John Bolton is often seen as that crazy guy with the funny moustache who was our UN Ambassador for a while. He was a lot more. Before his tenure as UN Ambassador from August 1, 2005 to December 9, 2006 in a recess appointment, he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from May 11, 2001 to August 1, 2005.
Bolton has cycled through most of the think tanks of Right wingnuttia and has been the protégé of many of the luminaries of that world, including Jesse Helms, Edwin Meese, Jim Baker III, and Dick Cheney.
In 1986-1987, as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs, he stonewalled investigations into drug smuggling and arms running by the Contras. In a February 3, 1994 speech, he opined that the UN could lose its top 10 stories without any problem (see item 35). He was a signer of the January 26, 1998 Project for the New American Century letter to Bill Clinton which stated the neocon agenda which served as a blueprint for the Bush Administration:
“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy”
From 1999-2001, he was a senior vice president at the bastion of neoconservatism the American Enterprise Institute. He participated in the Republican push to stop the 2000 Florida recount under Jim Baker’s direction.
In 2001, he was made Undersecretary for Arms Control over Colin Powell’s objection and at Dick Cheney’s behest.
In 2001, Bolton, a member of the NRA, announced at the U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons that the US would oppose any regulation in this trade that has caused so much death in the Third World because it would “abrogate the constitutional right to bear arms.”
After the anthrax scare which followed 9/11, he spiked UN efforts for a treaty on bioweapons.
In May 2002, Bolton claimed without any evidence that Cuba not only had a biowarfare capacity but was selling it.
On May 6, 2002, Bolton asked for and received the privilege of communicating to UN Secretary Kofi Annan that the US was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. (Clinton had given preliminary approval on December 31, 2000 at the very end of his term to the Treaty of Rome which created the court.)
In 2002 and 2003, Bolton accused Libya of aggressively pursuing WMD. Libya had begun talks with Britain and the US in March 2003 as the Iraq war began to eliminate its WMD programs (which, in the event and contrary to Bolton’s charges, were not very advanced). His activities nearly derailed the talks and it was only after Britain requested his removal from them that they were successfully concluded in December 2003.
In June 2003, he enunciated a “rollback” strategy on WMD aimed not just at preventing their spread but eliminating them from “rogue” states which already possessed them, such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Libya, etc.
On July 31, 2003, he again jeopardized arms control negotiations when he gave an unauthorized speech in Seoul. In it, he lambasted Kim Jung Il’s human rights record barely a month before the first round of six party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was to begin on August 27, 2003. While such criticisms were justified, they were seen as an attempt to sabotage the arms talks and it took some fast foot work to limit the damage he created.
Also in July 2003, Bolton had to postpone an appearance before Congress in the face of a revolt by intelligence analysts over his exaggeration of Syrian chemical and biological weapons programs which he characterized as destabilizing the Middle East. In June, he had already testified that Syria had much more of a nuclear program than it in fact had. (To date, Syria’s nuclear program has been fairly minimal in nature.)
And there was his treatment of nuclear materials in Russia (see item 91).
In 2005, Bolton led an unsuccessful push to oust Mohammed ElBaradei the head of the UN’s IAEA (see item 122) because he had been right about Iraqi WMD and skeptical of claims that Iran had a nuclear arms program.
You may be beginning to detect a pattern here. Bolton’s job was arms control but his manner and demands were so extreme and his views so wrong that he posed an existential threat to any arms control negotiations he got near. He combined great aggressiveness with equally great ineffectiveness.
Nor was it just that he was a loose cannon. He was a loose cannon with an agenda. He withheld information from his superiors, and it became the job of Colin Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage to muzzle Bolton (as much as that was possible) and encourage those who reported to Bolton to communicate directly with him.
Bolton was consistent about one thing. He was vindictive toward anyone who disagreed with him. In an effort to spy on and embarrass his superiors and coworkers, he requested raw NSA transcripts 10 times (4 times in 2003, 3 times in 2004, and 3 times in 2005, in all containing the names of 18 American individuals). (NSA transcripts are required to have the names of Americans redacted. It says something about Bolton’s pull that he was able to get a hold of the raw transcripts containing the unredacted names. On the other hand, it later came out that the release of unredacted transcripts was much more common than previously thought and that the NSA had released up to 10,000 names to various departments of government.) Bolton was less restrained with subordinates. In these cases, he would go directly to their immediate superiors and seek to have them punished or fired. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Carl Ford said succinctly of Bolton that he was “a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.”
Although he was more visible and well known as UN Ambassador, his power was greatly diminished in this role. It was limited further by the time constraints of the recess appointment. This was as it was no doubt meant to be. Being Cheney’s man meant he could not be fired, but he could be promoted out of the way, and this is what happened. John Bolton is a stellar example of the Bush/Cheney flair for choosing the absolutely worst person for a job. He did a great deal of damage but could have done much more if he had not alienated everyone around him.