Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 63° Cloudy

For U.S. at U.N.: Bolton or Clinton?

James Lileks Newhouse News Service

He swore at subordinates. He chased after women, used bad language to underlings, cooked the data to get the results he wanted, and alienated as many people as he attracted. So much for his U.N. ambassadorship, eh? So let’s hear no more about giving Bill Clinton that job.

Yes, Bill. If you trust “The Survivor,” a Washington Post reporter’s new book about the Clinton White House, he had a temper that made John Bolton look like Big Bird after half a pound of Valium. Oddly enough, the same people who regarded Bolton as Mr. Scary would be quick to nominate the former president for the job, even if they’d both beaned an aide with a glass ashtray from 20 feet. But the Bolton imbroglio has less to do with Bolton than with competing notions of the U.N.’s role, and boring old politics.

The latter first. After the happy conclusion of the judicial filibuster mess, Senate Democrats not only tasted blood but gargled with it, and decided to press their advantage. The end of the Era of Comity had to come sooner or later, and 48 hours seemed a decent enough interval. Bolton isn’t like a judicial nominee who – to paraphrase the description of Lord Byron – is mad, bad, and dangerous to Roe. But why not spend a week tearing off bloody chum-chunks and throwing them to the circling sharks? If it helps remind Americans we’re held in contempt by diplomats who carry the full weight of Belgian public opinion behind them, all the better.

Red Staters demur. They regard the U.N. as a body with all the humility of the Senate and none of the charm. Oh, it does some good things; it collects dimes for Third World diseases, makes sad faces about genocide, and declares the Year of the Child or the Decade of the Marmoset or the Fortnight of the Brine Shrimp. It’s the busybody aunt who spends Thanksgiving making everyone feel guilty they don’t care about endangered Tibetan yaks. There’s talk on the right of pulling out of the U.N. and forming a League of Democracies – leave the kingdoms, theocracies, klepto-states and madhouse nations to rant and stew. Nice idea. Never happen. Not even three years of unbridled Bolton will make a dent in the joint.

Pity. The U.N. is so 20th century – and here we come to the other reason Bolton makes some people erupt in flames. He’s a U.N. skeptic. Some people really believe the world will be saved by multilingual European technocrats – but only if we ask nice and say we’re sorry for everything. The Indians, Columbus, Vietnam, McDonald’s, Hilton heiresses. Sorry! But Bolton represents a strain of thought that regards such organizations with skepticism and caution. Is this the wave of the future? Ask the French.

In a typically Gallic act of unilateralism, French voters rejected the bloated European Union constitution. Doesn’t matter whether they feared Polish braceros, or distrusted Brussels’ desire to regulate the runniness of pliant cheese, or felt insulted by any constitution that pretended France was the equal of Finland. What matters is that Europe – the very heart of the multilateral, multinational, multicultural conceit – finds its own exercise in fictional cohesion in trouble. Someday all these high-flown notions may work. But this is not that day.

So it’s unseemly to see a Republican senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, shed literal tears over Bolton, bawling about his fears for his grandchildren. Better that the senator should weep over the nations whose leaders accrue short-term political gain slamming the only country with bacon-saving capability. Better he should bawl for those who put their faith in institutions that would rather declare 2005 “The Year of Getting Out of a Paper Bag, Somehow” than throw an actual punch.

You want an effective U.N. ambassador? Send Clinton, then arrange for him to be impeached. Give him a fight, and watch him swing. Watch him call the place for what it is. Only Nixon could go to China; maybe only Clinton can get us out of the U.N.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.