TCS Daily

Forced Impotence: Bolton Gets the Summers Treatment

By Ken Adelman - April 12, 2005 12:00 AM

The Capitol Hill hearings over John Bolton's nomination to serve as the United States ambassador to the United Nations fit the pattern of partisan and ideological attacks. The Democrats and Republican "moderates" -- some, wannabe Democrats -- having expended themselves trashing George W. Bush, turn to trashing a Bush think-alike.

Nothing new there. My own confirmation hearings -- three of them, over a three month period after President Reagan nominated me as Arms Control Director in January 1983 -- were contentious affairs.

But there is something new here: Attacks nowadays have a purpose beyond partisanship and political posturing. They're designed to neuter an outspoken conservative.

Unfortunately, John Bolton succumbed -- just as did Harvard President Lawrence Summers a few months ago, when he was under a similar attack.

Yesterday Bolton told opposing Senators that he was "hard-wired" to present the Administration's views. He no doubt reassured them that he'd play Administration spokesperson and not Administration policy-maker.

In 1981 when the similarly controversial Jeane Kirkpatrick went to the United Nations as U.S. ambassador, she never portrayed herself as being "hard-wired" to present the Administration views. As a forceful and brilliant foreign policy expert -- whom President Reagan simply adored -- Jeane was "hard-wired" to help him shape the Administration's views. A Cabinet officer who attended all National Security Council sessions, Jeane Kirkpatrick's scope extended far beyond spokesperson.

Worse yet, Bolton yesterday told the Senators how he well understood that statements presented at the United Nations "are actually written here in Washington."

That, too, was not the norm in the Kirkpatrick era. Nor before her, when Pat Moynihan made a huge impact when U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

As Jeane's deputy for more than two-plus years, I remember either her or my writing the U.S. statement whenever we cared about the issue. Only on mundane issues -- an anniversary of Eskimo rights resolutions, and the like -- were our given statements "actually written here in Washington."

From a trashing confirmation process, key senators not only get on the evening news and inflict some reputation damage on the Bush foreign policy team, but they gain if the nominee crouches in a defensive position and pledges impotence in the job.

This process worked beautifully a few months back with Larry Summers. Summers stood out for courage among his peers -- requiring African-American faculty members of Harvard to maintain intellectual excellence (instead of cutting new CDs), bringing ROTC back onto the Harvard campus, and examining whatever gender differences may exist.

The faculty outcry, resulting in an unprecedented resolution of no-confidence, has surely changed Summers. He became a serial apologist, and now will strain to avoid saying, or doing, anything controversial. Which is to say anything important.

The faculty grubbing yanked him back to being a tepid ivy-league president, a social smoother and an administrator largely confined to fund-raising. The playing field for memorable statements is reserved for faculty members, nearly always from the left and very seldom from the right.

The convoluted process by Paul Wolfowitz to gain European acquiescence to becoming president of the World Bank fit the same pattern. He so harped on how international, multinational, global the bank had to be -- how so very heavily he would rely on the gifted careerists there -- that one wonders just what he's going to do for the next five years. Cut ribbons. Give out awards. Sign loan agreements. Anything but make fundamental changes.

Granted, I may be too pessimistic.

Bolton, Summers, and Wolfowitz may remain true to their views and to their courageous temperaments. Otherwise, why take a top public position? Careerists are adept at writing statements from Washington. The faculty is eager to establish what ideas can be tossed around Harvard Square.

Neuter-ization of such smart and bold conservatives would be a big loss to the politics of ideas, and a big gain to those leading public thrashings nowadays.



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