Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Bolton from the blue

Yesterday, President Bush, exercising his constitutional prerogative, used his recess appointment powers to name John Bolton, conservative Presa Canario and vicious ideologue, to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations, to the howls of moderates and Democrats and the deep consternation of much of the international community Bolton will sit with in the General Assembly.

His first day on the job didn't have an auspicious start; people outside the U.N. booed him as he arrived for work. What's yet to be seen is how well Bolton can function under the cloud of his very appointment, and what propensity he has, after all the noise and outrage that attended his confirmation hearings, for seeking progress -- if not always consensus -- in the world body.

Bolton has long been known as something of an ideological attack dog, a street fighter with the personality of a shark going after chum. His appointment was a forgone conclusion, despite the howls of the people who opposed him, in Congress, the media and on the street. But until his appointment, the United States was faced with the embarrassing prospect of continuing to have an empty chair at the world forum -- as symbolic a snapshot of the U.S./international relations as one could ask for.

Bolton got the gig. And come on, we knew he would. But John Bolton will learn a relatively new game from a range of global players, countries and envoys and governments that will not dance the American tune. Right about now, John Bolton is a lot like the tough white guy in a foreign country in one of those Warner Bros. movies from the '40s. Strolling through the bazaar with a cigar clenched between his teeth, he thinks he knows where he's going, but it's not his turf. And he's surrounded by people for whom visitors are, for the most part, a distraction to the way they have done things in their countries for hundreds of years, sometimes hundreds of years longer than the country he's from.

John Bolton can't come into the United Nations like Indiana Jones. He's got too much to learn and too little time. And his classmates there at the General Assembly know it, all too well, that when global friends and rivals, or global friends and enemies sit side by side in a conference room, the size of the world collapses, the enormity of the philosophical differences is distilled. And suddenly, personality is everything.

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