In the first few months of this year, I have read broadly, to prepare to write my dissertation, to sate my own intellectual curiosity and to understand the forces at play in the world as our nation responds to the ever-increasing threat of Islamofascism. As part of that last quest, I have recently completed the second of two books, each essential to developing responses to that threat and recognizing the challenges to implementing those responses.
The first (and easier read of the two) was Norman Podhoretz’s, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. In this relatively short book (just over 200 pages), he looks how the challenges have changed as we move from success in the Cold War (which he dubs World War III) to the challenges of the struggle against Islamofascism (World War IV). Podhoretz praises President Bush for his aggressive actions in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and shows how his policies are appropriate response to the threat we face.
Not only does Podhoretz defend the president, but he also dissects the criticisms leveled against the his policies by a variety of groups and interests, including the far left, the mainstream media, liberal internationalists and realists. Finally, he compares the current president to two of his predecessors who, like him, set our new direction for our nation’s foreign policy, Harry S Truman and Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The book is typical (Norman) Podhoretz well and often pithily written, offering many insights from his long experience covering American foreign policy and international affairs. This neo-conservative does not mince his words, never hesitating to take on his ideological adversaries and and ever eager to offer his own strong opinions. I only fault the book for its absences of footnotes. While with google, we could track down some of the articles he cites, we might face more of a challenge tracking down the books he references.
The second book, John Bolton’s Surrender is not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations is a slightly more difficult read, but demonstrates the real obstacles facing a diplomat trying to promote the policies Podhoretz advocates in our own government and international organizations.
Despite my criticisms of each book, I recommend both highly. The real challenge to reading Bolton’s memoir is that he details the many negotiations he had while at the United Nations. But, in sense that tedium serves an important purpose; reading those descriptions helps show the incredible patience required of a diplomat. And the challenges facing someone trying to advance America’s interest in international organizations.
As I noted in a previous post, given the endless give-and-take of those negotiations as he attempted to pass resolutions responding to the threats of international terrorism, I’m surprised that he did not blow his stack on a more regular basis. The constant parleying (with other nations), consultation (with other government officials and our allies) and compromise would try the patience of the most level-headed human beings.
If I had time, I could detail the many negotiations to which John Bolton subjected himself just in short time as US Ambassador to the UN, but that would make this already long post even longer. He discusses his role in responding to the efforts of North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the preference for negotiations among the Europeans (and their eagerness for agreements), the necessity for reforming the United Nations, the weakness of UN Peacekeeping efforts in Africa and how this relates to the crisis in Darfur and the de facto acquiescence to terrorist control of parts of Lebanon.
He looks at the mentality of what he calls the High-Minded, the attempts to see the United Nations Secretary General as the Secular Pope and the preference of many diplomats for process over real-world results.
Given the length of this book, my suggestion is that you read the chapters which address the issues which interest you the most. Make sure to read the first three chapters to get a sense of John Bolton the man. You’ll see that he is a far different man than his portrayals in the media would allow. He is a gifted diplomat, intelligent and with a good sense of humor. And also make sure to read the concluding chapters to see his reflections on his departure from public office and to learn his suggestions for reform at the State Department.
It was reading that last chapter yesterday which prompted my post promoting Bolton for Secretary of State. He clearly understands how to reform the State Department’s bureaucracy so that our diplomats can become more effective advocates of the United States rather than tools of an international establishment favoring global consensus.
Indeed, throughout the book, he shows how the unelected bureaucrats at State work to undermine he elected president of the United States and the officials he appoints to implement his policies. These bureaucrats seems to have accepted the doctrine of “Moral Equivalency” which Bolton calls a “disease of the sophisticated,” seeing our nation “as the cause for the overwhelming bulk of the world’s problems. . . . If only our conduct were corrected, other countries would comport themselves with sweet reason as well.”
Do we want people who blame America first running our nation’s foreign policy?
It seems, alas, that such people have compromised the effectiveness of our current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as she seems to have been increasingly swayed by their worldview. In his final years in office, her predecessor, Colin Powell, seems to have compromised his commitment to the president by his obsession with a legacy. And we see how ungrateful and duplicitous former Rhode Island Senator (and former Republican) Lincoln Chafee had become, accepting much support from the party establishment to win a contest Republican primary, then refusing to vote for Bolton’s confirmation (when it no longer seemed in his interest to do so).
Chafee is not the only person who comes across as self-important and deceitful. Indeed, we could say that about many of the diplomats portrayed in this book.
The person who comes across worse than anyone else is former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Basically, to see what a self-righteous tool of the anti-American international establishment he was, just read the whole book or, if you’re pressed for him, go to his the index and find a few references to him and read them. It seems that every time Bolton references this career UN official, Annan was working to undermine the policy of the United States and even of the Security Council of the organization he then headed.
Just one example. Annan forced Detlev Mehlis, a respected German prosecutor, to weaken the report (which he had written at the behest of the Security Council) on the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The then-UN Secretary General insisted the investigator delete “key information concerning Syria’s role in the assassination and subsequent cover-up.”
In short, Annan sought to obscure the role of a state sponsor of terror in the murder of a politician of a neighboring country. He didn’t want to make the facts known. In other words, he wanted to formulate policy based on an incomplete understanding of the situation in the Middle East. If Annan had succeeded, we wouldn’t know the true nature of a nation which truly threatened the peace of the region and threatened the sovereignty of a member nation of the UN.
And some Americans wish we had coordinated our foreign policy more with the United Nations.
To make the book an easier read, I wish that Bolton had provided a glossary listing the various diplomats referenced as well as explaining the various acronyms so we could better wade through the alphabet soup of international diplomacy. I just couldn’t keep track of all the organizations and individuals referenced.
All that said, despite the book’s flaws, I believe it should be required reading for anyone serious about understanding international diplomacy in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Both Podhoretz and Bolton understand the threats to our nation and recognize what we need do to secure the United States, take on those who seek to destroy us and our allies, and promote a more stable — and peaceful — world.
Podhoretz does a great job eviscerating the opponents of the policies he (and the current Administration) favors. But, Bolton does him one better. In his concluding chapter, he provides a plan for reforming the State Department to make it a more effective advocate of American interests.
Just to learn that plan — and understand why it is necessary — makes the book worth its cost. And worth the trouble of reading it.