The John Bolton Agenda

Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad by John Bolton (Threshold Editions, 496 pages, $27)

Most Americans have likely never heard of Emyr Jones-Parry, but he is a legend at the United Nations. From 2003 until Tony Blair left office this summer, Jones-Parry served as the United Kingdom's UN Ambassador (or as they are called at the United Nations: Permanent Representative, or "Perm Rep"). In that role, Jones-Parry was soft-spoken and prone to diplomatic niceties -- as most ambassadors are. Yet Jones-Parry was an effective diplomat whose words carried great weight with America's allies in Europe and beyond. When Emyr Jones-Parry spoke, foreign ministers in Europe, Africa, and Asia listened.

One would assume, therefore, that Tony Blair's man at the UN would be an essential asset to an American seeking to sell his or her diplomatic priorities to the world at large. At least that would be the case under normal circumstances. But when John Bolton served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006 American diplomacy was anything but normal. Adversaries became allies and allies were treated as foes. Jones-Parry was no exception.

In Bolton's new memoir Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, several individuals find themselves at the receiving end of Bolton's sneering prose. But no one is treated with more contempt than Jones-Parry, whom throughout the book Bolton mercilessly derides, at various times calling Jones-Parry an "EUroid" and an "Athens to America's Rome," -- which to Bolton, of course, is no compliment all.

Why should Jones-Parry receive such grief? Because he does not treat negotiation as a zero-sum game, while to Bolton cutting deals to satisfy mutual interests is a form of surrender. And surrender, as Bolton helpfully reminds us in the title, is not an option. On the other hand, with Bolton at the helm the United Nations, defeat for American interests was a near certainty.


On Election Day 1964, a high school aged Bolton stared perplexed at men weeping inside the Baltimore area headquarters of the Barry Goldwater campaign. Bolton was dumbfounded. How could his hero have lost so badly? And worse, to someone who "showed their appendectomy scars to the public and held beagles up by their ears." It was at this moment Bolton decided to devote his life to the conservative cause.

And what a smashing conservative he grew up to be! From Baltimore, Bolton went to Yale. He honed his rhetorical flair in the Yale Political Union -- a debate club -- where he plunged himself into the two big debates of the day: Yale's decision to go co-educational and Vietnam. On the former, Bolton was decidedly opposed. On the latter, his feelings were somewhat mixed; Bolton joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid deployment to Vietnam because, he reasoned, "Dying for your country is one thing, dying to gain territory that antiwar forces in Congress would simply return to the enemy seemed ludicrous to me."

Bolton went back to Yale for law school instead, where he studied under Robert Bork. Upon graduation, the young lawyer endured "the long night of the Carter administration" in a corporate law firm before his career in public service took off --largely thanks to a friendship with James Baker. Bolton joined the Regan administration first as a White House Council, then in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Justice. In the George H.W. Bush administration, Bolton got his first taste of the United Nations as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

After providing legal services during the Florida recount that border on legend, Bolton was assured a top-level post in the Bush administration. According to Bolton, the decision to hire him was ultimately Colin Powel's. "You will check me and I will check you," Bolton says Powell told him when he was hired as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in early 2000.

Bolton seems to have taken at least half of that injunction to heart. The two cooperated well early on, particularly during Bolton's successful effort to dismantle the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty in 2002. But toward the end of the term, their relationship sharply fractured over divergent views on how best to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions. It is at this point, in the early autumn of 2004, that we are first treated the kind of juicy, behind- the-scenes intrigue that makes this book a valuable source on some of the key foreign policy debates of the last seven years.

In a September 22, 2004 dinner with G-8 countries, Bolton claims that Powell unilaterally discarded existing administration policy by affirming American support for a European plan to offer a Tehran a package of incentives as part of a nuclear deal. But Bolton, as he reminds us frequently throughout the book, "doesn’t do carrots," and was incensed that Powell would offer to engage Tehran. Worse, according to Bolton, Powell's motives on Iran were less than pure -- angry with Bush over Iraq, Powell sought to cement his own legacy at the president's expense. "Powell had violated our long-standing Iran policy, colluded with the [Europeans] against it, and come out nearly endorsing Kerry's Iran position only weeks before the election," writes Bolton.

Upon learning of Powell's apparent deal-making, Bolton frenetically worked the bureaucracy in a successful bid to outflank his boss. "Along with others, I foiled Powell's legacy project." Bolton boasts. "I knew, and he knew I knew it." Bolton's push for a harder line Iran policy would be short lived. Following the 2004 election, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice steered Iran policy back to Powell's approach. On May 30, 2006, Rice invited Bolton to dinner to let him know, face-to-face, that the United States was signing on to a European plan to offer Iran a package of economic incentives if Iran would agree to suspend uranium enrichment.

A depressed Bolton remembers what he ate for an appetizer -- carrot soup.


The pace of the book -- and its lyrical idiosyncrasies -- pick up dramatically when Bolton receives his recess appointment as United States Ambassador to the UN. Bolton does not dwell much on the grassroots movement to derail his nomination, led largely by the blogger Steve Clemons. To Bolton, a combination of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's ineptitude and Chris Dodd's zeal sank his nomination. Strangely, the individual most proximately responsible for his stalled nomination, George Voinovich -- the Ohio Republican who refused to vote him out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- is treated with kid gloves

For the United Nations, the timing of Bolton's August 1, 2005 recess appointment could hardly have been more inauspicious. For several months prior, diplomats at the UN had been hammering out details of the most ambitious set of institutional reforms since the organizations' founding 60 years earlier. The reforms, which were strongly backed by the United States, included replacing the discredited human rights commission with a new Human Rights Council; establishing a "responsibility to protect" populations threatened with genocide or crimes against humanity; creating a new "peace building commission" to help rehabilitate countries recovering from conflict, and, most importantly for the United States, a number of management reforms — championed by Kofi Annan himself — that would streamline the UN's ossified bureaucracy.

The deadline to achieve these reforms was September 14, when heads of state would gather at the United Nations World Summit to formally sign off on them. Until Bolton arrived, the strategy to achieve these reforms was twofold. First, the United States and Europe sought to isolate "spoiler" countries like Cuba, Pakistan, and Venezuela, which could be guaranteed to oppose the human rights reforms. Second, the group of 120 developing nations, called the "G-77," needed to be convinced that that the management reforms the United States prioritized would not come at their expense. To do so, it was widely acknowledged that economic development issues would have to also be addressed.

That was the plan. Enter John Bolton.

A week after arriving in Turtle Bay, Bolton sent the negotiations into a tailspin by penning hundreds of edits into a draft version of the "Summit Outcome Document" that the heads of state were to sign. In nearly each of these edits, Bolton staked out a maximalist position, including eliminating all reference to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a five year old pledge to help developed countries. This particular edit was of no great consequence to the United States, but was a considerable insult to Tony Blair who at the time was trying to raise international support for development aid to Africa. It was also a signal to the G-77 that Bolton was not going to play ball.

Once Bolton issued the edits, he stuck to his guns (unless he happened to be overruled by Rice, who ordered the MDG edit rescinded after receiving an angry phone call from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.) But the damage had already been done. "Spoiler" countries had the opening they needed to stake out maxamalist positions of their own. Jones-Parry desperately tried to rescue the situation, which was quickly descending into a race to the bottom. But at each turn, he was outmaneuvered by Bolton. Still, for these efforts Jones-Parry earned a special place in Bolton's heart as an "EUroid," a term Bolton invokes frequently to describe Jones-Parry and other Europeans who disagree with his tactics. (Bolton employs other monikers throughout the book to malign his foes, including "Risen Bureaucracy" to refer to civil servants; the "High Minded" to describe people who see value in international institutions; and the EAPeasers in the East Asia Bureau of the State Department, but I digress.)

With no final document mere days before heads of state were coming to New York, Bolton recounts with glee the moment that he and Munir Akram, the suave Permanent Representative from Pakistan, tossed large chunks of the outcome document by the wayside. Most of the reforms, if they were mentioned at all, were kicked down the road for later discussion.

One of the reforms slated for later discussion were a set of financial management and oversight reforms meant to address certain shortcomings exposed by the Oil for Food scandal. The United States and Kofi Annan pushed hard for these reforms. The developing world, however, was deeply suspicious that these management reforms were secretly an American power grab. (It may come as a surprise, but many diplomats from the G-77 considered Kofi Annan to be a pro-American stooge.)

In normal circumstances, Jones-Parry could help assuage the fears of the developing world by acting as a bridge between the United States and G-77. But once again, Bolton set out on a path that alienated America's allies and united its opponents -- ultimately to the detriment of American interests. Bolton sought to withhold American support for the United Nations budget — which is decided biannually by consensus — as leverage to force the G-77 sign on to the management reform agenda. Jones-Parry warned that this was a terrible tactic and that it would backfire. Bolton was dismissive, "Watching Jones-Parry in action, I often wondered how Britain had acquired and empire, although he proved why they lost America."

Jones-Parry, of course, was correct. A stalemate ensued between the United States and the G-77. Bolton called for a vote on the reforms nonetheless, knowing full well that the more numerous G-77 would simply reject them. But that was just fine with Bolton. "We had out maneuvered the EU and forced them to follow us rather than the other way around, breaking an established UN pattern," He recalls. "It was a good night."

America's defeat was Bolton's victory -- and one that continues to serve him well on the lecture circuit. "Real" UN reform, Bolton argues, will only come when member states shift the way they fund the United Nations from assessed dues to voluntary contributions. To that end, the decision of the G-77 (which collectively only funds about 10 percent of the budget) to vote against reforms favored by the United States (which by itself funds a quarter of the budget) is a talking point Bolton is never fails to mention when discussing UN reform to audiences at the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and before appropriators in Congress.


Bolton's brief tenure at the UN was not marked exclusively by failure. Arguably, his greatest success was securing a unanimous vote for Security Council sanctions on North Korea following Pyongyang's October 2006 detonation of a low-grade nuclear weapon. But for Bolton, this may have been a pyrrhic victory. Soon after the vote, those sanctions began to show their intended political effect and North Korea sought to resume direct negotiations with the United States.

To Bolton, though, even meeting directly with the one's rival is a concession. (And remember, Bolton doesn't "do carrots.") In 2002 Bolton and his hard-line allies outmaneuvered the aforementioned "EAPeasers" to dismantle the Clinton-era policy of engagement with the North. By November that year, Bolton's hard line approach to North Korea was United States policy. And what followed when the United States cut ties with North Korea? Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reprocessed enough plutonium for 10 nuclear weapons and detonated a nuclear weapon.

The October 2006 Security Council sanctions, though, brought the North Koreans back to the negotiating table. And during the internal debate over whether or not to accept the North's entreaties, saner heads prevailed. (This was helped, no doubt, by the fact that Bolton's recess appointment expired. He was out of government in December 2006.)

By February, the Bush administration announced that it was ready to negotiate directly with Pyongyang and struck a deal, which included offering the North some dreaded carrots. Bolton's hard line policy was thus thoroughly rebuked. And lo and behold, the International Atomic Energy Agency has returned to the hermit kingdom, which has since shutdown its main nuclear facility. Earlier this week, the State Department announced that a team of American experts arrived at the facility to begin the process of physically dismantling it. For the first time since 2002, there is finally steady progress in Pyongyang.

Sidelining John Bolton's agenda is sometimes all it takes.

You may also like