Forget trying to clear out the deadwood and the lefty-leaning careerists at the State Department. But how about the Bush Administration and Republicans doing something about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Better yet, bring back Jesse Helms for a couple of days and let him sort things out.
Frustration among some conservatives on Capitol Hill bubbled over with word that some Foreign Relations Committee staffers had encouraged the drafting of a letter by 59 former U.S. diplomats urging the Senate in general — and the committee specifically — to reject President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton as next U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Most of the signees are second tier has-beens in the foreign policy community who couldn’t get beyond ambassadorships to countries like Nigeria, though several high profile diplomatic types did sign on, including Arthur Hartman, for example, who served in senior foreign policy positions in the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations.
But more troubling than the letter, or the fact that committee staff encouraged its drafting, is that Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar was apparently also aware that such a protest letter was in the offing and encouraged it as well.
“Lugar has not minced words on the Bolton nomination, and he isn’t going to shy away from an open debate on the nomination’s merits,” says a Foreign Relations staffer. “Bolton is not a popular nominee up here, and that’s no surprise. But Democrats feel somewhat empowered by Lugar’s position on the nomination.”
Lugar has been called on the carpet for his lukewarm support of Bolton by both Republican Senate leadership and the White House, as well as third party supporters of Bolton. The National Rifle Association met with Lugar several weeks ago and made it clear it viewed the Bolton nomination as a litmus test for Republicans in the Senate. Lugar is set to open hearings on Bolton’s nomination in early April.
“The letter itself means little or nothing beyond what the mainstream press does with it to try to undercut the nomination,” says the Foreign Relations staffer. “But the fact that it was percolating up here and Republicans on this staff did little to keep our side out of it should be troubling.”