The initial attempt to give the job to Bolton had been blocked by hostile members of the Senate, who saw the veteran Washington lawyer and diplomat as too critical of the world body to represent the United States there.
But after a "recess" appointment in August 2005 that allowed him to stay in office until the end of the current congressional session in December 2006, Bolton earned bipartisan applause for his forthright advocacy of America's positions on human rights, Darfur and his ardent support of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
That won him new allies among Democrats when the administration attempted again to have the Senate ratify his appointment. But in the fall of 2006, with the Democrats retaking control of Congress, and with renegade liberal Republicans such as Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island opposing him specifically because of his pro-Israel stands, Bolton was again turned away.
Time to Leave
At that point, he writes in his new memoir, Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, the administration considered keeping him in place via another temporary appointment.
But Bolton had had enough and left quietly.
Was it because he was tired of the task of trying to affect change at a place that is a miasma of cynicism, corruption and anti-Semitism?
Not really. A tough-minded man who led the successful fight during the administration of the first president Bush to repeal the "Zionism is Racism" resolution, Bolton doesn't appear to have lost his stomach for rhetorical combat
But, he writes, the most important reason for getting out was his growing disillusionment with the administration.
"I didn't like the direction of our policy on too many issues, particularly Iran, North Korea and Arab-Israeli issues," he says. Under the ascendancy of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, things would, in his opinion, "only get worse."
That's a sobering reflection from one of George W. Bush's strongest supporters.
This autobiography is not the easiest read. Though the majority of the book's 456 pages are devoted to the United Nations, the author asks us to wade through the details of his early life, as well as his considerable legal, political and diplomatic résumé, before we finally get to the office that put him in the spotlight.
Once there, he does illuminate the problems of a deeply flawed institution. But insightful as it is, his prose does not compare to the wit that characterized two other classic memoirs of life at the United Nations that share Bolton's jaundiced view of the place: William F. Buckley's 1974 United Nations Journal: A Delegates Odyssey and Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1978 A Dangerous Place.
But to fall short of such a high standard is no disgrace. The comparison is also a reminder that Bolton's brash though effective style in office was nothing less than a direct throwback to Moynihan, who, while serving as America's U.N. ambassador, denounced the passage of "Zionism is Racism," in 1975 by declaring "The United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act."
Like Moynihan and a later U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Bolton didn't seek to blend into the culture of the U.N. He was there to challenge it and to try by diplomacy, if possible, but by blunt talk, if necessary, to effect change.
Yet the real value of this book is not so much his contribution to the lengthy body of literature documenting the U.N.'s shameful record, but his unraveling of how the Bush administration has gone wrong on issues such as coping with the threats from Iran and North Korea.
The chief villains in his account are secretaries of state Rice and Colin Powell. During Bush's first term, when Powell was in charge, the drive to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions lost critical ground. Rather than seek to lead our European allies into a coalition that would impose serious sanctions on that Islamic republic, Powell left "the driving to the European Union." That meant years — when Tehran's program was still far from success — were wasted. This convinced the Iranians that nothing would or could stop them.
Even though the threat of an Iran with the nuclear wherewithal to make good on its call for Israel's eradication became even more clear during the watch of Powell's successor, Rice continued on his feckless path. Again, the Euros were allowed to take the lead, which led to delays and more ineffective measures, the implications of which left Bolton "sick."
Similar foolishness also let the North Koreans off the nuclear hook, a debacle that was made plain by the discovery of their involvement in a Syrian nuclear venture that was quashed by an Israeli raid.
Bolton points out what is by now obvious: "The fact is that Iran will never voluntarily give up its nuclear program, and a policy based on the contrary assumption is not just delusional but dangerous. This is the road to nuclear holocaust."
Another point on which Bolton makes it clear that Rice is failing is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rice's decision to push recklessly ahead with a summit at Annapolis in the vain hope of advancing America's interests elsewhere in the region is exactly what he feared when he left office a year ago. The fact that the Palestinians are still in the grip of terror movements in the form of Hamas and Fatah renders discussions with them pointless.
"Given this reality, there is no rationale for the United States to pressure Israel into 'peace agreements' … or to believe that 'dialogue' on such issues will have any material effect on the Middle East's numerous other conflicts," writes Bolton.
The former ambassador dismisses the myth that sacrificing Israel would solve America's problems. "Even if [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad got his fondest wish, and Israel disappeared, these conflicts would continue abated," he concludes.
The author's prescription is to reform the State Department by changing its bureaucratic culture and rejecting its embrace of the "disease" of "moral equivalency" that equates Palestinian terror with Israeli defensive responses. The alternative is a "surrender" to forces that we must vanquish if we are to preserve our civilization.
Rather than change it, Rice has been absorbed by the State Department and the administration's critics. The result is a an America left with a grim choice that as Bolton says "is not between the world as it is today and the use of force. The choice is between the use of force and Iran with nuclear weapons." That is the grimmest possible verdict on the failure of our diplomacy.
It is one that the negotiators at Annapolis later this month — and our representatives at the United Nations and elsewhere — ignore at our peril.
Contact Jonathan S. Tobin via e-mail at: [email protected] com.