Friday, November 17, 2006

The Case for John Bolton

Although I do not write about domestic politics in this space, it is necessary to mention that I am thrilled by the election results because it sets the context for my view that organized American Jewry should urge the Senate to confirm President Bush's nomination of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton has been serving for about a year on an interim basis and unless he is confirmed, he cannot continue in his post after December 31.

With the President and Republicans greatly weakened and Democrats soon to take control of Congress, Bolton's prospects range from extremely poor to non-existent. Democratic Senators have indicated that they will oppose him in the dying days of the Republican controlled Senate. It is also a long-shot that the rank and file of our community will back him, particularly in view of the way American Jews voted on November 7 and our ideological disdain for anything identified as right wing.

Yet, I hope that we will be able to put ideology aside.

The case against Bolton is not flimsy. When he was first nominated, what emerged was evidence that he is abrasive, bullying and a right-wing ideologue, with his fingerprints on Iraq and other Bush Administration foreign policy mistakes. At a time when America's standing abroad is at its lowest point in more than two generations and perhaps even in the entire history of this country, there is much appeal to the argument that we do not need a divisive figure representing us at the U.N. If he could not win confirmation last year, why support him now, especially since the election results powerfully demonstrate strong public disapproval of the direction of our foreign policy?

The difference that a year makes is that in 2005 John Bolton was a job-seeker, while now there is a record of service to assess. From this perspective, the picture that emerges is of a man who is a skilled diplomat and while also a sharp advocate of U.S. interests, is capable of flexibility and even tact. He has been tough on U.N. corruption, both moral and the conventional financial variety, and it is evident that his persistence has contributed to meaningful reforms. With the U.N. playing a heightened role regarding Iran and North Korea, in a difficult environment and hampered by Russia and China, as well as by France and other occasional American allies, he has brought about impressive diplomatic achievements.

Likely, Mr. Bush's electoral thumping and lame-duck status will result in an expanded role for the U.N. in the international crises that are already on its plate and those that will unfold during the coming two years. This factor makes the case for Bolton more compelling. I should mention that unlike certain U.N. ambassadors who served under Republican presidents, he has been respectful of an institution that does not always merit respect and he has not been confrontational.

How do Israel and American Jews fit into this picture? For all of its intentions, as I have underscored, the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq have harmed Israel by destroying the Sunni-Sh'ia balance of power and by provoking greater jihadist sentiments in the Islamic world. To help extricate his Administration from the disaster that is Iraq, Mr. President Bush has appointed a study group headed by James Baker whose report is expected in about a month. Baker, a former Secretary of State, has never been friendly to Israel and I regard it as nearly a sure thing that his group will recommend policy shifts that are harmful to Israel's security, such things as the necessity to seek a rapprochement with Syria and perhaps even with Iran, even if this means a sharp shift away from support of Israel.

To make the outlook more ominous still, the cadre of Israel supporters high up in the Administration has been shrinking. From Israel's standpoint, therefore, Bolton's voice is needed, both at the U.N. and in Washington. There is no doubt where he stands. His attitude toward Israel was on display during the Lebanon War this past summer and he was instrumental in scripting U.N. resolutions that were balanced. If I recall correctly, at the time several Democratic senators, I think including Chuck Schumer, said that they might support the Bolton nomination. It now appears that partisan politics will doom his prospects.

If only because Bolton boldly advocates for Israel, we have an obligation to advocate for him. It's in our interest to support him. Over the next two years, world politics will be flush with issues in which Israel has a huge stake. Under the best of circumstances, Israel is often isolated, with the U.S. its only major and dependable ally. It would be harmful if because of timidity or ideology we stand idly by while a public figure whom we can help and who has helped us is abandoned.

Because I do not believe that we Jews have the clout that we often want others to believe that we have, I know that our support of Bolton may not amount to much. Just the same, we ought to do the right thing and make the effort. This effort need not be a public campaign.

In a column some weeks ago entitled "Aliya and Yerida," I wrote that Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organization that promotes aliya "receives enormous financial support from Evangelical Christians." That apparently was once the case, but no more. Nowadays, only a small portion of the group's funding comes from this source. I regret the error and am pleased to make this correction.