Another one bolts from duty

Being a successful diplomat requires more than policy expertise.

Another shift in the Bush administration came this week with the resignation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This move and the recent departure of Donald Rumsfeld impart a degree of optimism, but it’s hard to believe our foreign policy will improve. The administration has routinely taken a single-minded, “our way or the highway” approach. Until that mindset changes, we can expect nothing different.

Bolton’s appointment is a perfect example of this single-minded approach. It was opposed from the start by Democrats and Republicans, but the administration ignored objections and appointed him anyway. Some objected because Bolton had earned a reputation for being abrasive and bullheaded. Bolton was more than competent, but they knew that being a successful diplomat requires more than policy expertise. Though he enjoyed successes in his handling the North Korea, Iran and Lebanon conflicts, his approach was antagonistic. He earned the enmity of many ambassadors, some of them our closest allies. In many respects, Bolton was, as one journalist put it, a “well-trained attack dog.” For example, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, publicly reproached Bolton for trying to “intimidate” him.

But, apart from what he accomplished or how he did it, the wisdom in appointing this type of personality is beyond understanding. It’s no secret that our nation’s reputation is in need of repair. What’s the sense in appointing someone who will further cement our image as unruly and uncooperative?

Some would say that Bolton was a good ambassador because it’s more important to put our interests first than to care what others think. When the debate is framed this way, it demonstrates strength, but this is not weight lifting. Putting our interests first and caring what others think is not an either/or proposition. Being strong doesn’t preclude listening, nor does it prohibit a multilateral approach. Perhaps the entire Iraq catastrophe could have been avoided by “weakly” caring about what others think.

Bolton resigned not because he is a poor diplomat and a detriment to our nation; he resigned because of political tactics by the opposition that “will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time.”