Paul Wolfowitz gets good press by comparison.
That might be the simplest way to summarize international online media reaction to John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. As Bolton's confirmation hearings got underway in Washington, the nominee was being denounced around the world in terms even harsher than those reserved for the controversial former deputy defense secretary.
"More than any other Bush second-term appointment -- even more than the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank -- the choice of Bolton has reignited debate about whether the Administration's apparent attempt to woo disaffected allies and develop a more multilateralist foreign policy has been anything more than a PR exercise empty of any real substance," writes Michael Gawenda, Washington correspondent for the liberal Sydney Morning Herald.
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"To many Wolfowitz is a gentle lamb when compared to Bolton," wrote political scientist Nassan Nafaa in Egypt's Al Ahram Weekly last week.
"A graduate of law from Yale, Bolton is the slick attorney par excellence; a man so adept at persuading others that right is wrong and wrong is right that one imagines that had not the doors to public office opened to him he would have felt perfectly at home as a mafia don," Nafaa said.
Aljazeera.net, the BBC and other news sites gave prominent coverage to Diplomats Against Bolton, the group of former U.S. officials who signed an open letter opposing his nomination.
Bolton's nomination follows two less-publicized White House decisions on Iran and the International Criminal Court (ICC) that had some European observers detecting a multilateral flavor to President Bush's second-term foreign policy.
"Three weeks ago, having totally opposed offering Iran any inducements to drop its uranium enrichment program, Bush relented and agreed to allow European Union negotiators to offer Tehran spare parts for its ageing civilian aircraft and support for its membership of the World Trade Organisation," noted Gawenda.
"And last week the US, which is hostile to the International Criminal Court, and refused to join it, did not veto a UN Security Council resolution authorising the court to try alleged Sudanese war criminals," he wrote. Instead, the U.S. abstained and the Security Council voted 11-0 to approve a French resolution referring suspected Sudanese collaborators in militia attacks on civilians in Darfur to the ICC.
The Times Online in London said the administration's ICC abstention was "surprising" given Bolton's nomination. The "turnaround suggested that pragmatists in the Bush Administration had won out over hard-line 'neo-cons' opposed to the court, indicating that the President may take a more conciliatory line in foreign policy in his second term," the Times wrote.
A lonely voice of support for Bolton came from the editors of the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, who suggested that he might play a positive role at the United Nations.
"Instead of sitting in judgment on Bolton even before he's reported for duty, wouldn't it be better to wait and watch how he goes about his job?" the editors ask.
No, say a chorus of commentators.
Bush may think that "Bolton is the best candidate for U.S. ambassador for the United Nations, but previous comments he has made about the organization hardly support his cause," said Spiegel Online in Germany. The popular newsweekly cited a 1994 speech in which Bolton said, "There is no United Nations," only "an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests."
"It seems slightly strange," said Spiegel Online, "to go for a job in an organization which you don't believe actually exists."
Others are harsher: Bolton is "a member of the sub-species epitomised by the troglodyte Senator Jesse Helms," said a columnist for the Trinidad Express. He "has only contempt for the UN and international law and believes only in American supremacy," writes Turkish author Adel Safty, in the Gulf News. In Argentina, Clarin (Spanish), the country's most popular newspaper, predicts Bolton will pursue "the path of omnipotence vis a vis the rest of the world."