Thursday, November 22, 2007

John Bolton's Bile Lies A-smouldering..full text

Comment is Free, Guardian

Reading John Bolton's account of his tenure as George Bush's ambassador to the United Nations,Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations, there are times when you almost want to cheer him for his role as the little boy calling into question the emperor's new clothes.

His exasperation with the UN process that substitutes consensus or the unity of the security council for actual results will resonate with those who watched with horror Slobodan Milosevic's resolution-strewn trail to Srebrenica or, even now, Khartoum's juggling with resolutions and statements from atop a pile of corpses. He even, albeit briefly considering that he spent several years working on the issue, belabours the US and the UN for allowing Morocco to duck its promises and legal obligations to allow a referendum in western Sahara.

Similarly he takes to task "the EU's proclivity to avoid confronting and actually recognising problems," he says, and he does have a point, even if many observers would feel that one of the biggest problems it has been avoiding has been the unilateralist tendency of the US.

It would be refreshing for those Labour types fawning over the White House to read Bolton's scathing dismissal of the alleged special relationship. Indeed, if anything, he seems to have a visceral hatred of Brits, especially those who disagree with him, like the former UN ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who makes him wonder how Britain won an empire but explains why it lost America, and indeed his successor John Sawers, but with special vitriol for Jack Straw and Mark Malloch Brown. He sneers: "Many Brits believed their role in life was to play Athens to America's Rome, lending us the benefit of their superior suaveness, and smoothing off our regrettable colonial rough edges." In fact, he is speaking about an older policy, in which British diplomats tried to bridge the gap between American unilateralism and the rest of the world. Blair's complete abdication of independent policy gets no thanks whatsoever.

And that of course reminds us that Bolton is not a presumptuously precocious little boy. He is a blustering boor with a chip on each shoulder, one on his own account as the working class kid made good, and the other for the conservatives who he thinks represent the real America, who have been thwarted by his lengthy list of liberal demons.

Indeed one senses a deep personal insecurity, since he frequently records words of polite praise, but never any of the numerous criticisms that he attracted. Since he lacked the diplomatic niceties himself, he fails to look beneath the surface of the pleasantries that the UN diplomatic corps used with him, although he seems to have the subliminal message from Jones Parry. Of course no one was going to tell the US representative at the UN that he was a blustering boor, whatever they said to each other.

Bolton is free with abuse for others, but he is surprisingly thin-skinned when it comes to criticism from others. Almost breathtakingly, he praises Terje Roed-Larsen of Norway for "a propensity for speaking his mind ... always a source of delight to me." Clearly, it was the Norwegian's slavish assent which delights the author, since similar outspokenness from the "petty bureaucrat", Malloch Brown, Kofi Annan and Bolton's numerous other hate figures sends him into petulant rage.

This is not mere xenophobia: his enemies begin at home, with the "eastern elitists", state department "careerists", the "High Minded", the "True Believers", the "EAPeasers" (state department East Asia and Pacific staffers) and eventually those whom the "Risen Bureaucrats" seduced - Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and, although he avoids direct criticism, George Bush.

Indeed, he claims that he left the UN not because of the poor prospects of Senate confirmation but because of the success of his internal hate list in suborning "real conservative" foreign policy, and this book is a lengthy Parthian shot at them all. His opposition to the EU and "EUroids" is rooted in his visceral dislike for what he sees as a social democratic counter to the United States, and thus a potential rival, and of course, the British and French and all the other pretentious Lilliputians who would tie down the American Gulliver with ropes of international laws and multilateral treaties.

This is an obsessive book packed with minutiae of bureaucratic feuds and internal crusades, and as such, in a strange way, provides valuable insight into how the US formulates its foreign policy and, one could almost say, consequently, the UN fails to implement effective policies.

But while he attacks the processes of the UN, he frankly claims that "consensus" was supposed to mean that the United States was satisfied. In his indignation he fails to acknowledge that the other 191 could also play and thus paralyse the decision-making process. With complete lack of self-awareness, he does not acknowledge the role of his undiplomatic unilateralism in antagonising opponents and frustrating the efforts of allies.

Above all, we should remember that while Bolton can be faulted for thinking that bullying and blustering produce dividends, he is not being innovative in the essence of American foreign policy. He strips the skin off the skull of much of American foreign policy since the end of the second world war, but in doing so does little to advance it. Compromise being excluded, so essentially is diplomacy or anything like normal alliances.

Bolton quite clearly does not share the neocon illusions of spreading democracy at the point of a bayonet. How foreigners suffer is no concern of his. But he is quite prepared to threaten and use force to advance what he sees as American national interests, as judged by himself and his conservative cohorts. In that sense it is refreshing. What you see is what you get. If the EU, the UK and others have interests, they should stand up for them, instead of deferring to a presumed automatic altruism on the part of Washington.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

I plugged your Trotsky/Howe story at my blog.