MIKE PESCA, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Mike Pesca sitting in for Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, the week ahead. The Iraq Study Group's findings will be released in two days. And the confirmation hearings for a new defense secretary start tomorrow.
PESCA: But first, the White House announced today that John Bolton is stepping down as U.S. representative to the United Nations. Bolton has served in the job since last summer as a temporary recess appointment by President Bush.
But if getting appointed permanently wasn't in the cards when the Senate had 55 Republicans, it certainly wasn't going to happen with Democrats gaining control of the Senate in the midterm elections.
To discuss the short tenure of John Bolton at the U.N., I'm joined by James Traub, author of the new book about the U.N., “The Best Intentions.”
James, Bolton came to the U.N. with a history of denigrating the institution in speeches, a philosophy of, let's say, muscular reform about how the U.N. conducted itself. Did he accomplish any of his goals?
Mr. JAMES TRAUB (Author, “The Best Intentions”): No. I mean, of course it depends what his goals were. But I mean I think if his goals were to really reform the institution as opposed just to diminish the institution, I would say he wasn't very effective.
You know, he came during a real crucible moment and during one of the rare moments when ambassadors actually matter. Normally in matters of high state the ambassador is mostly a kind of conduit.
But things that have to do with the institution of the U.N. itself, ambassadors have a lot of latitude. So he arrived in the midst of this big reform process, this big maybe over-ambitious attempt to really reform the institution.
And my impression from someone who paid fairly minute attention to this is that his manner was so uncompromising, so unwilling to do whatever kind of horse trading you have to do in order to get what you want in any diplomatic setting, that he wound up actually weakening what looked like a very strong American hand.
PESCA: Well, even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants to reform the U.N. Big supporters of the U.N. like President Clinton's U.S. representative Richard Holbrooke, he's extremely frustrated by the bureaucracy there. And these guys are the ultimate diplomats.
Bolton comes in. He was supposed to shake things up and said he was shaken off. So does this mean that U.N. reform is actually possible?
Mr. TRAUB: Well, of course that's another question. And in a way, you know, we'll never know what would have happened if we had had a more - a supple and sensitive American diplomatic presence. Because the fact is, America can get what it wants to a remarkable degree at the U.N., something which was obscured by the catastrophic failure of the attempt to get Security Council approval for a war in Iraq. That was aberrational.
If the United States had taken the pragmatic view that we really want management reform and we really want a human rights council that's going to work and we really want a working definition of terrorism, but we know that a lot of other members don't care about that or maybe even are hostile to it, but there's other stuff they want, so how can we work it so that we get what we want by giving them what they want without giving away something that we can't bear to give away? But that wasn't our view. Our view was always that - at least Bolton's view was that he essentially presented the other members with a kind of all or nothing set of alternatives. And a lot of them wondered, maybe he really wants nothing.
PESCA: Do you think his actual tenure was better, worse, or about the same from what his critics expected?
Mr. TRAUB: The first part was worse. The second part was better. That is to say, he really to me, as I've said, had a harmful effect on this reform process that went on throughout the second half of 2005.
However, if you look at everything that's happened since then, when the reform process is put aside and he's dealing with difficult, complicated, diplomatic issues, he's shown himself to be a person of high intelligence, incredibly hard work, and a willingness to talk.
I mean, I don't know whether it's a reaction to what happened in those first few months. But I don't really think that he has done a bad job over the last six to nine months. And I think in many ways he's done a good job.
You could almost say that the damage that he has done, he's already finished doing. And to those who are happy to have him go, you might say, well, what is it they feared he would continue doing over the next two years of the Bush administration and what is it they imagine somebody else will be doing instead?
I'm not sure what the answer is.
PESCA: James Traub is the author of “The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the U.N. in the Era of American World Power.” Thank you, James.
Mr. TRAUB: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.