Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Since there are news reports that President-Elect Donald Trump is seriously considering nominating John Bolton to be his Secretary of State, I think a little history lesson is in order.

In early 2005, fresh off reelection, President George W. Bush nominated John Bolton to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations. It’s a position that requires Senate confirmation, and the vetting process and hearings are handled by the Foreign Relations committee, which was then still controlled by Indiana Republican Richard Lugar. Whatever misgivings Sen. Lugar may have had about the nomination, he did what was required of him and pushed the process forward. However, he had dissenters from within his own ranks on the committee. Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John Thune of South Dakota, and Lisa Murkowkski of Alaska were all very unenthusiastic about the idea of Bolton serving as our representative at the United Nations. But the most vociferous opponent of Bolton was Sen. George Voinoich of Ohio.

Now, these were different times, and the Democrats, who were completely appalled by the Bolton nomination, did not automatically promise to filibuster. Sen. Barbara Boxer made some loud noises in that direction, but she was shot down.

“There is no desire for a filibuster,” Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday.

NBC News reported that Sen. Barbara Boxer had lifted her hold on the nomination of Bolton after conferring with Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. That move set the stage for a heated debate on the Senate floor that could start as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The Democrats were outraged to the point that perhaps they would have filibustered Bolton if they hadn’t sensed that his nomination could be brought down by their Republican colleagues, and no one gave them more hope for that than Sen. Voinovich.

During a confirmation hearing on May 12, 2005, Voinovich made the following extended statement strongly opposing the nomination but advocating that the Foreign Relations committee send the nomination to floor without a recommendation.

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Voinovich Makes the Case Against Bolton

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) on the nomination of John Bolton to U.N. ambassador:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First let me take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for your graciousness and hard work on this nomination. You have made strong arguments in favor of the nominee throughout this process. Additionally, thank you for providing all of the members of this committee with timely information related to Mr. Bolton. I believe that the inquiry has been fair and exhaustive. I am confident that I have enough information to cast my vote today. Again, I appreciate your staff’s hard work, as well as the administration’s efforts.

Since our last meeting on this subject, I have pored over hundreds of pages of testimony, have spoken to dozens or so of individuals regarding their experiences, interactions and thoughts about John Bolton. Most importantly, in addition to the meeting that I had with Mr. Bolton prior to the official business meeting that we had on his nomination, I once again met with Mr. Bolton this week personally to share my concerns and to listen carefully to his thoughts.

After great thought and consideration, I have based my decision on what I think is the bigger picture. Frankly, there is a particular concern that I have about this nomination, and it involves the big picture of U.S. public diplomacy. 
It was not long ago when America’s love of freedom was a force of inspiration to the world and America was admired for its democracy, generosity and its willingness to help others in need of protection. Today, the United States is criticized for what the world calls arrogance, unilateralism and for failing to listen and to seek the support of its friends and allies. There has been a drastic change in the attitude of our friends and allies in such organizations as the United Nations and NATO and in the countries of leaders that we need to rely upon for help.

I discovered this last November when I was in London with people in the Parliament there. I found that to be the case when we visited the NATO meeting in Italy, that things have really changed in the last several years. It troubles me deeply that the U.S. is perceived this way in a world community, because the United States will face a steeper challenge in achieving its objectives without their support.

We will face more difficulties in conducting the war on terrorism, promoting peace and stability worldwide and building democracies without the help from our friends to share the responsibilities, leadership and costs.
To achieve these objectives, public diplomacy must once again be of high importance. If we cannot win over the hearts and minds of the world community and work together as a team, our goals will be more difficult to achieve. Additionally, we will be unable to reduce the burden on our own resources. The most important of these resources are the human resources, the lives of the men and women of our armed forces, who are leaving their families every day to serve their country overseas.

Just this last Tuesday we passed an $82 billion supplemental bill for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is clear that the costs of this war are rising all the time, and they are not expected to go down any time soon.
There are not many allies standing up to join us in bearing the cost of these wars, particularly Iraq. We need the help of other countries to share the financial burden that is adding to our national debt and the human resource burden that our armed forces, National Guardsmen and contractors are bearing so heavily now, including the deaths of over 1,500 American servicemen and women.

And the key to this, I believe, is public diplomacy.

Mr. Chairman, I applaud the president and secretary of state for understanding that public diplomacy is an important objective and beginning this new term with an emphasis on repairing relationships. I applaud the president and Secretary Rice for reaching out to our friends in the world community and articulating that the United States does respect international law and protocol. And I also applaud the president’s decision to appoint Karen Hughes to help take the lead in this effort. Though the United States may have differences with our friends at times and though we may need to be firm with our positions, it is important to send a message that we’re willing to sit down, talk about them, discuss our reasoning and to work for solutions. The work of the president and Secretary of State Rice is a move in the right direction.

But what message are we sending to the world community when in the same breath we have sought to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves? These are the very characteristics that we’re trying to dispel in the world community.

We must understand that next to the president, the vice president, secretary of state, the next most important, prominent public diplomat is our ambassador to the United Nations. It is my concern that the confirmation of John Bolton would send a contradictory and negative message to the world community about U.S. intentions. I’m afraid that his confirmation will tell the world that we’re not dedicated to repairing our relationship or working as a team, but that we believe only someone with sharp elbows can deal properly with the international community.

I want to make it clear that I do believe that the U.N. needs to be reformed if it’s to be relevant in the 21st century. I do believe we need to pursue its transformation aggressively, sending the strong message that corruption’s not going to be tolerated. The corruption that occurred under the oil-for-food program made it possible for Saddam’s Iraq to discredit the U.N. and undermine the goals of its members. This must never happen again, and severe reforms are needed to strengthen the organization. And, yes, I believe that it will be necessary to take a firm position so we can succeed, but it will take a special individual to succeed at this endeavor, and I have great concerns with the current nominee and his ability to get the job done.

And to those who say a vote against John Bolton is against reform of the U.N., I say, nonsense. There are many other people who are qualified to go to the United Nations that can get the job done for our country. Frankly, I’m concerned that Mr. Bolton would make it more difficult for us to achieve the badly needed reforms to this outdated institution. I believe that there could even be more obstacles to reform if Mr. Bolton is sent to the United Nations than if he were another candidate.

Those in the international community who do not want to see the U.N. reform will act as a roadblock, and I fear that Mr. Bolton’s reputation will make it easier for them to succeed. I believe that some member nations in the U.N. will use Mr. Bolton as part of their agenda to further question the integrity and credibility of the United States and to reinforce their negative U.S. propaganda, and there’s a lot of it out there today.

Another reason I believe Mr. Bolton is not the best candidate for the job is his tendency to act without regard for the views of others and without respect for the chain of command.

We have heard that Mr. Bolton has a reputation for straying off message on occasion. Ambassador Hubbard testified that the tone of Mr. Bolton’s speech on North Korea hurt rather than helped efforts to achieve the president’s objectives. According to several respectable sources, Mr. Bolton strayed off message too often and had to be called on the carpet quite often to be reprimanded. In fairness, those sources said that once reprimanded, Mr. Bolton got back on track, but that he needs to be kept on a short leash. However, this leaves me a very uneasy feeling.

Who is to say that Mr. Bolton will not continue to stray off message as ambassador to the U.N.?

Who is to say he will not hurt rather than help U.S. relations with the international community and our desire to reform the U.N.?

When discussing all these concerns with Secretary Rice, John Bolton’s propensity to get off message, his lack of interpersonal skills, his tendency to abuse others who disagree with him, I was informed by the secretary of state that she understood all these things and in spite of them still feels that John Bolton is the best choice and that she would be in frequent communication with him and he would be closely supervised. My private thought at the time, and I should have expressed it to her, is: Why in the world would you want to send somebody up to the U.N. that has to be supervised?

I’m also concerned about Mr. Bolton’s interpersonal skills. Mr. Chairman, I understand there will be several vacant senior posts on the staff when Mr. Bolton arrives in his new position. As a matter of fact, I understand all the senior people — or five of them — are leaving right now. For example, Anne Patterson, who is highly regarded, is moving to another position. And I’ve been told by several people that, if he gets there, to be successful, he’s going to need somebody like Anne Patterson to get the job done for him. As such, Mr. Bolton’s going to face a challenge. These people are gone right now. He’s going to have to find some new ones. But his challenge right now is to inspire, lead and manage a new team, a staff of 150 individuals that he will need to rely on to get the job done. We have all witnessed the testimony and observations related to Mr. Bolton’s interpersonal and management skills. I have concerns about Mr. Bolton’s ability to inspire and lead a team so that it can be as effective as possible in completing the important task before him.

And I’m not the only one.

I understand that 59 U.S. diplomats who served under administrations from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to the committee saying that Mr. Bolton’s the wrong man for the job. I want to note that the interview given by Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, has said that Mr. Bolton would make an abysmal ambassador, that he is, quote, incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views. I would also like to highlight the words of another person that I highly respect who worked with Mr. Bolton and told me that if Mr. Bolton were confirmed, he’d be OK for a short time, but within six months his poor interpersonal skills and lack of self-discipline would cause major problems.

Additionally, I wanted to note my concern that Colin Powell, the person to whom Mr. Bolton answered to over the last four years, was conspicuously absent from a letter signed by former secretaries of state recommending Mr. Bolton’s confirmation. He’s the one that had to deal with him on a day-to-day basis. He’s the one that’s more capable of commenting about whether or not he’s got the ability to get the job done and his name was not on that letter.

We are facing an era of foreign relations in which the choice for our ambassador to the United Nations should be one of the most thoughtful decisions we make. The candidate needs to be both a diplomat and a manager. A manager is important. Interpersonal skills are important. The way you treat other people — do you treat them with dignity and respect — very important. You must have the ability to persuade and inspire our friends to communicate and convince, to listen, to absorb the ideas of others. Without such virtues, we will face more challenges in our efforts to win the war on terrorism, to spread democracy and to foster stability globally.

The question is, is John Bolton the best person for the job? The administration has said they believe he’s the right man. They say that despite his interpersonal shortcomings, he knows the U.N. and he can reform the organization and make it more powerful and relevant to the world.

Now, let me say there is no doubt that John Bolton should be commended and thanked for his service and his particular achievements. He has accomplished some important objectives against great odds.
As a sponsor of legislation that established an office on global anti-Semitism in the State Department, legislation that I worked very hard to get passed, I am particularly impressed by his work to combat global anti-Semitism. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bolton that we must get the U.N. to change its anti-Israeli bias. Further, I’m impressed by Mr. Bolton’s achievements in the areas of arms control, specifically the Moscow Treaty, the G-8 Global Partnership Fund, and the president’s Proliferation Security Initiative.

Despite these successes, there is no doubt that Mr. Bolton has serious deficiencies in the areas that are critical to be a good ambassador. As Carl Ford said, he is a kiss-up and kick-down leader who will not tolerate those who disagree with them and who goes out of his way to retaliate for their disagreement.
As Ambassador Hubbard said, he does not listen when an esteemed colleague offers suggested changes to temper language in a speech. And as I’ve already mentioned, former secretary of state Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson said he would be an abysmal ambassador.

Some others who have worked closely with Mr. Bolton stated he’s an ideologue and fosters an atmosphere of intimidation. He does not tolerate disagreement. He does not tolerate dissent. Another esteemed individual who has worked with Mr. Bolton told me that even when he had success he had the tendency to lord it over and say, Hey, boy, look what I did. Carl Ford testified that he’d never seen anyone behave as badly in all his days at the State Department, and that he would not even — testified before this committee if John Bolton had simply followed protocol and simple rules of management — you know, just follow the procedure.

Mr. Chairman, I have to say that after poring over the hundreds of pages of testimony and — you know, I wasn’t here for those hearings, but I did my penance, I read all of it — I believe that John Bolton would have been fired if he’d worked for a major corporation. This is not the behavior of a true leader who upholds the kind of democracy that President Bush is seeking to promote globally. This is not the behavior that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community and the United Nations. Rather, Mr. Chairman, it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.

I worry about the signal that we’re sending to thousands of individuals under the State Department who are serving their country in foreign service, in civil service, living at posts across the world and in some cases risking their lives, also they can represent our country, promote diplomacy and contribute to the safety of Americans everywhere.

I just returned from a trip to the Balkans. I had a chance to spend four days with people from the State Department. He’s not what they consider to be the ideal person, Mr. Chairman, to be our ambassador to the United States — to the United Nations. And I think it’s important that we think about the signal that we send out there to those people that are all over this world that are doing the very best job that they can to represent the United States of America.

This is an important nomination by the president. What we’re saying to these people when we confirm such an individual to one of the highest positions — so what are we saying? I want to emphasize that I weighed Mr. Bolton’s strengths carefully. I have weighed the fact that this is the president’s nominee.

All things being equal, it is my proclivity to support the president’s nominee. However, in this case, all things are not equal. It’s a different world today than it was four years ago. Our enemies are Muslim extremists and religious fanatics who have hijacked the Koran and have convinced people that the way to get to Heaven is through jihad against the world, particularly the U.S. We must recognize that to be successful in this war, one of our most important tools is public diplomacy.
After hours of deliberation, telephone calls, personal conversations, reading hundreds of pages of transcripts and asking for guidance from above, I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton. 
The world needs an ambassador who’s interested in encouraging other people’s points of view and discouraging any atmosphere of intimidation. The world needs an American ambassador to the U.N. who will show that the United States has respect for other countries and intermediary organizations, that we are team players and consensus builders and promoters of symbiotic relationships. And moving forward with the international community, we should remember the words of the great Scot poet who said, Oh, that some great power would give me the wisdom to see myself as other people see me.

That being said, Mr. Chairman, I’m not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues. We owe it to the president to give Mr. Bolton an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. My hope is that on a bipartisan basis we can send Mr. Bolton’s nomination to the floor without recommendation and let the Senate work its will.
If that goes to the floor, I would plead to my colleagues in the Senate to consider the decision and its consequences carefully, to read all the pertinent material — so often we get nominees and we don’t spend the time to look into the background of the individual — and to ask themselves several questions.

Will John Bolton do the best job possible representing a trans- Atlantic face of America at the U.N.?
Will he be able to pursue the needed reforms at the U.N. despite his damaged credibility?
Will he share information with the right individuals?
And will he solicit information from the right individuals, including his subordinates, so he can make the most informed decision?
Is he capable of advancing the president and secretary of state’s effort to advance our public diplomacy?
Does he have the character, leadership, interpersonal skills, self-discipline, common decency, and understanding of the chain of command to lead his team to victory?
Will he recognize and seize opportunities to repair and strengthen relationships, promote peace, uphold democracy as a team with our fellow nations?

Lastly, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say this. I have met with Mr. Bolton on two occasions, spent almost two hours with him. I like Mr. Bolton. I think he’s a decent man. Our conversations have been candid and cordial. But, Mr. Chairman, I really don’t believe he’s the best man that we can send to the United Nations.

By the procedures of the Senate, John Bolton needed the Foreign Relations committee to send his nomination to the floor for him to get an actual up or down vote. Without that recommendation, his nomination would have “died in committee.” The Republican doubters on Foreign Relations weren’t willing to kill the nomination outright, but they sent a strong message that they didn’t didn’t think that Bolton was suitable for the job.

In fact, Sen. Voinovich followed up with a letter to his Senate colleagues that the New York Times obtained in late May in which he urged a ‘no’ vote.

At this point, however, a dispute about releasing State Department documents related to Bolton resulted in the Democrats changing their tune. When a motion to proceed to debate on the nomination was offered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, it was shot down. A second attempt in June also failed with Voinovich joining with the Democratic filibuster. At first, Sen. Frist announced that any further attempt to confirm Bolton would be hopeless, but he was dragged to the White House and berated whereupon he rededicated himself to the effort.

Nonetheless, by August it was clear that Bolton would never be confirmed and President Bush gave him a recess appointment instead.

When that recess appointment was on the verge of expiring in the late summer of 2006, Bush sent the nomination to the Senate again, and this time Voinovich caved and said he would support confirmation. Instead, it was Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s turn to stand up, and by withholding his vote on the committee he prevented any action from taking place until after the Republicans lost their congressional majorities in the November midterms.

There were many reasons why Bolton was seen an unsuitable to serve as ambassador to the United Nations, but Colin Powell’s opposition probably was the most important factor for the Republican dissenters. Significantly, Powell would go on to endorse Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton, too. Chuck Hagel served as Secretary of Defense in Obama’s administration. Lincoln Chafee first became an independent and then a Democrat, even briefly running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Lisa Murkowski would be defeated in a Republican primary only to win reelection in a miraculous write-in campaign. As for Chairman Richard Lugar, who presided over the whole debacle, he was defeated in a primary by Richard “God Loves Rape Babies” Mourdock.

This is what happened to the Republicans who were friendly to the State Department and serious about diplomacy after Bush’s reelection in 2004. So, now, John Bolton is on the verge of having the last laugh.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at