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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

01 August 2005

Bolton appointed to UN

President Bush announced on Monday that he is appointing John Bolton as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. A recess appointment that will last until Congress’s next session in January 2007, the decision caused a lot of controversy—both in its substance as well as in the manner in which it was made.

First a comment about process; a recess appointment is surely not the optimum way for anyone to get appointed. But it seems like the whole process had been derailed; the standoff over Bolton seemed impossible to break; not only would it have been irresponsible for America to lack an ambassador as the UN General Assembly returned to work in September, it is also doubtful that having more talks in the Senate would have resolved the questions that Democrats had over Bolton. Given that the Senate refused to hold an up-or-down vote, a recess appointment seems a reasonable way out.

As for substance, it is hard to predict what kind of ambassador Bolton will make. A hard talker is surely necessary when talking about reform, and it is useful to know that he won’t budge in identifying problems in the United Nations as that body contemplates reforms to make itself more effective. As for his presumed aggressive tone, it is worth remembering that Colin Powell’s conciliatory tone could not do wonders for America’s case for war in Iraq.

(Let’s not forget the January 20, 2003 incident in the UN that infuriated Powell; as he went down to the UN for a meeting on terrorism, France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, announced that “nothing” justified war in Iraq, effectively undercutting America’s efforts to secure a second resolution. According to Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, it was Powell’s desire not to “stiff the world organization,” that made him attend the meeting where he embarrassingly heard de Villepin make that statement. In other words, kindness doesn’t always pay.)

My overall feeling is that Bush rightly broke an impasse that dragged on for no reason and with no presumed end date. From now on, at least, Bolton can be judged on his record as ambassador rather than his presumed past actions, that Senators have been unable to affirm whether they were really uncalled for.

(For those who think that Bolton will mean bad things for America and the UN, I leave you with a cartoon from Clay Bennet of the Christian Science Monitor.)

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