The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ms. Merkel Goes to Washington, Mr. Bolton to Berlin

'Tis a mid-January Thursday evening, and I am in the Hotel Adlon, Berlin’s grandest hotel, or least the one with the tradition and history that goes with that label. The Swampmeister is about to listen to, and then pick one question to ask, the ideological nemesis of most people he knows, Ambassador John Robert Bolton, son of a Baltimore fireman and currently the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. Courtesy of the Aspen Institute (they should have a report up soon with some nice snaps!) I somehow wound up in this faux-décor ballroom, where the anticipation is palpable.

During the East Room Press Conference (c) REUTERS, Jason Reed

But this blogger’s mind is as usual also drifting across the Atlantic. And this time, the thoughts are not purely personal or ephemeral as they are accompanying Angela Merkel, who is flying to Washington on her first visit there as German Chancellor (for some good reporting on the visit, click here and here). Ambassador Bolton, a man of intimidating intellect, reads my mind and that of many of the thousand-strong audience, quipping “I am sorry that your Chancellor left as I was flying in, I assure you this is a coincidence.” He knows that when he approaches many stay clear, and that in his wake even fewer remain. Perhaps, or definitely maybe, he thinks this is how it should be. But I doubt Frau Merkel would be one to be swept aside by any Bolton shockwave. In fact, I am certain they would get on very well.

Anyway, the Ambassador is not here to joke with the Europeans. Rather, he is following in the footsteps of his predecessors; American ambassadors to the United Nations have traditionally traveled far and wide dealing with all kinds of issues. It goes with the territory, shoring up support for the international initiatives of the day. Currently, this means, among other things, the Iranian nuclear issue and Bolton’s pet project and (peeve), an across-the-board reform of the United Nations.

Now, some might say that John Bolton is not only the wrong man for such a job, but that he is the last man UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would dream of being stranded with on a desert island. Why, oh why? Well, supposedly he is on a mission to subvert, disassemble, explode and then incinerate whatever remains of the organization. His lengthy, and ultimately unsuccessful (he received a recess appointment) Senate confirmation process made the ones for Supreme Court nominees seem like cake walks. As the entry on Wikipedia (and the linked, wacko Talk section) attests to, the man is simply a walking and talking controversy.

For more cogent takes on how and why Bolton can be said to be up to no good, I recommend the work of two acquaintances, Steve Clemons and Mark Goldberg. Steve, among other things, is the founder of “The Washington Note”, one of the better insider blogs on D.C. political life, and is also about to set up something called “Bolton Watch”. Mark is a writer for The American Prospect, and recently penned that magazine's January cover story entitled “The Arsonist: John Bolton v. the World”. You would think they are worried about the antics of Bolton, and you would be right.

The Wooley Swamp is definitely the place – alas, this is not the time – for me to announce that I respectfully disagree with the main thrust of Steve and Mark’s beef with Bolton. But I thought I’d just say that so that any subsequent fawning over the man in Turtle Bay receives a little prefacing. Also, I think I made a half-promise at the end of 2005 to pick my battles, and focus on thing that we can all agree on, like the suffering of the North Korean people. But don’t worry: in this case there is clear thread between my MO, John Bolton and madman Kim Jong-il (who, btw, seemed to have gone AWOL for a while, but was finally located in Guangzhou.)

John Bolton, U.S. ambassador of the UN arrives to address the 'Transatlantic Forum' of the German Free Democratic Party, FDP, in Berlin on Friday, Jan. 13, 2006. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

That's the real reason the Ambassador was in town: to talk to his friends in Germany's liberal Party, i.e. the most internationalist and open-minded of all parties represented in the Bundestag. Their party leader Guido Westerwelle called it "an important step in restoring German-American relations to its stable foundation of friendship and mutual respect." Bolton the unilateralist, eh...

OK, back to Adlon on Thursday night. The Ambassador was there to talk about UN reform and so he did. He went into some detail regarding the latest proposal for the new Human Rights Council, which he had just announced at the Security Council the day before. But he kept it short, talking for some 15 minutes and then answering questions for over an hour. As Jeffrey Gedmin, the director of the Aspen Institute pointed out, this kind of availability is unusual for high level officials. And it’s clear why Bolton does this: he enjoys it, he relishes debating people who are then often left flummoxed and shell-shocked.

There were some soft-ball questions – I might include mine therein (see below), but then again I had an ‘agenda’. But with representatives of Amnesty International, the embassies of the Netherlands and New Zealand, various new organizations as well as the obligatory crackpots on hand to try and stick on the spit, he still got what he wanted.

Noteworthy, besides the more diplomatic tone he now has to adapt – were the aggressive questions about U.S. policy from the diplomats of two embassies, one an ally and the other a former ally and now a "friend". You would think, their ambassadors in NYC might keep them up to date, and that they understood diplomatic protocol. But the urge to grandstand is indeed great. And with the semi-nutty kind of Foreign Minister New Zealand now has, i.e. the boss of on of those diplomats, you gotta wonder where she garnered the gall.

Bolton sounded off on all kinds of things, including the Iran situation. Here are two choice quotes that made the holier-than-thou crowd gasp for air:

By the way, I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that we did the right thing in invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

- as an aside to lauding the current cooperation, e.g. the unanimous approval of the continued presence of the Coalition Forces in Iraq, in the Security Council

But the difference is that we do so democratically and with due process. Look, let me tell me you something: I believe strongly, very strongly, in the death penalty and it seems to me that you’re being undemocratic when you dismiss the choice of millions of Americans that support it. These are ordinary good, hard-working Americans.

- to Amnesty’s representative when queried about U.S. moral authority for still applying the death penalty, both federally and in certain states.

But on to my own softy curveball baiter of a question: “What will the new Human Rights Council mean for the most egregious violators of human rights? I am thinking of, for example, Burma, North Korea, Cuba…”

And just then Bolton’s cell phone rang. There we were, some 1,000 folks chuckling. He jested about the disadvantages of cellular technology and I suggested that it might be the White House trying to muzzle him. I then continued and wondered how exactly U.S. policy will manifest itself in this area. Human rights.

These were obviously the coca leaves the likely somewhat jet-lagged Ambassador needed. He grew animated, and began answering my question by stating that it should come as no surprise that the same regimes that desire weapons of mass destruction, are the same regimes that sponsor terrorism , and above all are the most oppressive, authoritarian ones on the planet. He continued:

“It is about this totality. Take North Korea, for example. Violating the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,) pursuing nuclear weapons, spreading missile technology...And just look at how this regime treats its own people. How can you take anything they say seriously?...It is the U.S. position to promote human rights by trying to shift the focus to this totality.”

Amen to that. My nefarious plot had met with not negligible success. This ranks right below his previous legendary quotes on the hermit kingdom, when he called life there a "hellish nightmare." It remains my sincere belief - especially after over-eating during the holidays - that people need to get real about serious problems. And thanks to the phone call, perhaps he will remember me when we run into each other at the Vienna Café (kudos to MG) at UN Central in New York.

My own humble attempt to aid North Korea – the uploading of the documentary mentioned in the last post is still going strong. Soon 2,000 individuals will have downloaded the movie from me alone, and from there it will just keep on spreading (recent downloaders include folks from Bahrain and Pakistan.) A drop in the ocean, but a seed indeed.

The Basketball Court at the North Korean Embassy in Berlin

After the lecture, I began biking back, taking a little detour. Just two blocks southeast of the hotel lies a hideous structure known as Glinkastrasse 5-7 : previously host to an odd research institute and if you believe the expat website,, it is now an all-female gym. Imagine most ladies' surprise when arrive ready for a nice work-out...

For in reality, this is now the location of the last remnant of the Cold War, the current Embassy of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. As I looked up the two or three dimly lit windows in the gigantic concrete block – built to scale for the days when it was an important outpost (the embassy was closed when diplomatic relations were frozen after German reunification, that's when the institute and then the gym moved in) in the German Democratic Republic – I wondered what the people inside were thinking.

And then I thought of Angela Merkel, who before the Wall was torn down (click and listen!) worked just a few blocks away at the then East German Academy of Sciences. That same day as leader of a united Germany she had been a guest in the White House, and evidently both charmed and impressed everyone she encountered. A leader of a united Korea will one day follow in her footsteps.


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Blogger Give 'em enough rope said...

“I believe strongly, very strongly, in the death penalty and it seems to me that you’re being undemocratic when you dismiss the choice of millions of Americans that support it.”

This is wonderful, just wonderful! I was wondering if you would mind if I used this quote in a different forum? I know some people who would really enjoy it. I will reference the source, of course.

Democracy is such a fantastic tautology…

By the way, I did answer your answer to my comment. Maybe it would have been appropriate to post my response here, but I wasn’t sure so you will find it in Ropesville.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Package said...

Another great post CB- I wonder if Bolton had any impact or just reinforced beliefs?

12:48 PM  

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