Bolton's Style a Liability to Some, Asset to Others

As Democrats force another delay in the Senate debate on John Bolton, some of them say his credibility is so tattered that he can never be an effective ambassador to the United Nations. Republicans accuse Democrats of doing the tattering and say Bolton's blunt style will make him more, not less, effective as envoy.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Today the White House criticized Democrats for forcing a further delay in John Bolton's confirmation process. Bolton is the president's nominee for UN ambassador. Democrats are now arguing Bolton can't be an effective ambassador because of his temperament and all the criticism he's faced on Capitol Hill. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

During the Senate floor debate on Bolton's nomination yesterday, Democrat Russell Feingold of Wisconsin looked back into the history of the post.

Senator RUSSELL FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): We have been represented, of course, by some very direct, opinionated, colorful characters at the UN. But we have never sent a figure so polarizing, or one with credibility so tattered as the nominee before us today.

KELEMEN: Some Democrats argued that other countries will dismiss Bolton as a UN basher rather than take his criticism seriously. Florida Republican Mel Martinez blamed the Democrats for promoting that negative view.

Senator MEL MARTINEZ (Republican, Florida): It appears that now we are going to find him unqualified by what has transpired over the last 60 days to this good man as his record has been trashed repeatedly, oftentimes with scant or little evidence.

KELEMEN: Defenders of Bolton, including Republican John Ensign of Nevada, believe the nominee would follow in the footsteps of other tough-talking ambassadors.

Senator JOHN ENSIGN (Republican, Nevada): People like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Senator Moynihan called the United Nations, quote, "a dangerous place," unquote, for American interests. That is why it is necessary to send Mr. Bolton to the United Nations, to make sure that American interests are advanced.

KELEMEN: But one of Jimmy Carter's ambassadors to the United Nations, Donald McHenry, takes issue with the idea that blunt diplomats are effective at the UN. In a telephone interview, McHenry spoke about the troubles Moynihan's successor inherited.

Mr. DONALD McHENRY (Former US Ambassador to the UN): Look at Bill Scranton, who went in after Moynihan. He didn't need a wheelbarrow behind him. He needed a dump truck to clean up after him.

KELEMEN: McHenry said when Moynihan, a longtime Democratic senator, served as ambassador to the UN, newspapers were full of complaints about him.

Mr. McHENRY: The number of people he rubbed the wrong way, the number of resolutions which went the wrong way because he had an arrogant attitude. My own feeling is that you're not likely to succeed in that body by going in with a chip on your shoulder and by going in as if the United States is holier than thou.

KELEMEN: McHenry says an effective ambassador is one who takes the time to listen to others at the UN and build coalitions, people like Adlai Stevenson or Thomas Pickering. Stephen Schlesinger, who recently published a book on the founding of the UN and who directs the World Policy Institute, agrees. He say that even Ambassadors Kirkpatrick and Moynihan showed more support for the United Nations than John Bolton has in his past public comments.

Mr. STEPHEN SCHLESINGER (Director, World Policy Institute): I don't think you're taken seriously at the UN if you come in with a record of bashing it or treating it contemptuously. And I think John Bolton is going to find it very difficult to work as a diplomatic representative of the most powerful nation in the world with that kind of baggage that he carries.

KELEMEN: Last night on the Hill, Republicans were unable to muster enough votes to end debate on Bolton's nomination. Democrat Barbara Boxer urged the Bush administration to use the time now to, in her words, `reflect on the fact that Bolton has been the most controversial nominee ever put forward for the UN.' Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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