The mixed messages the Bush administration has sent regarding the United Nations is coming back to haunt it in decidedly different ways in the House and the Senate.
In the House, members have voted to hold half the U.S. funding for the United Nations hostage, a tactic that the White House unsuccessfully opposed. As we recently editorialized, there is no question that the United Nations is in need of reform, but it is a function of the administration, not Congress, to pursue that reform through the secretary of state's office.
Now the administration finds itself in an entirely separate battle over the United Nations in the Senate. President Bush has been given a clear message by the vast majority of Senate Democrats and by Ohio's own Republican senator, George V. Voinovich, that John Bolton is the wrong person for the job of ambassador to the United Nations.
Lack of respect
Bolton has been denigrating the United Nations for decades, famously saying that the top 10 floors of the U.N. building could be lopped off without being missed. The president seems to think that such disrespect toward the institution makes Bolton a great choice as a reformer of the institution because he would be taken seriously. That's like saying Howard Dean would be the logical choice for chairman of the Republican National Committee because all the white Christian men in the party would respect him for his candor.
Bolton's candor made him a bad choice for any ambassadorship., anytime. But his choice as ambassador to the United Nations at a time when the United States should be working hard to mend some of the fences it broke on the way into Iraq and find ways of building more international support for the dangerous job of building a stable and independent government in Baghdad defies logic.
Add to that Bolton's history as a bullying boss, which Voinovich has found to be particularly off-putting, and one has to question why Bolton should be given any responsible job in government.
Finally there are the issues that Democratic opponents of Bolton have focused on, his reputation as a cooker of the books in matters of intelligence and his alleged inclination toward retribution against those who disagreed with him.
Senate Democrats have asked the White House to turn over an early draft of a speech that Bolton was preparing on the state of Syria's weapons programs. They also want a list of 19 names of U.S. officials and companies that Bolton requested regarding secret intercepts of their communications by the National Security Agency.
Presumably those documents would prove or disprove the accusations against Bolton. The White House, which seems to simply want to repeat its mantra that Bolton should be given an up-or-down vote by the full Senate argues against releasing the documents on grounds that doing so would either do damage to the constitutional separation of powers or do damage to national security.
If that is the president's position, then his only realistic alternative is to withdraw Bolton's nomination. If Bolton were half the diplomat that the president thinks he could be, Bolton would step up and remove himself from consideration.
The second worst thing the president could do is drag this confirmation fight out any longer. The worst thing he could do would be to make a recess appointment of Bolton to the post when Congress takes its July Fourth or its summer break. While it is within the president's power to make such an appointment, the appointment expires with the end of the current Congress.
Bolton is already viewed as a questionable candidate for the job of U.N. ambassador by much of the world. To send him there as a lame-duck would be a disservice to him, to the United Nations and to the United States.