Unable to win Senate confirmation of John R. Bolton as the next U.S. ambassador to the UN, President Bush sidestepped lawmakers and appointed Bolton to the post during a congressional recess Aug. 1.

Bush’s support for the ultra-conservative Bolton has provoked an outcry both here and abroad. Among other things, Bolton once remarked that the UN’s headquarters could lose 10 floors and “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

“The appointment of Bolton really shows the disdain and the cynicism that the Bush administration has for the UN, to appoint someone who frankly doesn’t really believe in the mission of the UN,” said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action. “It’s a huge slap in the face.”

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was diplomatic. He told reporters that he would work with Bolton as he would with any other ambassador, but warned, “I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push, but an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced, or a vast majority of them, for action to take place.”

During Senate confirmation hearings, Bolton was criticized for his brash style and provocative actions, including his opposition to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, claiming it would undermine American security; using inflammatory language against North Korea during negotiations on nuclear issues; and falsely asserting that Cuba was producing biological weapons.

Bolton played a role in Bush’s rush to war with Iraq as well. According to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Bolton pushed for the inclusion of the false claim that Niger had sold uranium to Iraq in the president’s 2003 State of the Union speech.

Bolton’s critics point out that now is an especially bad time to send someone like him to the UN, which is currently involved in discussions about its future. The topic will be addressed at the General Assembly in September, which is shaping up to be the largest gathering of heads of state in history.

Bolton’s input to this debate is likely to be dangerous because, as Martin told the World, “He doesn’t put a whole lot of stock in international law, international treaties or working cooperatively with other organizations. [Bolton’s] line is basically that the projection of U.S. power, particularly military but also political and economic, is the only thing that we can really put any trust in. Working with the rest of the world, to him, is just some sort of pipe dream, even though most of the people in this country think we should be working with the rest of the world.”

Bolton, formerly the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, faced unprecedented opposition in the Senate. His nomination was referred by the Committee on Foreign Relations to the full Senate without the recommendation of a vote for or against him. Even though the committee is Republican-controlled, its members could not agree on a recommendation, particularly in view of the deep misgivings of Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), writing in the Washington Post, said, “The recess appointment shows that the president is more concerned with political battles than sending the most capable representative to the United Nations, and this maneuvering has made this already questionable nominee less legitimate to the members of the United Nations.”

At the same time, Peace Action’s Martin said that Bush’s having to resort to a recess appointment was a victory of sorts for those who opposed the nomination. Martin called it a sign of Bush’s weakness. “It also shows just how deeply unpopular Bush’s foreign policies are right now,” he said.

To underscore the point, Martin noted that when Bolton first arrived in New York at the headquarters of the U.S. mission to the UN, people in the area spontaneously booed him.

Bolton will simply be a messenger — albeit a rude and strongly disliked messenger — of Bush administration foreign policies, Martin said. The main thing now, he added, is to focus on changing the policies of the Bush administration.

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