John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since May 2001 and now President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, not only tried to get State Department intelligence analyst Christian Westermann "removed" from his portfolio (read: "fired"), he also seems to have recruited help from a U.S. senator in trying to get Ambassador Charles "Jack" Pritchard fired from his position as America's lead envoy in negotiating with North Korea.
Many officials have said Bolton's behavioral problems date to the very beginning of his tenure at Foggy Bottom. Several sources reported that his speeches were often "laced with gratuitous comments" that were frequently unhelpful to Bush administration policy.
They report that Bolton's lust for public platforms, his "high-decibel hyperbole" and his constant desire to comment on national-security assessments of potential U.S. foes' weapons capabilities produced a constant concern about his speechmaking within the State Department.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage were incensed at Bolton's August 2001 comments to Russian media implying the United States was setting a deadline for Russia to agree to modifications of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty or face U.S. abrogation. Bolton denied making the comments, suggesting that he was misunderstood, and the situation was "walked back." However, the senior State Department hierarchy was on edge about Bolton's behavior and his reckless disregard for process and protocol when it came to key national-security and official foreign-policy pronouncements.
Bolton engaged in constant "brinksmanship" with those who had to clear his speeches. Despite his expressing some distance from the process in his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings Monday, reports abound that Bolton was obsessed with getting his speeches cleared throughout the halls of government in the language he wanted to use. If he was stifled, or if a line or section of a speech was not cleared, he would engage in battles with the people involved and frequently go to their senior managers. Bolton was attempting and succeeding at vigorously eroding controls on him and constantly fought those who were trying to censor or direct his language so as to be consistent with the substance as well as the nuances of U.S. foreign policy.
Bolton's commentary and offhand remarks regarding North Korea, its behavior and leadership were viewed to be the single-largest factor inhibiting progress in the six-party talks that the Bush administration has expressly stated are among its highest priorities. While love and affection of North Korea's "Dear Leader" -- as Kim Jong Il is referred to by his people -- may not have been appropriate, Bolton was constantly throwing barbs and grenades into the process.
As I understand it, Powell finally decided "enough was enough" and via Armitage ordered North Korean Envoy and Chief Negotiator Charles "Jack" Pritchard to communicate to the frequently riled North Koreans that the only two sources and "voices" of U.S. foreign policy to whom they should listen were the president of the United States and the secretary of state. It was communicated to the North Koreans that no other voices within the State Department or the U.S. government reflected or could convey official U.S. policy when it came to North Korea.
There are classified diplomatic notes that reflect Powell's orders. While not mentioning Bolton, their intent is obvious: to remove from the U.S.-North Korea arena as well as the delicate and fragile six-party talks any involvement from or impact by John Bolton.
Comments from various senior staff at the State Department report that at the beginning Bolton's speeches were "taken on line-by-line." Some said, however, "There was always a fight."
But when the now-infamous July 31, 2003, speech Bolton delivered in Seoul was making its early rounds for clearance, Jack Pritchard reportedly refused to sign off on it -- and he wasn't alone. One official said there were about "43 line items" in the speech that needed to be challenged and expunged. Another said Pritchard and Armitage felt that the speech was coming too close to the launch of the first round of the six-party talks.
Bolton began his trip before the clearance process had been concluded, and his speech was primarily drafted while he was traveling. It was a speech that all parties involved in the six-party talks felt was anathema to everything the Bush administration was trying to accomplish.
Although I don't have a State Department document indicating Pritchard's refusal to sign off on any aspect of the speech, several key players in the foreign-policy effort with North Korea have said it was not cleared, directly contradicting Bolton's claims during his first round of hearings Monday.
Furthermore, Bolton wanted the South Koreans to provide a high-profile venue for the speech -- but the South Korean government refused to let him speak anywhere they had control or influence. In the end, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul was browbeaten into finding a venue.
Interestingly, Bolton mentioned Monday that U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Tom Hubbard told him his "speech had been helpful and done them some good." But Hubbard reportedly hated the speech and dealing with Bolton's staff and offered friendly commentary just to move Bolton on and out of the country before more damage was done. One reporter on this affair noted that Hubbard reports to an assistant secretary of state -- whereas Bolton, who is a "master of intimidation and intrigue," was a more senior undersecretary of state. Hubbard's affirmative comment was offered privately, if at all, and it's odd and many thought "disgusting" that Bolton would trot out Hubbard's comments as some kind of validation of his outrageous and destructive behavior regarding this controversial speech about North Korea.
After Bolton gave his uncleared speech, "A Dictatorship at the Crossroads," in Seoul on July 31, 2003, the North Korean leadership in turn called him "human scum."
By this point, Bolton's speech and commentary had seriously undermined the agreement reached with North Korea to launch the first meeting of the six-party talks in Beijing. All parties on the U.S. side of this arrangement knew that Bolton was off the reservation.
Bolton yesterday said that it was not he who worked against the Bush administration's foreign policy -- but rather Jack Pritchard.
After Bolton's speech the angry North Koreans demanded a meeting with Pritchard in New York, and in consultations with his senior managers Pritchard reportedly put into full force what Powell had declared before: No one but the president or the secretary of state could announce U.S. policy when it came to North Korean affairs.
What I have learned from several sources very close to these talks is that the following occurred -- and all of this is contained in classified diplomatic notes that members and staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can access.
Pritchard was treated to a tirade as the North Koreans railed against Bolton and his comments. Reportedly, Pritchard refused to mention Bolton's name or to comment on his remarks in any way.
What Pritchard did do was to underscore what Powell and Armitage had stated previously -- that U.S. policy was only articulated by the president and secretary of state, no one else. Therefore, there was no change in U.S. policy. The date of the first meeting had not been changed -- nor the venue, which was set in Beijing.
When the classified diplomatic note from this meeting made its way around senior circles in the State Department, Bolton hit the roof.
Bolton erupted in anger, reportedly, because Pritchard had failed to defend him to the North Koreans.
This is incredible, and should serve to dramatically underscore some senators' concerns about Bolton's reckless behavior, his intimidation tactics and his tendency to undermine those who are working hard to implement Bush administration policy if it runs counter to his own views. This is the mega-loose cannon story.
John Bolton was angry and sought retribution against someone for not defending his honor -- rather than thinking about the much more important diplomatic objectives of the Bush administration at hand.
Enter Jon Kyl, U.S. senator from Arizona and Honorary Co-Chair of the Committee on the Present Danger. Kyl alleged in letters to Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary Powell and others that Jack Pritchard, in his meeting with the North Koreans, had argued that Bolton's comments were his personal comments and did not reflect the administration's views. Kyl wanted Pritchard removed and accused the administration of sending mixed signals regarding U.S. foreign policy.
The diplomatic notes, which I have not seen but have heard about, reportedly make clear that Pritchard never mentioned Bolton and worked to get beyond North Korean anger at Bolton's remarks by focusing on (1) the fact that the president and secretary of state were the only ones who could pronounce U.S. foreign policy towards North Korea; (2) that the date had not been changed and that all plans were to proceed with the first meeting in the six-party talks; and (3) that the meeting was still scheduled to take place in Beijing.
In my view, Pritchard was a skilled and brilliant diplomat to save from the brink of collapse these important negotiations with North Korea that were nearly destroyed by Bolton's self-indulgent, crusading and reckless behavior.
I do not know whether Bolton went to Kyl directly or whether someone acted as a go-between on his behalf. Two reports have come to me suggesting that former CIA Director James Woolsey, who is close to Bolton and who recruited Kyl to serve as Co-Chair of the Committee on the Present Danger, may have helped to bring this matter to Kyl's attention.
I don't know, and I don't feel it matters. Kyl got access to matters related to a classified meeting and went public with this information, no doubt with assistance from Bolton and his supporters.
Clearly, Bolton has demonstrated a frequent competency in going "around the system" to punish or intimidate those with whom he is at odds.
This is a clear, unambiguous case where John Bolton was at odds with the stated intent of U.S. foreign policy that was attempting to bring under some control North Korea's increasing nuclear capabilities and pretensions. Bolton worked hard to blow apart this effort -- and essentially forced out the key envoy responsible.
Bolton is a reckless man. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee needs to interview Ambassador Pritchard and other key staffers in the State Department hierarchy who know about our engagement with North Korea.
Frankly, I suspect Richard Armitage knows all of this. He should be called not to weigh in on John Bolton's character, which would be inappropriate and not consistent with the class Armitage demonstrated in his role at State, but he could easily and quickly inform the committee who was consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives and who was not.
My hunch is that Armitage and Powell, if asked, would say Jack Pritchard was doing what he should have done to further President' Bush's foreign-policy objectives.
They would also say that John Bolton was off the reservation, reckless, and at odds with what America was then trying to do with North Korea.
Copyright 2005, United Press International