he wants" in the new administration.

He wins such plaudits partly because of an extreme work style that sometimes has him firing off e-mail messages to subordinates from home at 4 a.m. before arriving at the office at 6. In his current job, he has required staff members to stand - along with him - at morning meetings, to discourage long-winded discussions.

"When you go in to brief John Bolton, as I found out early, you better be prepared," said Thomas M. Boyd, who was Mr. Bolton's deputy when he was assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department and who remains a friend. "He's kind of like an appellate judge. He will read everything. If you have holes in your argument, he won't work with you."

He has also impressed superiors with his dogged pursuit of goals he believes in. As assistant secretary of state in the administration of the elder George Bush, he took on the task of repealing a United Nations General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism, long resented by Israel and its American supporters.

For several weeks in 1991, Mr. Bolton devoted himself to what he called the "ZR campaign," according to one person who worked on it. Countries were singled out one by one, with Mr. Bolton systematically pursuing their ambassadors and tracking the results on charts until the vote - an unexpectedly lopsided 111 to 25.

"He's tough and he's relentless and he's very logical," said Frank J. Donatelli, a Republican consultant who has worked with Mr. Bolton both in government and party operations. "But I've never observed any kind of abusive behavior."

What really puts off Mr. Bolton's critics, Mr. Donatelli said, are his firm views. "Even in the Reagan administration, John would usually be the most conservative person in the room," he said.

The drive and ideological certainty that admirers believe make Mr. Bolton effective strike his critics as excessive. Avis T. Bohlen, who worked under Mr. Bolton as assistant secretary of state for arms control, said she agreed with several of his initiatives, including scuttling a protocol to the international ban on biological weapons. But she thought the United States should work with European allies to find a better approach to preventing biological weapons. Mr. Bolton did not.

"He was absolutely clear that he didn't want any more arms control agreements," Ms. Bohlen said. "He didn't want any negotiating bodies. He just cut it off. It was one more area where we lost support and respect in the world."

In handling disagreements, too, Ms. Bohlen said, Mr. Bolton sometimes went over the line. "What I find unfortunate is that he had a tendency to go after the little guys," she said. "I think Bolton is a bully."

The same traits, and the same divided views of them, go all the way back to Baltimore's McDonogh School, where Mr. Bolton discovered his intellectual gifts and his fascination with politics.

Republicans sound rather silly arguing that Mr. Bolton's chief qualification for his task is how tough he is, that he's the bull the UN china shop requires, but then whining when it turns out folks don't much like being bulled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2005 7:27 AM

I don't mean to throw in any further cognitive dissonance here, but an AEI scholar wrote a letter to the WSJ the other day saying he worked under Bolton for years and never once saw him disrespect or pull rank on an underling. So now I'm really confused.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 1, 2005 1:41 PM

Bill Kristol says the same thing. What are they supposed to say?

Posted by: oj at May 1, 2005 1:52 PM

That he's a hard-hearted SOB who'll take the UN to task for its failings? That's what I like to hear.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 1, 2005 2:38 PM

Once again the US Senate proves it is the most worthless coterie of human beings in the world, a complete waste of time and money.

Posted by: bart at May 1, 2005 4:16 PM
Once again the US Senate proves it is the most worthless coterie of human beings in the world, a complete waste of time and money.

Emergency message to the UN: Look out--you have competition!!!

Posted by: Kirk Parker at May 1, 2005 9:58 PM