When all the post-mortems are written on the latest Bush presidency, the sad but common theme will be the many might-have-beens that could have made a mediocre presidency a great one. Among the top few of those might-have-beens is the brief but brilliant UN ambassadorship of John Bolton.
What happened with Bolton is in many ways symbolic of the entire Bush presidency. The president obviously thought highly of Bolton, and rightly so. Highly enough to go against the liberal tide in Congress and grant Bolton a recess appointment as UN ambassador. For 16 months, Bolton served with distinction and courage. Unfortunately, when it came time for the recess appointment to expire, the president was unable to clearly and forcefully articulate why it was so necessary to keep this tireless advocate for U.S. interests on board. Lacking a strong endorsement from the top, Bolton's nomination was doomed to defeat. He was just "too controversial." Ah, but he certainly had name recognition. Can anyone even name the current ambassador to the UN? I didn't think so.
Bolton has recently published a book entitled "Surrender is not an Option" which is part memoir and part incisive foreign policy analysis. For those who might think that Bolton's support from George W. Bush was simply the president throwing a nugget to his conservative base, the relationship between the two men seems to belie this assumption. Bush was genuinely fond of Bolton and they seemed in some ways to be kindred spirits. You have to wonder why the president hid so much of that under a bushel basket and yet had no problem placing Bolton is such a high-visibility position. Unlike the Clintons with their Lani Guiniers and Janet Renos, Bush had every reason to be proud of Bolton as his choice to represent us at the macabre cauldron otherwise known as the UN. In fact, the president was heard to remark that Bolton was the only one in the State Department that he could trust completely, when Bolton was serving as an under-secretary there.
There's no telling how much of a force for good a continuation of Bolton's UN ambassadorship would have been, given the current scenarios unfolding in the Middle East, North Korea, and Africa. He was and is unabashedly and unashamedly an America-first patriot who actually sees nothing wrong with putting U.S. interests ahead of others. And why not? If the rest of the world could get over its jealousy and resentment for just one minute, they might recognize that when America wins, so does everyone else who cares a whit about liberty and freedom.
However, Bolton had no desire to continue soldiering on when it was clear that he would never be confirmed in his ambassadorship. He also was becoming disillusioned with the Administration's increasing ambivalence about using strength versus negotiating with tyrants. So he resigned and has returned to the American Enterprise Institute, where he believes he can accomplish more than he would fighting with one hand figuratively tied behind his back in an administration that has been caving to the entrenched and mostly liberal State Department bureaucracy.
What has made Bolton a hero as well as a unique figure on the current scene is his refusal to be pressured by the liberal mindset permeating Washington and dictating that our foreign policy starts with the assumption that we are the doormat. Precisely because he was not intimidated by liberal pressure, he's doubly disappointed that his former bosses, Secretary Rice and the president, apparently are being influenced into potentially disastrous courses of action by that unrelenting pressure.
With all that is at stake in the world these days, it's a tragedy that a national treasure the likes of John Bolton was prematurely forced to the sidelines to watch comparative amateurs play the game he played so well. Of all the regrets President Bush will have when he leaves office, high on his list will be letting Bolton go.