The Common Good
July 2005

I'll Be Brief

by Ed Spivey Jr. | July 2005

John Bolton again failed to win.

At press time,

At press time, the nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador had been put on hold while the U.S. Senate - our most deliberative legislative body - reacted to the shocking photos of Saddam Hussein in his underwear. Male lawmakers were shaken by pictures of a ruthless dictator wearing the same form-fitting briefs that their own mothers had dressed them in shortly after each had passed that first test of manhood: going potty. In response, the Senate passed a resolution that all American men should immediately switch to boxer shorts. The resolution is nonbinding - much like boxer shorts - but carries the full weight of a legislative body that was outraged at the sight of a tyrant known for his brutality wearing undergarments known for their move-as-you-move comfort. "We had to take a stand, even to the point of personal sacrifice," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, shifting his feet awkwardly due to the unaccustomed feel of a garment that, because of a design flaw, tends to bunch up when you walk.

BUT BACK TO THIS Bolton thing (you thought I forgot). You have to feel sorry for President Bush. After all, nominating John Bolton as U.N. ambassador was just a quick favor for his friend Condoleezza Rice. A loyal and unassuming public servant, Ms. Rice wanted nothing more than to perform her duties with integrity and, if possible, a four-hour train ride away from Mr. Bolton. But making that happen wasn’t easy.

It turns out that Bolton has had trouble working well with others in his various government jobs, and was known for throwing tantrums and refusing to go down for his afternoon nap. (And, for the fifth year in a row, he failed to receive the State Department’s coveted Mr. Congeniality award.)

Thus, few were surprised when Bolton’s nomination was held up by Democrats on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations who, to the chagrin of the White House, took seriously their constitutional role of annoy and dissent. But Republican senators were also troubled by the lengthy list of complaints against the nominee, which include bullying subordinates, pressuring intelligence analysts, and once screaming at a colleague while chasing her down the hallway of a Russian hotel. (To be fair, your typical diplomatic mission to Moscow provides little in the way of entertainment, aside from chasing colleagues down hallways in the middle of the night. I mean, the hotel didn’t even have cable, for cryin’ out loud!)

IN THE PRESIDENT’S defense, the U.N. job seemed perfect for Bolton. Essentially a ceremonial position, it comes with only two responsibilities: to say whatever the president tells you to say and, when an official dinner is scheduled, to look good in a tuxedo. To be sure, the last task could prove difficult for the man, a thickish sort who wears his hair in the seductive style of a 1970s engineering student (with matching go-hither mustache). But this was not seen as insurmountable.

Nor did the exhaustive vetting process raise any concerns. FBI agents, assigned the routine task of conducting background checks on the nominee, found nothing unexpected, although neighbors did report seeing him foam at the mouth with some frequency. But agents explained this as simply an allergic reaction to Kofi Annan.

Even Bolton’s colleagues at the State Department eagerly supported his promotion - "the sooner the better" - and many even offered to use personal leave to help him pack.

For her part, Rice hoped the nomination would proceed without delay, and had begun to wistfully imagine her new life without John Bolton: no more secret meetings in bathrooms to avoid his forceful counsel; no more awkward requests for subordinates to "take John to the zoo or something" during substantive conference calls; no more fashioning elaborate excuses to keep him out of sight from foreign dignitaries ("Sorry, John, but I really need the three-hole binders, not the two-hole type. Do you mind going back and exchanging them?").

THE SENATE VOTE on the Bolton nomination was delayed because senators were embroiled in a filibuster crisis over judicial nominations. Some feared that the Republican majority - in an effort to permanently suspend this traditional minority tactic - would deploy what has been called the "nuclear" option. This puzzled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who feels that conventional weapons (such as bribing legislators with trips abroad) usually produce better results.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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