One is to ask what it tells us about BushRover-World that this unilateralist extremism is necessary to them. Another is to ask what we need to recognize as resonant and realistic in their analysis. Finally there are an important set of questions for the left. How do we avoid the fruitless converse of W's Manichean exposition? How do we recognize genuine insights and the valuably focused purpose of the current administration (necessary in a dangerous world---nothing new about that state of affairs) while building a public understanding that the implementation (sic) are wrongly or even fraudulently conceived? How do we speak like a Truman (plainly) about something other than fear itself?
I expected to be able to use the event to pick apart the strands of necessary unilateral self-interest from those of pigheaded self-righteous hardon-ism. Bolton seemed like a pure form, a kind of Platonic Idea of unilateralism, thus a perfect foil for this discussion. This is especially true since I believed that he would not be shy in his manifestation of that Ideal, especially in the face of a 10-8 Republican majority, a majority in the Senate, and full support from the Bushrovers (even Condi).
But what has emerged has been highly instructive without any additional help from me. I think it is a turning point in both constructive and unconstructive ways, viewed from the left.
While Americans believe in an abstract UN, they also are sceptical and individualistic enough (perhaps toxically so) to suspect that the place is rife with corruption and diplomatic pretense. Democratic Senators must have known that complaining about unilateralism would be about as successful for them as it was for Kerry last fall.
So they tried something a lot more subtle (perhaps not knowing how well it might work). The issue they focused on was the apparently overwhelming need Bolton has demonstrated to punish analysts who don't come to his conclusions. The broader, operative linkage of this topic is to the question of why the hell we didn't consider the evidence that no WMDs existed in Iraq before blowing up a lot of stuff and killing a lot of people there. This was brought home by concentrating on the one institution in the government that, small as it is, seems to have raised the appropriate cautionary flags pre-invasion, the State Department's inhouse intelligence bureau, where one of Bolton's victims, Christian Westermann, reported to Carl Ford. (Is there some kind of metaphysical joke to that name, Christian Westermann, in this context?)
This conjunction represents the constructive part of the Democratic counteroffensive. Bushrovers listen to God, so they don't need a second opinion before they get your child maimed or killed in Iraq. Democrats can be pro-intelligence rather than anti-war and break a few Republican-made stereotypes along the way to an effective opposition. This is why the canny Barack Obama conceded much of the validity of Bolton's criticism of the UN, but expressed concern about the manipulation of intelligence.
But then, things went in a truly Nixonesque direction. The amazing similarity in demeanor between Bolton and Attack Dog Bob Haldeman at the Watergate hearings should have made some Republicans (God knows some of them have been around long enough to remember personally) a little more wary of the "personal as political". But if the Bushrovers have proved nothing else, we now know that consistency is the hobgoblin only of the small minds on the Left.
A whole new narrative started to unroll, not just of pressure to submerge non-hard-Right intelligence assessments, but of flaggrant harassment, even, as Barbara Boxer pointed out, in the legal sense. The phrase "serial abuser" started to take on some real weight. His occasional sparring partner Carl Ford, who described himself as "a loyal Republican, a staunch supporter of Bush and a 'huge fan' of Vice President Cheney", described Bolton as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy. He's got a bigger kick, and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he's kicking".
Since then, tales of professional abuse of women in his proximity as well as more cases of analyst intimidation have emerged, not to mention an allegation that he had the NSA put names back into some scrubbed transcripts so he could eavesdrop on internal opponents in the bureauocracy. The drip-drip does not bode well in the long term, and culminated yesterday when Sen. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, let the Chairman know that he was not feeling so good about what he was hearing. You could tell that Chairman Lugar was surprised (and perhaps out of his element in these kind of knife fights) because it took a few cycles to sink in that he ought not to proceed with a committee vote---a tie kills the nominee.
When a high profile appointment gets held up for three weeks for more of this kind of investigation, you can kiss it goodbye. That blazing star in the firmament of press secretaries, Scott McClellan, has let us know that the Administration will Stand By Their Man, but you have to wonder how they will feel when they stop posturing and playing to their Right long enough to consider the very real possibility that Bolton has perjured himself before the committee.
So there is a good chance that this nomination, amazingly enough, will sink with all hands, that Mr. Bolton will stop Dr. Bolton from getting the job he seems dearly to desire.
But on what grounds?
It would have been best if the Democrats had succeeded in demonstrating support of a necessary unilateral self-interest while hoisting Bolton on the petard of his all-too-blatant pigheaded self-righteous hardon-ism. In fact, it appears that Bolton (and his handlers) anticipated just this approach, so that he bent over backwards to play the role of someone who genuinely believes that the UN is relevant and that some good can be done there.
The reason I say this would have been best is that from a Policy perspective there is something very important that Bolton has done in the past from which Democrats must learn. The warm fuzzy Love Our Allies that prevades the liberal left has outlived its usefulness by a couple of decades---since the fall of the Berlin Wall, actually. I've been reading about Stanley Baldwin, and I laughed at a much earlier critique from TR---in 1921, Baldwin's cousin Rudyard Kipling showed him a letter from Teddy Roosevelt in which TR referred to the (then newly formed) League of Nations as "the product of men who want everyone to float to heaven on a sloppy sea of universal mush". Regardless of the good a UN could do, we are right to be sceptical of its ability to represent what is needful for us in our current pass. Isolationism is as simple-minded as reflexive multilateralism, and---most importantly---just as useless in protecting us from folks who want to blow us up on the home field. Some kind of hardnosed, engaged pragmatism seems to me the right approach to our allies.
But none of this realism is recoverable by the Dodds, Boxers, Kerrys and Bidens. Now it is the simple fact that Bolton is just a total prick that will sink the nomination. He will not be seen to have the proper "temprament" to function effectively at the UN. His very real pathological behaviors and prevarications will, in a normally appropriate way, prevent his appointment.
But: wouldn't it be the most effective politics to rip him up, then send him to the UN? No one is going to imagine that Democratic (or even popular) pressure will cause a change of course for the Bushrovers (Cheney in particular) from their evangelical brand of unilateral hardon-ism. In some ways this is like the argument against being too hastily successful in removing DeLay---he is such a fantastic posterboy for what is badly wrong with the Republican party. I would argue, however, that a DeLay in the House is far more dangerous than a Bolton in the UN. At the UN, Bolton would be just so useful in helping the Democrats recover the pragmatic unilateralism we need without the lunatic antilateralism of the Bushrovers.
But (alas) now that we have seen what happens to Dr. Bolton when the moon is full, in our Democratic good-heartedness we cannot bear to impose Mr. Bolton on a new crop of otherwise soon-to-be-terrorized lesser bureauocrats in our mission to the UN.