Now that John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations is heading to the Senate floor, albeit without a positive recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats have a fresh and final chance to make a case against him that doesn’t reinforce every GOP-fed stereotype about whiny “global test” liberals whose first concern is to placate “world opinion.” I understand the “Mean Man” argument was dictated by Foreign Relations Committee politics, and especially the need to give Republican waverers like Chafee and Voinovich a reason for opposing the nomination that did not involve a broad attack on Bush administration policies. But now, on the floor of the Senate, Democrats need to understand that this debate has implications beyond the question of whether or not Bolton gets his job. As Kenny Baer and I, among others, have argued earlier in this process, Democrats need to make a national security case against Bolton, and fortunately, there is a clear case to be made.I strongly urge everyone interested in the Bolton nomination to read a report by Michael Hirsch and Eve Conant that appeared in Newsweek last week. Through extensive interviews with current and past Bush administration officials, they learned that Bolton completely botched preparations for a critical five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They also cast new doubts about Bolton’s involvement in the one (if inadequate) big advance the administration has made in preventing nuclear terrorism, the Proliferation Security Initiative. In other words, as the point man for what Bush and Cheney have repeatedly called the most important front in the war on terror–the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists–Bolton has done a dangerously lousy job. He’s not just a Mean Man–he’s a Mean Man blinded by ideology and ambition from promoting the steps we need to take internationally to prevent a nuclear 9/11, or for that matter, a fully nuclear Iran and North Korea. And the question Democrats need to finally start asking on the Senate floor is why this administration has entrusted Bolton with this crucial responsibility, and why it is now insisting on making him our country’s most visible representative in world affairs. If that’s not enough of an argument to make, then maybe Senate Democrats should also raise a question about U.N. reform that barely got mentioned in the Foreign Relations Committee: does Bolton, and does the Bush administration, support or oppose the Annan Commission recommendation to amend the U.N. Charter to make it clear “sovereignty” does not extend to the right to commit genocide within one’s own borders? Given Bolton’s much-expressed contempt for risking any U.S. lives or dollars in preventing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or Rwanda, it’s a very pertinent question as the debate over Darfur continues.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.