Steve Clemons is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Washington Note, a weblog, where this article was originally published.
Some senators involved in the Battle over Bolton have never seemed so small.
I feel like buying them all copies of Anthony Everitt's award-winning Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician just to remind them of what titans they could be if they just got their footing and refixed their tenacious belief in the system of checks and balances that Americans trust them to vigorously support in our form of democracy.
Many people are incorrectly giving this blog credit that is undeserved in the fight against the Bolton nomination. My good friend and political sparring partner Robert George has written on his new blog, Ragged Thots :
If Bolton ends up going down, the person almost single-handedly responsible for it will be Steve Clemons of the New America foundation. Steve's a friend, despite various political differences.
He's a Democrat who worked for Jeff Bingaman for a few years. We've been fortunate enough to end up on a couple of foreign junkets On his blog, The Washington Note , he has been pushing the Bolton-is-unfit/untrustworthy meme with the intensity of a pit bull with its teeth in someone's leg. It's strange, because Steve, though a Democrat, is not exactly a reflexive partisan, but he really despises Bolton.
Via his blog, he may end up doing to Bolton what Bill Kristol did to the Clinton health plan in 1993-94 through his "Project for the Republican Future" memos. The stakes aren't exactly the same, but the comparison is apt. Does this suggest a significant future role within the Democratic Party/liberal policy network for Mr. Clemons? Only time will tell.
Robert is way too generous, as many other commentators have been, as there have been a ton of voices brought into this debate. I should also add that while I am quite interested in hijacking the Democratic Party and pointing it toward a new and more effective set of policies, I maintain my affiliation of record as independent.
If those of us involved in the Bolton Battle have done anything, we helped create a political space that sensible Democrat and Republican politicians could get into to think less like robots over this nomination—and to ponder the big issues that Bolton' s nomination has pushed to the surface. For that, this blog is proud—and whether we win or lose this battle over John Bolton—it was absolutely the right one to fight with the White House.
I want the White House to show to what absurd lengths it will go to push a candidate so disdainful of the United Nations, so disdainful of principled American engagement in the world, so disdainful of dissent and debate among colleagues on the American side of the equation, so disdainful of the realities of delicate diplomacy in vital national security matters, so disdainful of the U.S. Congress to the point of lying outright to them about his past, so disdainful of the separation of powers in our government.
If we are going to lose this battle on Bolton—which we are nowhere near to losing yet—then I want the White House to compel its moderates, its sensible and generally fair team of senators like Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, George Voinovich, and Lincoln Chafee, to choke down a candidate that makes many of them want to heave when they get into the muck of his behavior. He is the dark side of the Bush administration.
All presidential administations have a multiple personality, reality. Cheney and Bolton are one part of that personality. Bob Zoellick is another, different part. Hadley and others are another part. There are more personality profiles to the Bush administration that deserve explication another time—but, that said—the dominant personality in this battle over the U.N. nomination is Cheney—and the face the world is seeing and Americans are seeing is the dark, petty, 50 percent-plus-one tactics of a White House bent on crushing opposition and winning at all costs.
Well, I believe in fighting until the end—and Democrats in general are not used to doing that. I've been impressed with the senior staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and also with some top journalists who are putting this story as it should be—showing all of the malignancy in the nomination of John Bolton—and then showing how day after day senators like Lincoln Chafee are still being compelled by the White House to say that they might stand with them.
While the White House is pouring pressure on these senators, those who believe in American internationalism and principled American engagement in world affairs—and who want a reformed United Nations that makes sense for our interests and helps to promote global problem-solving—are going to fight back and put pressure on these same officials.
None of them will be able to feign ignorance about this vote. They will be signing off on the single worst candidate that has become before them in years if they vote to confirm. That is why so many Republicans—when faced with the evidence—have expressed discomfort.
Bolton 's behavior, antics and recklessness offend . And beyond that, he has engaged in battles against Bush adminsistration diplomacy as conducted and driven by Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and Jack Pritchard that undermined our efforts to keep hostile North Korea nuclear warheads from growing in number—warheads that are hostile to America and global stability.
And if these senators do get Bolton 's nomination out of committee, there are a whole new set of opportunities for battle over this nomination on the floor of the Senate.
With people of Colin Powell's and Richard Armitage's ilk essentially on our side, the battle is worth fighting. I tend to want to match with smiles and rationality the sneers and snarls from Cheney and new Bolton buddies David Frum and Gary Bauer. But it is nonetheless feeling more and more like an epic battle, which as Frum wrote yesterday is turning out to be a battle about "the presidency itself."
The White House is trying to demonstrate that it has a majority of Republicans who will vote to confirm Bolton on the floor. Duh...of course they do....until other senators are forced to look at the evidence, which members outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have not been tasked with doing—at least not until the committee does its job of compiling a full record on Bolton and voting on it.
I'm not moved at all by the White House's tactic of canvassing the votes of its members. Those opposed to Bolton will be visiting these same Senators and asking the question of whether they can conscientiously vote in favor of Bolton after they know X, Y and Z about him.
We should put an "acknowledgement of the facts contract" in front of every senator who plans to vote for or against John Bolton and have them sign it .
In any case, the Senate has not done its job. It has not reviewed all of the evidence on Bolton which is now widening in scope.
The senators do not have copies of the NSA intercepts that they must read and review before voting on Bolton 's nomination. My sources tell me today that the State Department stone-walling of Senators Dodd and Biden, as well as Jay Rockefeller, over the NSA intercepts, may now be complicated by Senator Lugar making a direct request for the intercepts.
Much more to play out—despite the optics the White House is trying to give this.
The Washington Note's committed to commenting and reporting on this Battle over Bolton because it matters to the country and because this is the kind of fight that Republicans and Democrats who believe in principled internationalism should be fighting together.
I am very happy to be part of this effort—but let's remember that there are many players in the battle now. I am proud of the role this blog has played in keeping the flame burning, and there are other blogs like Stygius and War and Piece which provide amazing, near-constant coverage.
But mainstream journalism is also seeking its teeth into this story every day. Every day. Can you believe that?
They really hoped that John Bolton would sneak anonymously by a nation, counting on the ignorance and ambivalence of citizens about this nomination.
Win or lose on Bolton, senators need to know that everyone knows who John Bolton is now—and will be paying a lot of attention to the principles and guidelines they use to justify a vote in favor or against.