By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006; A04
UNITED NATIONS, July 26 -- U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton's blunt diplomatic style has made him a political rock star among conservative Republicans who relish his routine exposure of U.N. foibles and criticism of its bureaucrats.
But international diplomats, including several from countries closely allied with the United States, complain that he has furthered U.S. isolation here and undercut U.S.-backed efforts to reform the sprawling bureaucracy of the United Nations.
"He sometimes makes it very difficult to build bridges because he is a very honest and blunt person," said South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, chairman of a coalition of developed nations. He said there is a perception among many developed countries in the coalition, known as the Group of 77, that it appears "Ambassador Bolton wants to prove nothing works at the United Nations."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings Thursday on whether to make Bolton's temporary appointment, which will expire in January, permanent. His appearance in Washington, where Democratic leaders have vowed to oppose Bolton, is expected to be as polarizing as his presence at U.N. headquarters.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said, "Mr. Bolton's performance at the U.N. only confirms my conviction that he's the wrong person for this job." He suggested that Democrats may filibuster a Senate vote unless the Bush administration releases documents Biden believes detail Bolton's use of National Security Agency intercepts involving U.S. citizens.
President Bush installed Bolton at the United Nations in August 2004, during a congressional recess, sidestepping opposition from Democrats and three Republican moderates, who voiced concern over Bolton's confrontational style.
But the White House is now pressing for speedy confirmation. The Foreign Relations Committee scheduled a hearing after Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), a Republican who joined Democrats in blocking the nomination last year, said he now supports Bolton.
Bolton's defenders say he has rightfully upended the status quo at the United Nations, which has been plagued by financial and sexual misconduct scandals in Iraq and Congo. They say his aggressive pursuit of U.S. interests has irritated foreign delegations, including European allies who see the world body as a means of constraining U.S. power.
"Bolton is not loved at Turtle Bay," the Manhattan neighborhood that is home to the United Nations, "but he is well-respected and he is regarded as a force to be reckoned with," said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. "He has done a very successful job in terms of highlighting the huge, myriad failures within the United Nations."
Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) and other Republican Bolton supporters maintain it is vital to show that the ambassador has Congress's full support when he is grappling with multiple crises in the Middle East and North Korea. Bolton, they insist, has demonstrated effectiveness by helping to guide a tough U.N. Security Council condemnation of North Korea and is working to impose sanctions on Iran for flouting international demands to halt its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium.
Bolton maintains that he has successfully built alliances on a range of issues, but that the effort to streamline the U.N. bureaucracy has been thwarted by entrenched diplomats who fear change will imperil their privileges. He said in an interview that he has avoided needless confrontation that "would raise the level of acrimony in an unproductive way."
Bolton's initial foray into diplomacy at the United Nations began with the negotiation of a joint statement outlining a range of U.N. changes in September that was endorsed by Bush and other world leaders. He rankled delegates by reopening talks on a painstakingly negotiated statement and pressed for more than 700 modifications. Still, many diplomats voiced grudging admiration for Bolton's tough style.
Today, many of those same envoys say Bolton has had a more destructive impact on efforts to scale back scores of outdated U.N. programs, create a new human rights council and overhaul the U.N. bureaucracy.
"There is currently a perception among many otherwise quite moderate countries that anything the U.S. supports must have a secret agenda aimed at either subordinating multilateral processes to Washington's ends or weakening the institutions, and therefore, put crudely, should be opposed without any real discussion of whether they make sense or not," U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said in June 6 speech.
Bolton reacted furiously, insisting that Malloch Brown's remarks constituted an insult to the American people and that as an international civil servant he had no right to criticize a U.N. member state.
Gunter Pleuger, who retired last month as Germany's U.N. ambassador, said Bolton has repeatedly maneuvered the United States into isolated positions on key issues.
"The first thing you learn in diplomatic school is never move yourself into a position of isolation, because even the biggest power will not sustain that position," Pleuger said in a telephone interview from Berlin.
Pleuger said the United States suffered a "bitter defeat" in its effort to press for the replacement of the troubled Human Rights Commission, which had become a haven for nations with dismal human rights records seeking to block international condemnation of their governments.
Israel's U.N. envoy, Dan Gillerman, said Bolton's arrival has been a "breath of fresh air at Turtle Bay precisely because he's not your typical diplomat."
"I'm certainly not going to tell the Senate or House of Representatives how to vote, but if John Bolton were to be confirmed by the Israeli Knesset, he would get all 120 votes," Gillerman said.