Friday, April 08, 2005

Objections to the nomination of John Bolton

Jay Nordlinger responds briefly in The National Review to Barbara Boxer's criticism of John Bolton's nomination as UN ambassador (provisionally, I'll observe that it's a response in the syntactic sense. It is structured to look like a response; whether it actually is a response is an entirely separate question):
And here's Sen. Barbara Boxer, on John Bolton, Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: "He's been very contemptuous of the U.N." Well, no sh**, senator. And you haven't? You weren't contemptuous when Saddam Hussein's government chaired the nuclear-disarmament committee?....Liberalism used to mean something — e.g., opposition to tyranny and lies. And now? Opposition to George W. Bush seems most important.
There are two lines of counterobjection here: the first is the hippie objection (Republicans are all about peace and flowers, and the UN hasn't been helping the world in either of these areas). As an objection to Boxer, this misses the mark. One of Boxer's main objections to Bolton was his opposition to various peace-and-flower-maximizing treaties (notably, those treaties banning chemical weapons and nuclear weapons). As a general counterobjection, though, it could be said to be the objection from corruption: to the extent that the UN is corrupt and/or impotent, it is unable to maximize the peace and flowers that patchouli-wearing Republicans have come to see as the primary goal of foreign policy ("freedom, man!").

If Bolton's criticisms have tracked this line of reasoning, that'd be great. Clearly, corruption is a huge problem at the UN, and a strong proponent of reform could do much good.

The problem, though, is that the antecedent of that proposition is patently false

Bolton isn't a critic of the UN's effectiveness per se; he's ideologically opposed to the very existence of all forms of internationalism and international law. As a sovereignty fetishist, he's committed to opposing treaties and international organizations on principle. What is crucial to note is that this opposition is independent of any concerns about effectiveness or corruption.

In short, his problem is with sovereignty, and not UN corruption: "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law...because...the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States." The concern evinced here turns on the issue of constraints on future US action. In fact, it is this ideological opposition to internationalism that opponents of his nomination hone in on: "Mr. Bolton has never made secret his disdain for the United Nations, for multilateralism and for consensus-seeking diplomacy in general."

The general counterobjection from corruption is clearly misplaced. What bothers opponents to Bolton's nomination isn't that he will fight corruption, it's that he will fight the very existence of institutions that have been accused (correctly) of corruption.