For a year and a half, John Bolton was the perfect fit for President Bush at the United Nations. Bolton’s appointment as interim ambassador to an organization he had publicly and severely criticized seemed inappropriate in principle—like having Al Gore head up Exxon Mobil—but in practice proved opportune.
Representing the administration before an organization that collectively opposed the Iraq War and the greater war on terror, Bolton exuded the required measure of loyalty to Bush and disdain for the UN to cut a steadfast, even stubborn, figure behind the bold and unsettling legacy of American preemption.
His experience establishing the Proliferation Security Initiative as undersecretary of State for arms control aided his efforts to pass Security Council resolutions curtailing North Korea’s and Iran’s nascent nuclear programs. He succeeded in getting Burma—whose human-rights abuses had long been ignored by the UN—onto the organization’s permanent agenda, and he played a major role in the UN’s work to end the war between Israel and Hezbollah. But his abrasiveness and distrust of the UN’s multilateral approach won him few friends in the General Assembly—the South African ambassador to the UN told the Washington Post that Bolton “wants to prove nothing works at the United Nations.”
Since his resignation—announced after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blocked his appointment from interim to permanent ambassador—Bolton has been making the rounds, all the while remaining loyal to the president. He’s done The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and debated James Carville at American University, and I’ve seen him walking down L Street in downtown DC near the American Enterprise Institute, where he’s now a scholar.
In November, Simon & Schuster will publish Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the UN and Abroad, the mustachioed neocon’s account of his 17-month tenure at the UN. The book promises to be not only a bold defense of the Bush administration but also a fascinating firsthand narrative of a crucial season in the tenuous relationship between the United States and the UN.
In Bolton, President Bush has lost a kindred spirit at the UN but gained an outspoken cheerleader in the court of public opinion. This may be a better situation for the world—and for the president.