John Bolton’s resignation as American ambassador to the United Nations is an important and welcome step in the national healing process that began on Election Day, November 7. Bolton’s presence at the U.N. for the past 15 months, despite the Senate’s refusal to confirm him, has been a daily reminder of the Bush administration’s arrogant, willful style of governance, of its contempt for the meaning of democracy and the separation of powers. Bolton’s performance at the world body, his stubborn flaunting of American exceptionalism, has been a perfect metaphor for this administration’s ideological high-handedness in coping with the problems of the nation and the world.
President Bush, in his decision to resubmit Bolton’s name to the Senate last month despite the clear statement of the national will, as expressed by the voters, managed to demonstrate once again the deep capacity for denial of reality that guides him as a leader. Bolton, at least, had the wisdom to see the midterm election for what it was: a national repudiation of the Bush governing style. His decision to pack his bags is an occasion for a national sigh of relief and even gratitude.
Alas, one major constituency on the public stage has chosen to greet Bolton’s resignation not with relief but with regret. In a noisy, tin-eared outpouring of sycophantic unanimity, a phalanx of America’s most influential and respected Jewish organizations has flooded cyberspace this week with heartfelt salutes to Bolton and laments of his departure. At last count, the list included the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the World Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith International, the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. In statement after statement, the agencies hail Bolton for his supposed effectiveness and passion in defending Israel and advancing the causes of democracy and U.N. reform.
The passion, let it be said, is real. The effectiveness, on the other hand, is wholly imagined. Bolton is a man of brilliant, articulate intellect. He has stood at Israel’s side throughout his career. As an assistant secretary of state during the first Bush administration, he quarterbacked the successful campaign to repeal the infamous U.N. Zionism-racism resolution. As U.N. ambassador, he has bluntly spoken truth to power. But every American ambassador to the U.N., with a handful of notable exceptions (Andrew Young and the senior George Bush come to mind), has been a staunch defender of Israel. Every one has used the American veto liberally in the Security Council to block unfair resolutions. All have sought to use American power and influence more broadly to protect Israel from the designs of its enemies.
That said, none of them has done as much as Bolton to undermine that American influence by alienating the rest of the world community. His actions, and the larger Bush administration policies that they reflect, have left Israel and America huddled together in utter isolation, facing ever-growing, worldwide impatience and disdain. Even the signature cause of U.N. reform, which had been taken up by Kofi Annan and advocated with determination in the Clinton and current Bush administrations, suffered crippling setbacks as a result of Bolton’s inflexibility, his insistence on holding out for the unattainable and refusing to accept the best deals possible.
All this is now obvious to the American public, to the Congress — even to the outgoing, Republican-led Congress — and, in the end, to Bolton himself. Everyone gets it except the Jewish advocacy community.
It’s no great secret why the Jewish agencies continue to trumpet support for the discredited policies of this failed administration. They see defense of Israel as their number-one goal, trumping all other items on the agenda. That single-mindedness binds them ever closer to a White House that has made combating Islamic terrorism its signature campaign. The campaign’s effects on the world have been catastrophic. But that is no concern of the Jewish agencies. Given the record, the agencies’ paeans to Bolton come as no surprise. And yet, they still offend. Coming barely a month after the midterm elections, in which Jews voted 7-1 against the Bush record, the statements show a communal representative structure working directly against the wishes and values of the community it purports to represent.
As Nathan Guttman reports from Washington this week, congressional Democratic leaders are scrambling right now to reassure the Jewish voting public that the party will not abandon its liberal traditions come January in the name of pragmatism. They know that the Jewish community, despite its small numbers, is an essential, influential bloc within the party, and within the larger American mosaic. And they know that American Jews cling in overwhelming numbers to values of liberalism and inclusiveness.
Those liberal values are the irreducible underpinning of Jewish freedom in American society. Defending them is the most basic duty of the advocacy institutions created by the community. If they can’t understand their job, it’s time that somebody else stepped forward.