Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Controversial UN Ambassador to Visit UNL - Is the University Being Used?

by Kyle Michaelis
This may be an instance of my foreseeing political implications that are not intentional. Even in politics, sometimes things just happen. Still, while I may be giving the Republican Party too much credit, there's no overestimating the GOPs willingness to politicize even the most innocent-sounding event or their total commitment to winning elections at any cost.

This is how they got into power - this is how they intend to stay in power. And, so far, it's worked out pretty well for them. That's why I refuse to dismiss the potential impact of controversial UN Ambassador John Bolton's planned appearance at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln as just some random speaking visit on Bolton's long overdue but no less unlikely Goodwill Tour.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will lead off the E.N. Thompson lecture series at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a September 8 talk (3:30 pm), university officials announced this week....

Bolton was appointed by President Bush as chief diplomat to the U.N. in 2005. His nomination survived a prolonged filibuster in the Senate.

Talk about your bare essentials - I think Bolton's visit really requires a bit more context than that to put the situation into perspective.

Last spring, Bolton's nomination as UN Ambassador was met by enormous criticism because of his record of mistreating employees in the State Department, denigrating the United Nations, and perhaps even manipulating intelligence data. Of the United Nations, he'd been quoted suggesting the top 10 floors of the building could be destroyed (implying the murder of the UNs leadership) without anyone being the worse for it. As such, Bolton's nomination was understandably perceived as quite insulting to the world community.

Add in his penchant for tyrannical behavior and even Sen. Chuck Hagel was forced to express extreme misgivings about Bolton. Hagel stated, "I have been troubled with more and more allegations, revelations, coming out about his style, his method of operation," and proceeded to acknowledge "a disturbing pattern of things that have come out about Bolton's management style, this intimidation...We cannot have that at the United Nations...That should not be anywhere in our government."

In another instance of Hagel's talking like an independent lion while voting like a Republican lamb, he - of course - ended up supporting Bolton's nomination from his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republican Senator George Voinovich (OH), however, did not back down, voting with the Democrats on the Committee and successfully withholding its recommendation. This was a serious set-back to Bolton's confirmation, as Voinovich declared him "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."

Facing an insurmountable filibuster from mostly Democratic Senators (grounded in the White House's refusal to provide key intelligence documents relevant to Bolton's performance), President Bush simply waited a few months and made a recess appointment without the consent of the Senate. Absent any extraordinary circumstances to justify such a Constitutionally-suspect action, slight consolation remains in the fact that Bolton's appointment loses effect in January 2007. As that deadline approaches, Bolton appears to be intent on keeping his job and has overcome his first major hurdle by getting Voinovich to fall in line with his fellow Republicans and withdraw his opposition. That leaves the continued threat of a Democrat-led filibuster the one thing standing in Bolton's way, with Sen. Christopher Dodd (CT) already promising "a bruising fight".

What could any of this have to do with Bolton's September visit to Nebraska? Well, like so much in Nebraska politics lately, that answer begins and ends with Sen. Ben Nelson's reelection campaign.

Nelson reacted with a disturbing lack of skepticism to Bolton's initial nomination - despite all the evidence of his unsuitability for the job. Nelson went on record almost immediately as "leaning toward voting to confirm" Bolton. That put him in a distinct minority of Democratic Senators. This year, with Bolton already in a stronger position (although Bush is far weaker), there's no reason to expect Nelson has changed his mind.

In fact, I assume Nelson will have more company amongst Democrats this time around. With the increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East begging for a renewed emphasis on international diplomacy and coalition-building, many Democratic Senators are going to be hesitant before undermining the Bush Administration's efforts along these lines. No matter how unsuitable Bolton might be for the task before him, there's something to be said for avoiding a partisan power struggle and a potential vacuum in leadership at a time of international crisis. And, let's not forget that with the approaching mid-term election, Democratic Senators are going to feel pressure to avoid the easily-manufactured perception that they are playing politics with American foreign policy....even if the reality is quite the opposite.

So, what is Bolton's Lincoln appearance? I would contend that it's an insurance policy and a warning shot to make Democratic Senators think even harder before going down the filibuster route. Having likely secured Nelson's vote (God help us), you might expect Bolton would be appreciative of Nelson providing his nomination the illusion of bipartisan support. But, I think not. That's not how the endless campaign operates.

If there is a filibuster of Bolton's confirmation, it is going to be a mostly, if not entirely, Democratic effort. Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry are going to be on the filibustering side, and Ben Nelson - though not supporting the filibuster himself - is going to be open to attack just for being their ally. Bolton's Nebraska appearance - whether intentional or not - provides an opportunity to highlight such assumed guilt by association if a filibuser comes to pass.

In itself, that's not going to cost Nelson the election, but it could put him on the defensive by emphasizing partisan allegiance in the minds of Republican voters at an inopportune time on an inopportune issue - divisive and fractured foreign policy as the world goes to Hell all around us (Iraq, Lebanon, Israel - pretty much the entire Middle East).

I trust that the University and those in charge of the E.N. Thompson forum are not aware or have not considered this event's potential implications for the 2006 elections. I don't mean to suggest any sort of conspiracy on their part but only the possibility that they and their program are being used to serve Bolton and the Republican Party's ends. Though admittedly walking a careful line bordering on paranoia, I do believe these considerations are credible enough that they should be taken seriously.

I am in no way advocating Democratic Senators back down from a challenge of Bolton's confirmation, but it's important to understand the stakes. For the Nelson campaign, it's also essential just to be prepared for the political attacks this situation could invite, with its serving as a potential reminder of one of the myriad ways in which Nelson serves the "liberal agenda" just by advancing the Democratic Party and its convenient boogeymen's positions.

Unfair? Absolutely. Is the Republican Party going to care? Not at all.

For more on the politics of the Bolton confirmation, check out this NPR story. Here in Nebraska, I guess we'll just have to see what unfolds as September 8th approaches. And, keep in mind just how close that is to the tragic but oh-so-easily-politicized 11th.


Anonymous randy said...

bolton is a beligerent bastard. he exemplifies bush's foreign policy perfectly. democrats can't condemn bush in a speech only to enable him with a vote. i really believe they should filibuster the shit out of bolton. nothing this administration has claimed has turned out to be true. no wmd's (despite claims by santorum (latin for asshole--ty senator kerrey) and congressman hoekstra. we were not greeted with sweets and candies. we are sinking further and further in debt because of this debacle. there is massive fraud and war profiteering going on (nearly 9 billion dollars of taxpayer money is missing)100 people die a day in iraq. we've lost nearly 3000 soldiers.

bush is completely disengaged from the middle east. as clinton said; when were not engaged more people die. the problem is when these dickheads are engaged, people tend to die anyway.

i personally don't see it as incompetence, but if democrats can unite around that message...DO IT. as i am relatively new to this process, i can do only one thing, and that is look at person's record. republicans want democrats to oppose bolton. they won't admit it. that's the giveaway. reid needs to whip his crew in shape (nelson included) and use this as an opportunity to lay out their atrocious record. every day, another democrat, stands up on the senate floor, and beats the shit out of bolton.

republicans are going to try and portray democrats as weak whether they give them what they want or not. and if democrats continue to vote in favor of their policies, then republicans can make that point; "well they sure talk a good game, but they voted for it..." and they would be right.

as far as nelson goes, he is given a lot of latitude because he doesn't make a habit out of undermining the party. as kos said; "a good cop on a tough beat." i have come to accept nelson for who he is, not for whom i want him to be. however, i will say, that it seems part of nelson's independence should be, standing up to the administration as well as his own party. i think he has enough of a cushion to do this. if democrats want people to vote for change, they better be willing to be that change.


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