Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bolton News Over the Weekend

The Bush administration is continuing to refuse to provide the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with intercepts from the National Security Agency related to the confirmation of John Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations. In his current position as Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control, Bolton had requested to read NSA intercepts in which U.S. government officials and other American citizens were overheard. Besides the very obvious civil liberties issues, there have been allegations, as I have previously reported, that Bolton was requesting access to such NSA intercepts to find damaging information to use against policy rivals in the State Department and elsewhere in the bureaucracy.

This morning's Washington Note contains an extraordinarily thorough account about this latest important development. Steve Clemons has a strong point of view in opposing Bolton, but he wears his bias on his sleeve-- or rather in his blog-- and more importantly, I have yet to find anything he has reported on Bolton or anything else for that matter that has not later proved to be accurate.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Bolton's cause was hardly advanced when Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, questioned Bolton's fitness to serve during formal questioning by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff. Wilkerson said that he believed that Bolton was "an extremely poor leader" and "not an effective diplomat."

Wilkerson insisted that he was speaking for himself nor acting as a proxy for Powell, his former boss. Powell himself has not publicly opposed Bolton's nomination, telling friends that he believes it would be undignified for a former Secretary of State to do so, and also because he does not want to repudiate President Bush in such a public fashion. Instead, Powell has privately expressed his reservations to two Republican Senators on the SFRC, promptly had details of those "private" conversations leaked to the press, and encouraged Wilkerson and other State Department officials to speak their mind in public.

If Powell wants to get the word out more prominently that he opposes the Bolton nomination, and do so without suffering the indignity making a formal public statement, I recommend that he proceed in a manner that has proved to be most effective for him in the past: channel his innermost thoughts through Bob Woodward. Powell knows Woodward to be a most reliable reporter to write the story the way he would want it to be written; the story would be played more prominently on the Post's front page than it ordinarily would because of Woodward's byline; and the role of Woodward and the Post would signal to just the right people that the Washington establishment opposes the Bolton nomination.

We have all disapprovingly witnessed the above described process employed in the past by all the various parties to their mutual benefit, at the expense of the public good. While I ordinarily would decry such practices, in this particular instance, the ends might just for once justify the means. To expedite the process, I can even recommend to Woodward and Powell a suitable parking garage.

Also on Friday the SFRC also released a transcript of a formal staff interview of the CIA's former deputy director, John E. McLaughlin, who did little to bolster the hopes of supporters of Bolton's nomination.

(SFRC is the acronym for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Any respectable blogger such as Mickey Kaus utilizes insider acronyms-- such as SFRC, Potus, or Washpo-- to display their own insider knowledge and status, and thus make their readers feel similarly in the know. Therefore, following Mickey's lead, I have adopted the practice as well! On the other hand, I also want to actually draw in readers to my blog not ordinarily interested in politics, instead of alienating them. What to do?! What to do?!... I will have it both ways!)

McLaughlin sharply criticized an attempt by Bolton to oust a CIA analyst from his position after Bolton and the analyst clashed over a speech alleging that Cuba was pursuing a program to produce biological weapons. The analyst, Fulton Armstrong, the CIA's national intelligence officer for Latin America, had previously told the committee that he believed Bolton attempted to purposely mislead the public in furtherance of Bolton's personal and political objectives.

Recalling the effort to have Armstrong removed from his position, McLaughlin reportedly told the committee: "It's perfectly right for a policy maker to express disagreement with an N.I.O. or an analyst, and it's perfectly all right for them to challenge such an individual vigorously, challenge their work vigorously. But I think it's different to then request [the officer] be transferred. And-- unless their is malfeasance involved here, and in this case, I had a high regard for the individual's work-- therefore, I had a strong negative reaction to the suggestion about moving them." For those desiring more details, I recommend that they read this particular New York Times story.

Update, Sunday Night, 10:37 P.M., May 8

Sen. Lugar, the chairman of the SFRC, said on CBS' "Meet the Press" this morning that he expects that Bolton' s nomination will be voted upon favorably by his committee, and that the vote will most likely be along a straight party line.

Making that outcome appear even more likely, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said on ABC's "This Week" that although he still has yet to make a final decision as to how he might vote on the Bolton nomination, "I know nothing as of this moment that would stop him from being voted out of committee."

Those comments clearly bode well for Bolton's chances to be voted out of the SFRC, and confirmed by the full Senate. Aside from Sen. Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island, Hagel was the most likely Republican on the SFRC to vote against Bolton. Moreover, if Hagel were to vote against Bolton, it was thought to be more likely that Chafee would vote the same way.

The outcome of the vote, however, is still very much in doubt. And at this blog we do not pretend to be soothsayers, nor aspire to be one of the McLaughlin Group or Capital Gang.

(If I were to ever appear on one of those programs, I grant my readers permission ahead of time, and even encourage them, to bitch-slap some sense into me. For any of my readers who are offended by my use of the word "bitch-slap", I apologize, but the marketing/focus group people have encouraged me to use such slang and hipster-speak to appeal to that valuable 18-24 demographic which reads blogs.)

Meanwhile, USA Today weighs in with a political analysis examining how a win or loss by the President on the Bolton nomination would affect the Bush administration's agenda on social security and judicial nominations. Although there was no consensus among those queried by the newspaper, the majority opinion was that a defeat on the Bolton nomination would lead to further setbacks on all fronts for the Bush administration.

Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton, told the newspaper: "Any time you show your weariness and vulnerability, it is an opportunity for your opponents."

The article also quotes Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, but does so without disclosing to USA Today's readers that Kristol has a dog in this fight: Bolton was a long time director of the Project for the New American Century, which was at the time, and still is, chaired by Kristol. For his part, Kristol has hardly attempted to hide the relationship: For example, Kristol himself made note of his ties to Bolton in this Weekly Standard editorial in which his magazine endorsed Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador.

(It should be interesting to see if USA Today corrects or amplifies its article to reflect the relationship between Bolton and Kristol. I will update this post when I find out.)

To his credit, Kristol does not pull any punches for the home team, saying: "If Bush loses a man he wants and a man he knows, it will be a blow, and it will weaken him."

On a personal note, it is also good to see the newspaper query experts beyond the usual suspects. (I don't really care or want to know what Norman Ornstein thinks of the Bolton nomination, no disrespect to him.) I was pleasantly surprised to see that among those interviewed for the story was Stephen Wayne, a political science professor at Georgetown. Back in the day (while I was in college) I took Wayne's course on the modern presidency, and in and of itself, the class was worth a full year's tuition. I took Wayne's class, of course, a few years ago, a good five to seven years ago... er, maybe a decade ago... er, perhaps twelve to fifteen years ago.... (At this time, the blogger invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege as to how long ago it was that he attended college.)

If by chance there are any Georgetown students who read this blog, take Wayne's class. I am convinced that a Georgetown alumnus named William Jefferson Clinton would have had a smoother first term had he had the opportunity to take Wayne's class. Whether Clinton would have showed up regularly for class, taken good notes, turned his papers in on time, and the such is another matter...

Random notes on other topics: CNBC has canceled Tina Brown's television show. *sadness* What to do?! Where will we get our news?! According to this published report, only 4,000 viewers in the key 25-54 demographic were even tuning in. It is almost impossible to have numbers any lower than that. A certain percentage of a viewership that small would include, one might surmise, people who were watching the program from the previous hour and fell asleep; or absentmindedly left the room or their house, without turning their television off. (Ever since the Washington Post's Richard Leiby praised this blog for its civility, I have attempted to live up to that high standard. I apologize to my readers for perhaps failing in this particular instance. I pledge that it will not happen again all that soon.) I should note that this blog has way more than 4,000 readers, and I'm not really even trying that hard...

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