washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Bush Administration

Bolton's Tough Style, Record Face Scrutiny

Hearings Begin Today For U.N. Nominee

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A01

During a meeting on North Korea in late 2001, John R. Bolton's repeated talk of overthrowing Kim Jong Il frustrated the State Department's specialist on the country. "Regime change" is not President Bush's declared objective in North Korea, Charles L. Pritchard recalled telling Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

"That is exactly what we are all about," Bolton snapped back, curtly reminding Pritchard and a colleague that U.S. troops had just finished overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pritchard said.

John R. Bolton visits with a Japanese coast guard officer on a patrol ship off Japan being used for a naval exercise to fight weapons of mass destruction. (Toshiyuki Aizawa -- Reuters)

_____In Profile_____
John R. Bolton
From Associated Press at 8:42 AM

Born: Nov. 20, 1948, in Baltimore.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Yale University, 1970; law degree from Yale Law School, 1974.

Experience: Undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since May 11, 2001; assistant attorney general, Department of Justice, 1985-1989; assistant administrator for program and policy coordination, U.S. Agency for International Development, 1982-1983; general counsel, U.S. Agency for International Development, 1981-1982; associate at the Washington office of Covington & Burling, 1974-81; partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus, 1993-99.

Family: Married to the former Gretchen Brainerd; one daughter.

_____More Coverage_____
Group That Opposes U.N. To Run Ad Backing Bolton (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2005)

_____Message Boards_____
Post Your Comments

The encounter highlights Bolton's combative style as much as it captures his commitment to hard-line foreign policies on various issues he has influenced, including those involving North Korea and Iran. Both have made him perhaps the most controversial figure nominated to serve in Bush's second term.

His record, including allegations that he used unconfirmed intelligence to promote his policy goals, will be the focus of Senate confirmation hearings starting today. Bush has nominated Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, an organization Bolton has described as irrelevant and corrupt.

For the past four years, as the administration's point man on weapons of mass destruction, Bolton has worked to reverse decades of U.S. nonproliferation and arms control policies. He maintains that the system of arms treaties established since World War II -- with milestones under presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- have constrained U.S. power and infringed on American sovereignty without holding other nations to account. For the United States, treaties are law, Bolton once wrote. "In their international operations, treaties are simply 'political' obligations."

Bolton is championed by allies who see him as a realist carrying out policies in line with Bush's true vision. "He is very tough-minded and is not romantic about trusting promises, particularly promises of regimes that have a history of saying whatever they need to say to accomplish their purposes," said Richard N. Perle, a former Pentagon adviser who has worked with Bolton at the American Enterprise Institute.

Opponents argue that Bolton is in fact undermining the White House's foreign policy goals, and insist that his emphasis on unilateral action heightens conflicts without offering the means to solve them using American power alone.

"John Bolton fails to recognize the value of setting clear standards through international agreements and would rather be righteous and lose a battle than engage, compromise and contain a proliferation problem," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Participants expect the hearings to be combative, and to include allegations by Bolton's critics that he misused intelligence data to support his goals, verbally abused subordinates and helped allies in other agencies defeat the proposals of his State Department superiors.

Nominees traditionally avoid public statements before confirmation hearings. But State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher spoke on Bolton's behalf last week, telling reporters that Bolton would defend himself against the criticism and had provided the committee with documents to counter accusations. "We don't see any grounds for questioning his nomination or confirmation," he said.

The sessions, which could last several days, will include testimony from former colleagues who clashed with Bolton. Committee members have received an unusual number of letters supporting and opposing the nomination, and advocates on both sides have conducted e-mail campaigns.

Bolton was a polarizing figure in 2001 when the Senate, voting 57 to 43, confirmed him to oversee the State Department's arms control, verification and nonproliferation bureaus. The hearings were led by one of Bolton's greatest supporters, former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who told colleagues he wanted Bolton at his side at Armageddon. This time, Bolton, 56, has no obvious patron on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Democrats, eager to block his appointment, need only one Republican vote on the committee, and some believe they have a chance of winning over Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.).

Bolton began his government career during the Reagan administration at the U.S. Agency for International Development before moving on to the Justice Department as an assistant attorney general. Under President George H.W. Bush, he joined the State Department as assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. In the 2000 presidential election, Bolton, a Yale-educated lawyer, played a pivotal role in representing George W. Bush during the Florida vote recount.

His loyalty was rewarded with a top job at the State Department, but he may have had more influence outside it than within. Former colleagues said he was excluded from the counsels of former secretary of state Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage. According to senior U.S. officials who worked closely with all three men, Bolton was not invited to afternoon meetings Powell held for his top policy advisers, and Powell rarely took Bolton's side in disputes.

But Bolton used his ties at the Pentagon, the National Security Council and in Vice President Cheney's office to advance his positions during interagency battles.

Pritchard, who was Bush's special envoy for North Korea until leaving government in August 2003, said Bolton would "go outside the system through his surrogates" in other departments.

"Bolton would provide them with advance information on what was being viewed or developed in the State Department before it ever got out," he said. "That way, the other agencies had a leg up on how to counter those views and promote Bolton's."

Some State Department colleagues described their dealings with Bolton as professional and said they were impressed with his creative thinking on complex issues. But he fought with others, including State Department counsel William H. Taft IV, who, according to two senior officials, often told Bolton that his policy ambitions could not be supported by the law.

Bolton stopped speaking to Carl W. Ford Jr., a 20-year veteran of the intelligence community who ran the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Ford is expected to testify this week.

In spring 2002, while much of the Bush administration was focused on al Qaeda and Iraq, Bolton was drawing attention to Cuba. Using evidence described by three knowledgeable intelligence officials as ambiguous, Bolton planned to announce the existence of a secret bioweapons program in Cuba during a speech that May to the Heritage Foundation.

But he was blocked by Christian Westermann, the chief bioweapons analyst at the State Department, who refused to clear the speech unless the language more accurately reflected the intelligence assessments. Bolton summoned Westermann to his office and berated him, officials with knowledge of the encounter said, and then tried to have him fired.

When Ford backed up Westermann, Bolton refused to speak with him again, according to the officials, who are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Ford, Westermann and Thomas Fingar, who now runs the intelligence bureau, will be among those called to testify during Bolton's hearings.

The incident, much of which is described in a Senate intelligence report last July, is the only publicly known case of a senior Bush administration official being accused of pressuring and threatening an analyst who refused to change his assessments.

Former colleagues described Bolton as a voracious reader who begins work at 6:30 a.m. poring over voluminous intelligence feeds compiled from the CIA and the Pentagon -- including information that has not yet been fully vetted.

Admirers said that that habit enabled Bolton to find connections missed elsewhere, and that he has pressed effectively for public release of classified evidence in support of his policy goals. Others say he "cherry picked" the evidence, using or trying to use information that career analysts described as unreliable, out of context or simply wrong.

In July 2003, the CIA blocked Bolton from alleging in congressional testimony that Syria had a nuclear weapons program. "That just wasn't consistent with the intelligence we had," one former analyst said. The intelligence community believed that Bolton's assertions were exaggerated and that the speech was misleading. But the timing had been important -- there were reports then that Syria was aiding loyalists to Saddam Hussein, hiding former Iraqi regime money and possibly weapons of mass destruction. The speech would have shone another light on a country that was causing concern.

Bolton's speech went through several months of rewriting, and a new version, making less definitive conclusions, was presented to Congress in September.

"Maybe it was three months later than it should have been, but everyone was comfortable with the final text and it served a valuable role in scaring Syria," said the analyst, who agreed to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Where Bolton shone in the eyes of allies and adversaries was in his efforts to establish the Proliferation Security Initiative -- a maritime interdiction agreement that draws together invited nations willing to work under U.S. rules. The countries agree to stop and search ships suspected of carrying weapons, a tactic used to intercept a shipment that helped uncover Libya's nuclear program.

PSI -- and Bolton's characterization of it -- provides insight into the sort of international action he values and his disdain for the diplomatic talk and posturing that he would confront as part of daily life at the United Nations.

"PSI is an activity, not an organization," he told The Washington Post in an interview last fall. Highlighting what makes it better in his eyes than a treaty, Bolton said: "PSI isn't an organization that issues diplomatic statements or has a bureaucracy or issues resolutions." PSI is not legally binding and countries can opt out anytime, a very different structure from U.N. treaties and Security Council resolutions, which Bolton says can constrict the United States.

In 2002, he negotiated the Treaty of Moscow, a two-page agreement signed by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in place of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush withdrew from to begin work on missile defense. The new treaty codified arms reductions previously agreed upon but included no new cuts.

Bolton has led the administration's retreat from U.N. treaties he sees as harmful to U.S. interests. Last year, he effectively killed a ban on production of fissile materials. He ended U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court and is a staunch opponent of a global ban on nuclear testing. He is also trying to replace the chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency.

"He's incredibly hard-working and very smart, but he's also incredibly sure of his own judgments, many of which were controversial," said Avis Bohlen, who served as assistant secretary of state for arms control during Bolton's first year.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company