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May 13, 2005

Bolton Redux, Redux, Redux...

Guest post: hilzoy

I have, on several occasions, promised myself that I would not write any more Bolton posts. The basic issues are clear; anyone who is reading this blog has presumably already made his or her mind up, so why bother? But then some new detail emerges about the ongoing train wreck that is John Bolton, and I just can't help myself. (For some people it's buying shoes; for me it's writing about Bolton. Go figure.) This is one of those moments. From Newsweek:

"George W. Bush has said it often enough. The No. 1 security challenge for America post-9/11 is to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue regimes. In a landmark speech at the National Defense University in February 2004, the president called for a toughened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other new initiatives. “There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated,” Bush said. “Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action.”

By action Bush meant the hard work of diplomacy, John Bolton, the president’s point man on nuclear arms control, told Congress a month later. For one thing, America needed to lead an effort at “closing a loophole” in the 35-year-old NPT, Bolton testified back then. The treaty’s provisions had to be updated to prevent countries like Iran from enriching uranium under cover of a peaceful civilian program—which is technically permitted under the NPT—when what Tehran really sought was a bomb, according to the administration.

But if the NPT needed so much fixing under U.S. leadership, why was the United States so shockingly unprepared when the treaty came up for its five-year review at a major conference in New York this month, in the view of many delegates? And why has the United States been losing control of the conference’s agenda this week to Iran and other countries—a potentially serious setback to U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran?

Part of the answer, several sources close to the negotiations tell NEWSWEEK, lies with Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control. Since last fall Bolton, Bush’s embattled nominee to be America’s ambassador to the United Nations, has aggressively lobbied for a senior job in the second Bush administration. During that time, Bolton did almost no diplomatic groundwork for the NPT conference, these officials say.

“John was absent without leave” when it came to implementing the agenda that the president laid out in his February 2004 speech, a former senior Bush official declares flatly. Another former government official with experience in nonproliferation agrees. “Everyone knew the conference was coming and that it would be contentious. But Bolton stopped all diplomacy on this six months ago,” this official said. “The White House and the National Security Council started worrying, wondering what was going on. So a few months ago the NSC had to step in and get things going themselves. The NPT regime is full of holes—it's very hard for the U.S. to meet our objectives—it takes diplomacy.” "

To my mind, the single most unfortunate feature of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is that it allows countries to enrich uranium "for peaceful purposes". Enforcement would be so much easier if any enrichment was just out of the question. Banning it wouldn't be impossible: even if signatories insisted on having nuclear power programs, we could set up some agency to sell uranium to those countries under very strict supervision, and then take the spent fuel away when it had been used. (This would, of course, get us into the problem of dealing with nuclear waste, but that's an issue for another day.) If the NPT were amended in this way, it would be vastly easier to tell when it was being violated: the whole set of questions about whether uranium enrichment was for peaceful or military purposes would no longer have to be asked. I therefore thought it was really good when the President said he would work to amend it to close this loophole, although experience has taught me to wait to see whether or not such promises will be implemented.

It's really, really bad that we seem to have completely screwed this up. And it's unforgivable that Bolton screwed it up because he was trying to make sure he had a job in the second Bush administration. To state the obvious: the whole idea of public service is to, well, serve the public and its interests. Anyone who goes into public service should have some point at which their interest in their career takes a back seat to the national interest; some list of things they are not willing to sacrifice to ambition. If strengthening the NPT isn't on Bolton's list, it should be. And if the problem is rather that he doesn't have such a list -- that for him it's all ambition all the way down -- that's even worse. In either case, failing to take this seriously, when he's working as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security is unforgivable.

The article also casts doubt on some of Bolton's other supposed accomplishments. We already know that the deal with Libya was struck despite Bolton, not because of him. Now it turns out that his few remaining accomplishments are not all they're cracked up to be either:

"Bolton, for instance, often takes and is given credit for the administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative—an agreement to interdict suspected WMD shipments on the high seas—and the deal to dismantle Libya’s nuclear program (a deal that Bolton had sought to block). But the former senior Bush official who criticized Bolton’s performance on the NPT conference says that in fact Bolton’s successor, Robert Joseph, deserves most of the credit for those achievements. This official adds that it was Joseph, who was in charge of counterproliferation at the NSC, who had to pitch in when Bolton fumbled preparations for the NPT conference, as well. Bush, in his February 2004 speech, also sought to give new powers to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which enforces the treaty. But Bolton, says the former Bush official, “focused much more time and attention trying to deny Mohammed elBaradei a third term” as head of the IAEA. The effort failed, and it was considered another international humiliation for the United States. (Ironically, elBaradei has been one of Washington’s chief allies at the NPT conference, pushing for parts of the Bush agenda.)"

Is there anything this guy does do well?


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Maybe we should just give in and let the guy get kicked upstairs. It looks like he would do less harm at the UN.

Calling Larry Flint!

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