Quick: Who, for the last six months, has been U.S. ambassador to the United Nations? Who held the job before? How about before that?
If you don’t know the answer to today’s foreign policy pop quiz, or the names escape you, don’t feel bad. The relative anonymity of recent ambassadors is partly a result of the international body’s growing irrelevance and partly because the job too often has been filled with Caspar Milquetoast types.
That’s likely to change if Undersecretary of State John Bolton gets the job. The nomination of Bolton, a foreign policy veteran viewed by many as anti-United Nations, immediately provoked squeals of protest from internationalists everywhere. Some Senate Democrats pledged to oppose Bolton, saying he is too much of a “hard-liner,” too conservative, too jingoistic for the job.
That’s endorsement enough for us.
Some of the most effective past U.N. ambassadors — including Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Vernon Walters — also came to the job with bull-in-a-china-shop reputations. And we believe Bolton, if confirmed, would follow in that mold.
Kirkpatrick called Bolton “one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered in Washington,” while noting that when she was in the post, under Ronald Reagan, the U.N. ambassador was both a member of the president’s Cabinet and the National Security Council. The job has been downgraded in importance since then, but Bolton has the background, stature, intelligence and courage to elevate the position to its former prominence.
An aide to Rice called Bolton’s nomination a “Nixon goes to China” move, meaning, who better to send to the United Nations than someone who won’t shrink from confronting its many institutional shortcomings?
“I have consistently stressed in my writings that American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N.,” Bolton has said. He’s credited with helping build the international coalition that backed the first Gulf War, while serving in George H. W. Bush’s State Department.
It’s worth remembering that U.N. ambassadors aren’t there to represent the United Nations. Nor are they there to blend into the woodwork or apologize for American foreign policy. They are there to vigorously advance American interests and values, which are sometimes at odds with the interests and values of the United Nations. With that in mind, we think Bolton is a bold choice for the job.