If President George W. Bush wants a die-hard Republican at the U.N., one who has a conservative pedigree he can trust, who is close to the president, who can really build coalitions, who knows the U.N. building and bureaucracy inside out, who can work well with the State Department and who has the respect of America's friends and foes alike, the choice is obvious, and it's not John Bolton.
It's George H. W. Bush, a k a 41. No one would make a better U.N. ambassador for Bush 43 than Bush 41.
Bush the Elder is eminently qualified. Not only is he a former President, Vice President, Congressman, CIA Director, and Representative to China, he once held the UN post.
On top of that, there is little doubt that George H.W. Bush would speak for the President, which would undoubtedly cause leaders of the international body to listen to him with special care.
Friedman claims a more important reason for wanting Bush the Elder at the United Nations, though. He says that "reforming the UN," a goal he doubts that current Ambassador-designate John Bolton can achieve anyway, should not be the US representative's highest priority. Writes Friedman:
I don't much care how the U.N. works as a bureaucracy; I care about how often it can be enlisted to support, endorse and amplify U.S. power. That is what serves our national interest. And because that is what I want most from the U.N., I want at the U.N. an ambassador who can be a real coalition builder, a superdiplomat who can more often than not persuade the U.N.'s member states to act in support of U.S. interests.
I can't think of anyone better than George H. W. Bush, with his diplomatic Rolodex and instincts, or worse than John Bolton. Mr. Bolton's tenure overseeing U.S. antiproliferation efforts at the State Department is a mixed bag: success with Libya, utter failure with North Korea and Iran. But no one can miss the teacher's note at the bottom of his report card: "Does not play well with others who disagree with him."
I have no problem with Mr. Bolton's being given another job or being somehow retained in the job he already has. He's been a faithful public servant. But why would you appoint him to be ambassador at an institution he has nothing but contempt for to do a job he has no apparent skills for?
President 43 only needs to call home to find the right man for the job in President 41.
Friedman, in short is commending the President's father for the UN ambassadorship because he sees him as a practitioner of realpolitik, committed to the kind of consensus-building that enhances US power and prestige.
Without disparaging Bolton, I like the idea of sending Mr. Bush back to the UN. Despite his age, he would do a good job, I think.
But one wonders how serious Mr. Friedman is when, at the end of his column, he writes:
And if 41 isn't available, well, then maybe he should try his sidekick, 42.UPDATE: In her Wall Street Journal column of Thursday, Peggy Noonan says that the worst allegation against John Bolton is that he's got a temper. She then offers a catalog of well-known political, particularly presidential, temper tantrums.
If he is confirmed he will walk into the U.N. as a man whose reputation is that he does not play well with the other children. Not all bad. He will not be seen as a pushover. Good. Some may approach him with a certain tentativeness. But Mr. Bolton, having been burned in the media frying pan and embarrassed, will likely moderate those parts of his personal style that have caused him trouble. He may wind up surprising everyone with his openness and friendliness. Fine.
Or he'll be a bull in a china shop.
But the U.N. is a china shop in need of a bull, isn't it? The Alfonse-Gaston routine of the past half century is all very nice, but it's given us the U.N. as it is, a place of always-disappointing potential. May not be a bad thing to try something else.