Sen. George Voinovich’s decision to side with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats intent on scuttling John Bolton’s confirmation as United Nations ambassador apparently took committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and the White House completely by surprise.
Voinovich (R-Ohio), who didn’t even bother to attend any of the previous committee hearings, wandered in, sat down, announced he was “troubled” by Democratic allegations about Bolton’s past treatment of subordinates as well as people encountered in Moscow hotels, and voted to give Democrats more time to dig up mud to throw at the nominee.
Bolton supporters are wondering how the chairman could be so clueless. He may or may not be Bolton’s biggest fan, but Lugar’s performance makes one wonder whether he’s conniving with Democrats to sink Bolton or simply in over his head. In any event, if he wants to redeem his professional reputation he can do so only by regaining control of his committee and solidifying Bolton’s support from his GOP colleagues before the panel reconvenes three weeks from now.
The fact is that Democrats went into the Bolton hearings looking for a way to sink a nominee they despise without getting into much of an argument about either his record or their policy differences with him and the president who appointed him. That was perhaps understandable, given the fact that he has performed admirably in every job he’s held and has been a tough negotiator and spokesman for U.S. interests throughout his career.
In fact, the Democrats’ halting attempts to take Bolton on substantively during his initial appearance before the committee went nowhere. One could almost feel less antagonistic Democrats watching the performances of Sens. John KerryJohn KerryEgypt’s death squads and America's deafening silence With help from US, transformative change in Iran is within reach Ellison comments on Obama criticized as 'a stupid thing to say' MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerAnother day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs Carly Fiorina 'certainly looking at' Virginia Senate run Top Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report MORE (D-Calif.) and the rest cringe as they tried to make the case that Bolton should be rejected because he’s been too critical of the United Nations and too harsh in criticizing this nation’s enemies. It was not the sort of exchange calculated to do more than convince those watching that they’d rather have Bolton’s views represented at the United Nations than those of his opponents.
So they went looking for another way to get at the man and hit upon character assassination. They found folks in the State Department who disagreed with Bolton and didn’t like the fact that he stood up and argued for his positions when they tried to housebreak him. One witness, while admitting Bolton hadn’t gone as far as raising his voice in their confrontation, was offended by the fact that he had the bad judgment to stand and put his hand on his hip during their argument. The fellow told the committee he found that intimidating.
Another, who tried to get Bolton to soften his criticism of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, was, as it turns out, relying for much of his information on an “expert” later convicted of spying for Castro and working as Fidel’s agent within the government.
And, finally, his opponents came up with one Melody Townsel, who alleges that Bolton years ago chased her down a hotel corridor in Moscow in the aftermath of an argument, pounded on her hotel-room door and berated her for views that he considered wrong — headed. It turns out that there were no witnesses to all this and that Ms. Townsel is a left-wing activist who despises not just Bolton but the president he serves. None of this deterred committee Democrats from trotting her out to question Bolton’s stability and paint him as ill-suited to serve in any responsible diplomatic post.
Even if Bolton did raise his voice in arguing with this woman (something other critics suggest he doesn’t do even when really angry), the alleged confrontation took place while Bolton was a private citizen with a right to express his views.
Bolton’s opponents know they can’t beat him on policy alone, since his views are more in line with the president’s and the American people’s than they will admit. Instead, they’ve decided to smear him and seem to sense that Chairman Lugar and many Republicans who don’t have the stomach for this sort of fight will abandon him rather than fight back.
One can only hope they’re wrong. I’ve known John Bolton for 30 years. He’s tough, competent and just the man we need at the United Nations to see that the United States gets a fair shake in New York. He’s also honest and thoroughly decent.
If Republicans don’t rally behind him in the face of the mud-slinging, they will be enabling Democrats to smear anyone and everyone they don’t agree with on the grounds that, well, they just don’t like them.
And that would be a shame.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).