WASHINGTON -- To the North Koreans, he is "human scum" and a "bloodthirsty vampire."
To former ultra-right U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, he is "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world."
His name is John Bolton; his title, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security; and he is widely seen as the reliable fifth columnist within the State Department for the right-wing and neo-conservative hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq from their perches at the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office.
North Korea, which last week agreed to engage in multilateral talks with its Northeast Asian neighbors and the United States on its controversial nuclear program, announced Sunday that it will have nothing to do with Bolton and will not even recognize his status as a U.S. diplomat.
The highly unusual statement was reportedly provoked by a speech given by Bolton in Seoul last week excerpts of which were reprinted on the highly sympathetic editorial pages of the Asian Wall Street Journal Friday, in which the undersecretary, who ranks fourth in the State Department hierarchy, described life in North Korea as a "hellish nightmare" and accused Pyongyang's leader, Kim Jong Il," of being a "dictator" or running a "dictatorship" or "tyranny" no less than a dozen times.
Some U.S. and Asian analysts indicated last week that Bolton, who has made no secret of his belief that Washington should pursue "regime change" in Pyongyang rather than a new agreement on its de-nuclearization, may have intended to use the speech to provoke Kim into rejecting the forthcoming meeting. Cheney and the Pentagon have long been skeptical of any negotiation with North Korea.
Even if his words were not as strong as Pyongyang's, it was a typical performance by Bolton, whose red-meat anti-communism and ultra-unilateralist politics have delighted his admirers among the hawks--even as they have caused embarrassment and even some turmoil among his State Department colleagues since he took office in the spring of 2001.
A Baltimore native who veered sharply right even as many of his fellow students at Yale Law School in the early 1970s were moving in the opposite direction, Bolton held mid- to senior-level positions in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Justice Department during the Reagan administration.
A staunch backer of the Nicaraguan contras, Bolton played a key role in trying to undermine efforts by Sen. John Kerry to investigate drug smuggling and gunrunning by the contras, according to Nation columnist David Corn, and was later put in charge of stonewalling Congressional efforts to obtain Justice Department documents and interview Meese's deputies about their role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
His effectiveness in this area gained him a promotion under President H.W. Bush to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, a post he held until 1993 when he joined the right-wing Manhattan Institute, and then the neo-conservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI)--home to such prominent hawks as former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, and Cheney's spouse, Lynne.
By the time former Secretary of State James Baker tapped him to serve as a senior member of the G.W. Bush legal team in Florida after the 2000 election, he had become senior vice president at AEI, a position he used during the latter half of the 1990s to speak out strongly in favor of normalizing ties with Taiwan (from which he was receiving money at the time, according to the Washington Post), regardless of the impact on U.S. relations with China. He also advocated for U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, while railing about the threats posed to U.S. sovereignty by the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "nation-building," and international arms agreements, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
So strongly was he opposed to the United Nations that, at one point, he suggested simply halting U.S. payments to the world body. "[M]any Republicans in Congress--and perhaps a majority," he once said "not only do not care about losing the General Assembly vote but actually see it as a 'make-my-day' outcome. Indeed once the vote is lost... this will simply provide further evidence to many why nothing more should be paid to the UN system."
Given his history of far-right positions, Secretary of State Colin Powell was reported to have been deeply skeptical of Bolton for such a sensitive position. But a combination of Cheney's insistence that he get the undersecretary job and an assurance by Baker--who hired Bolton to help fight the legal battle over the Florida election results on behalf of the Bush campaign after the 2000 elections--that he was a loyal soldier, Powell acceded to the appointment.
Within just a few months, however, it became clear that Bolton was far more sympathetic to hawks elsewhere in the administration than to Powell's relatively moderate positions and demeanor. In the summer of 2001, he shocked foreign delegations and non-governmental organizations at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons when he announced that Washington would oppose any attempt to regulate the trade in firearms or non-military rifles or any other effort that would "abrogat[e] the constitutional right to bear arms."
"It is precisely those weapons that Bolton would exclude from the purview of this conference that are actually killing people and endangering communities around the world," exclaimed Tamar Gabelnick, Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), who charged that the U.S. position single-handedly destroyed any possibility of consensus.
Several months later, following the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax scare, Bolton led the U.S. delegation to a major UN bio-weapons conference in Geneva, which he first inflamed by naming in his first speech six nations that he alleged were building bio-weapons illegally, and then sabotaged by trying to terminate an effort to forge a verification protocol. The latter move provoked expressions of shock and outrage from U.S. allies in Europe.
Within the State Department, Bolton led the drive for U.S. refusal to sign the Rome Statute that created the new International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. To recognize his commitment to opposing the Statute, Powell permitted Bolton to sign the letter to Annan formally announcing Washington's withdrawal, an act he later described to the Wall Street Journal as "the happiest moment of my government service."
At the same time, Bolton was also engaged in a lengthy row with U.S. intelligence agencies over his unprecedented public charge that Cuba had an offensive biological warfare program that U.S. military and intelligence officials had previously "underplayed." His statement became an embarrassment after anonymous intelligence officials and retired senior military officers, including the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, told the media that no such evidence existed and charged that Bolton was politicizing intelligence.
Last month, Bolton was accused of the same charge when he was due to testify before Congress on Syria's alleged development of weapons of mass destruction which, according to his prepared remarks, had come to pose a threat to regional stability. His testimony was abruptly canceled and rescheduled for September after the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department's own intelligence bureau objected to his characterization.
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Last modified: Mon Aug 4 15:42:00 CDT 2003