Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the elevation of White House loyalists and supporters of the Iraq war to key diplomatic posts puts the United States in a stronger position to force changes at the United Nations and improve the U.S. image abroad.
In an interview aboard Air Force Two, Cheney said the nomination of John R. Bolton to serve as ambassador to the United Nations in particular shows President Bush's commitment to ending corruption and changing the culture at the world body.
"There is clearly a lot that needs to be done at the United Nations," he said pointing to the oil-for-food scandal and recent charges of sexual assault by a U.N. official. "There is ample evidence here at home a great many Americans are not happy with the performance of the United Nations," Cheney said.
"We are the host country, we're the biggest contributor to its budget, and success long-term, I think, depends on the continued support of the U.S. and the American people," he continued. Cheney said the fact that Bolton has been a critic of the United Nations will give him "a great deal more credibility" tackling the challenges there.
In the interview conducted en route from Reno, Nev., the vice president bluntly acknowledged the administration's shortcomings in overcoming international hostility to American foreign policy and communicating a positive image of the United States abroad, especially to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
"If we are going to be successful long-term in the war on terror and in the broader objective of promoting freedom and democracy in that part of the world, we have to get the public diplomacy piece of it right," Cheney said. "Up until now, that has been a very weak part of our arsenal."
Cheney has been a driving force in the administration's foreign policy and privately advocated for Bolton to get the U.N. job and for longtime ally Paul D. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. The vice president said top-level changes at the State Department should help set a better course.
"What the president has done . . . is make some personnel changes that he felt would strengthen our capacity as an administration to achieve our objectives," Cheney said.
The vice president said the decision to put three of the most influential women from Bush's first-term White House -- Condoleezza Rice, Karen P. Hughes and Dina Powell -- at the State Department signifies a new approach for Foggy Bottom. Privately, White House aides said the department is now a power center and one of the few agencies with a significant second-term role, especially dealing with Bush's inaugural pledge to spread democracy.
"Having Karen Hughes over there with Dina Powell and Condi gives us the best possible combination of people [to] actively and aggressively address those issues," Cheney said.
Conservative Fred Barnes, in an article on yesterday's Wall Street Journal editorial page, said the moves are part of "Mr. Bush's shake-up-the-world view." Bolton, Hughes and Powell still must be confirmed by the Senate, and Wolfowitz needs the approval of the World Bank; all are expected to overcome any opposition.
The rise of close White House allies is not over and may include Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, replacing Wolfowitz as deputy defense secretary, according to White House officials. When asked about the possible change, all Cheney would say is: "I need Scooter."
Cheney, who sometimes clashed with then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell over the Iraq war, said he would not discuss whether the new team is working better than the first-term one because he did not want to offend anyone.
Critics charge the White House is purging its voices of dissent and sending the wrong signal to the world with Bolton and Wolfowitz, two controversial architects of the Bush foreign policy.