By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; A05
Senate Democrats unleashed a sharp volley of criticism of President Bush's foreign policy yesterday, arguing that John R. Bolton has done more harm than good as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and does not deserve an extended term. If Bolton's style were less divisive, they said, he might have achieved more reforms at the United Nations and tougher sanctions against Hezbollah and North Korea.
But Republicans defended Bolton and the administration and said it would be unwise to change ambassadors when the Middle East is in crisis and Iran and North Korea are threatening nuclear advances. Democrats said it was unclear whether they would try to filibuster Bolton's nomination this fall, as they successfully did last year.
Bush angered Democrats last August by giving Bolton a "recess appointment" to the U.N. post after the Senate twice failed to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate on his nomination. The appointment will expire by December, and Bush is asking the Senate to confirm Bolton for the rest of his term, saying the outspoken ambassador has proved his effectiveness.
Several Democrats hotly disputed that claim at yesterday's hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee.
"My objection isn't that he's a bully, but that he's been an ineffective bully and can't win the day when it comes, when it really counts," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who led last year's opposition.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the panel's top Democrat, said, "At the moment of the greatest need for diplomacy in recent history, we are not particularly effective at it."
Most committee Republicans defended Bolton, including Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), who opposed him last year. "I know that one of the concerns that everyone had was that you might go up there and do your own thing, that you didn't understand how important consensus was," Voinovich told Bolton. "And I think you have been very, very active in working on consensus to get things done at the United Nations."
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said: "I've watched you work, I've visited with your colleagues. I want you to know you have my unequivocal, unhesitating support."
Committee members differed on Bolton's role in helping shape the U.N. Security Council's demand that North Korea suspend its recent missile tests. "Mr. Bolton publicly assured anyone who would listen that he could get support for a resolution with teeth, with so-called Chapter 7 obligations," Dodd said, referring to sanctions that could include military action. "Turns out, of course, he couldn't."
After China threatened a veto, the Security Council adopted a milder resolution.
Bolton defended the action, saying the resolution "in our judgment is fully binding on North Korea." He added: "It demands -- that's the word the council used, 'demands' -- that North Korea suspend all activity relating to its ballistic missile program."
Biden, turning to the fighting between Israel and the Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, said Bolton did too little to demand enforcement of U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for disbanding such militias and expanding the Lebanese army's control.
"What steps did you take to put on the agenda the two parts of 1559 that seemed to be totally ignored?" Biden asked.
Bolton said: "In each case we reaffirmed 1559, and that's part of pressuring Syria . . . to continue the diplomatic efforts that we're able to do. There's no U.N. force that's going to make Syria do any of those things."
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) challenged Bolton's claim that "the root cause" of the renewed Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is terrorism.
"You're a brilliant man," Chafee told Bolton. "That statement doesn't make any sense. Terrorism is a device. There's got to be something deeper for the root cause."
Bolton replied: "I think the real root cause is the absence of a fundamental basis for peace in the region."
Dodd renewed a complaint that was central to last year's opposition, demanding to know more about Bolton's delving into the identities of U.S. officials who were mentioned in conversations that were monitored by the National Security Agency. Dodd said Congress has the right to know such information, and Bolton said he did not object. But the Bush administration repeatedly has refused Dodd's request.
Bolton told the committee that the past year in New York has not changed his views of the United Nations, which he often has portrayed as ineffective and corrupt. That did not sit well with Dodd, who said the ambassador "clearly has an aversion, in my view, to being diplomatic or to building consensus for U.S. positions. And that is deeply troubling to me."
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) defended Bolton, saying countries such as China and Cuba have thwarted his efforts. "You tried to get the United Nations, particularly the Human Rights Council, to be reformed," Allen said. "I know you tried as best you could."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) showed no such sympathy, at least at first. The Republicans' call for Bolton's confirmation in the name of continuity at the United Nations is "reflective of a very weak and subservient Senate," she said. But she paused in the middle of a blistering critique of Bush's policy in Iraq to say: "Now, Mr. Bolton, this has nothing to do with you. I'm not putting this on you. As a matter of fact, I'm saying to you: You've got a tough job here."