In the first post-election battle between the Bush administration and the Democrats, the Jewish community is standing behind the president as he pushes the candidacy of John Bolton for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Despite the declared hostility of Democrats and several moderate Republicans, the White House has formally put forth the reappointment of Bolton, the controversial neoconservative diplomat.
Bush appointed Bolton, a leading neoconservative who failed to garner sufficient votes in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005, during a congressional recess for one year. His term expires in December, and key committee members have indicated that they would not drop their opposition before the newly elected, Democratically controlled Congress convenes in January 2007, at which point the odds of seeing Bolton confirmed would be even lower. The administration is now reportedly looking for ways to keep Bolton at the U.N. by circumventing the Senate.
“The Jewish community remains supportive and would want to see [Bolton] stay,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “He has been an effective advocate, and he is appreciated by the diplomatic corps.”
At the same time, Hoenlein said, he was not aware of any recent effort by Jewish organizations to press administration and Congress on the issue. Several major Jewish groups had expressed their support, in public and in private, when Bolton’s appointment became a political battle in Washington in early 2005. None of these groups has issued statements on the issue in recent weeks.
“The administration and the Congress know where the community stands,” Hoenlein said. “But this is not in our hands, obviously.”
Bolton is viewed as a strong supporter of Israel, and exercised the American veto last week on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. While American support for Israel at the U.N. is unlikely to change with a new ambassador and a Democratic Congress, Bolton had cultivated especially close personal bonds over the years with all major Jewish groups. They have hailed him for his role in convincing U.N. members in 1991 to repel the infamous “Zionism equals racism” resolution, for his outspoken criticism of the U.N.’s failures to enact more reforms, and for his support for regime change in Iraq and a tough line on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He also has been a fairly active voice for international efforts to stop the mass killings in Darfur.
Last year, Bolton failed to convince a majority on the Senate committee to support him and send his nomination to a floor vote. Lawmakers expressed lingering doubts over his reportedly abrasive style and his past aggressive behavior toward his colleagues at the State Department, where he was in charge of nonproliferation issues.
Senator Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican senator who voted against Bolton last week and was defeated by his Democratic rival in Rhode Island, said last week that it would be “illogical” to endorse Bolton’s nomination. “I am not going to endorse something the American people have spoken out against,” said Chafee, whose term ends in January, in a statement.
The administration is reportedly considering another recess appointment, a step that would require Bolton to serve without pay. Also on the table is the idea of nominating Bolton to a deputy position at the American mission and having him serve as the “acting” U.S. ambassador, or having him become a member of the White House National Security Council, a position that does not require congressional confirmation.
In recent days, the names of possible replacements have popped up — including current U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and State Department counselor Philip Zelikow — who recently suggested that America needed to show progress on the Palestinian issue in order to assemble a broad coalition against Iran. Two congressmen, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Jim Walsh of New York, have suggested outgoing Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, a Republican who was defeated November 7.