John Bolton’s Day in the lights.

July 28, 2006

John Bolton is trying to gain his well deserved full term appointment as ambassador to the UN and he faced some harsh criticism from certain Senators. Here are the highlights.

BIDEN: I understand. I read Senator Dodd’s statement. I happen to agree with it. And my statement is not substantially different, so I’ll not take the time to do that. But I thank you. And by way of explanation to my colleagues and to the ambassador, I was at the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
BIDEN: It’s been the only constant in my entire political career. That’s what got me involved in politics and, quite frankly, I didn’t see how I couldn’t be there. And I apologize for the tardiness.

Biden has got to be one of the biggest blowhards in the Senate. You don’t have to try score political points for being late all the time. Dodd was late and probably because of the vote but he didn’t mention it.

CHAFEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Ambassador. As you said, we have a crisis and tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. And without a doubt, this is an extremely important area in the world: energy-rich, all the religious areas that are important. And in addressing that, you said that, “We are actively engaged in New York in identifying lasting solutions to bring about a permanent peace in the Middle East. To do so, however, requires that we have a shared understanding of the problem. The United States has a firm view that the root cause of the problem is terrorism, and this terrorism is solely and directly responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today.” And you’re a brilliant man. That statement doesn’t make any sense. Terrorism is a device. There’s got to be something deeper for the root case. Can you go a little deeper?

Lincoln Chafee, the Republicans Zell Miller was trying to get Bolton to say that the real problem in the Middle East wasn’t terrorism. Bolton backed down to saying that the cause was that the leaders of the other countries hated Israel. Chafee was also saying how he thought the real problem was no contigous Palestinian State. The obvious problem is that you can either have a contigous Israel or a contigious Palestine, having both is infeasible.

SARBANES: Now, the U.S. is very substantially in arrears with respect to peacekeeping dues at the United Nations. Is that correct?
BOLTON: I wouldn’t say “very substantially in arrears.” I think part of this — part of the calculation comes from the way in which our budget cycle operates, where we will pay the bulk of our assessments in what’s called the CIPA account, Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities, at the end of this year, because of the congressional and administration budget cycles. So that as the U.N. defines arrearages, which become arrearages 30 days after the bill is paid, there are outstanding balances which hopefully will be — when Congress is able to act on the appropriations bill, which I’m sure they will, will be paid before the end of this calendar year.
SARBANES: Well, I have figures that indicate that we’re almost a trillion dollars in arrearage on peacekeeping operations at the United Nations.
BOLTON: I can’t believe that’s right.
SARBANES: $1 billion, I’m sorry, not $1 trillion. $1 billion.
BOLTON: Right.
SARBANES: Yes. $966 million.
BOLTON: Right. I think that’s in part due to the nature of the budget process, as I’ve just described it.
SARBANES: What part of it is due to that, in your opinion?
BOLTON: I would have to get you that exact figure.
SARBANES: Well, how important do you think it is that we be abreast of our — how can we go in and ask or push for the U.N. to assume peacekeeping operations when we’re not paying out for our peacekeeping assessments? BOLTON: Well, I think we are attempting to pay up for our peacekeeping assessments. The nature of the way the assessments come in, the way the budget cycle works in the United States don’t mesh. That’s a problem with other countries, as well. And I don’t think, I would have to say, in my experience, that our situation with the arrearages in the peacekeeping account has not been a factor in the discussions in New York on rehatting the force currently in Darfur and making it a U.N. peacekeeping mission. I think everybody’s aware of the arrearages, but I don’t think that’s a factor in any of the negotiations. At least, I have not encountered it myself, and I’m not aware that anybody else has raised it.

Senator Sarbannes was somehow trying to blame Bolton for the fact that Congress pays bills on a different timetable than the UN. Sarbannes knows this, he knows that this isn’t a new problem but he figures the sound clip will sound good; the message of the sound clip is relatively simple, how dare we criticize the UN for not doing enough when we aren’t paying the money. Also it is a desperate attempt to shift the blame for Darfur from the UN to Bush.

DODD: Well, then, why don’t you explain — let me ask you this: What was so important in that information that you needed to know the names of those individuals in addition to the actual content of the conversations?
BOLTON: Let me just say, as I said at the beginning of the hearings 15 months ago, I guess they were, from my personal point of view, I’d have all of this in public. Because, frankly, I think if all of these — if all of these things were out in the open, they would be a lot easier to explain. I feel a little constrained now even talking about the intercept issue in public, but I will try and answer your question to the best I can.
DODD: I’m not going to ask you to reveal any names…
BOLTON: I understand. I know you would not do that. But let me just explain how this works. And every day — usually twice a day, sometimes more than that — I get packages of intelligence material, and I did in my previous job — as do senior officials in State and Defense and the NSA. I’m a voracious consumer of intelligence. I read as much as I can, I make no bones about it. I, in my previous jobs, and lots of other senior officials see the results of intercepts. And they’re written up in various different ways. But it is the policy of the NSA not to put in the intercepts the names of Americans,
Dodd: OK…
DODD: Correct.
BOLTON: … and that includes American entities…
DODD: Correct.
BOLTON: … companies as well as individuals. They follow different patterns, and I couldn’t begin to explain why. Sometimes it’ll say that material is going on, and then it will say “a named American person.” Sometimes it says “a named government official.” Sometimes, and I’ve seen this for myself, it will say “the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations” — not hard to figure out who that is. But there are times when as you’re reading along the material, trying to understand what it really means, it can be enhanced if you know the name of the American involved. So what I did on 10 occasions — you’re quite right; 10 occasions — four times in 2003, three times in 2004, and three times in 2005 — following procedures that are set up for precisely this purpose, made a request of the INR bureau of the State Department to receive the names of the — what is called the minimized names. That’s the whole process — this is called “minimization.” The INR, pursuant to procedures, passed that request along to NSA, which pursuant to their procedures, I believe in all 10 cases, agreed to provide the name.

Sending requests for the names in certain intelligence briefs sounds pretty standard. For example, if he got intelligence about a certain UN ambassador he would want to know which one it was to do his job properly, in act if he didn’t make these requests it would seem that his intelligence work wasn’t being done very well. The fact that these requests were approved indicates that he wasn’t making demands on a casual basis to get back at someone.

You say you want to have an investigation. Ok.

July 27, 2006

Kofi Annan has come out strongly in favor of having an investigation on the bombing of a U.N. bunker in Southern Lebanon. The UN says that they repeatedly asked Israel to stop the bombing and Israel refused. A key quote in the article is that Hezbullah didn’t fire on the bunker. Of course, the UN representative who said this meant it to cast blame on Israel, but it does the opposite. The UN bunker was right in the middle of the terrorists. Suppose Israel does nothing within a radius of 300-500 meters of the bunker (a reasonable error for an airstrike or artillery bombing). How are they supposed to clear the terrorists out of Lebanon if they don’t bomb an area of 300,000-800,000 sq. meters around each UN bunker. Maybe the Israelis could let the UN deal with these terrorists? I mean if you can’t trust the UN who can you trust? In fact the possibility that this is a mistake is much greater than any other possibility. The other three possibilities are:

  1. A single pilot acting on his own bombed the bunker out of his contempt for the UN. This is technically possible, but it is unlikely that any pilot would take the high chance of life in prison just to satisfy a personal vendetta. Also Annan doesn’t want this because it allows Israel to punish the pilot and suffer no loss of reputation.
  2. Israel authorized the bombing of the bunker and the near misses were put there to fool the world into thinking it was an accident. This is implausible because there is no motive for Israel to bomb a random UN bunker. It is possibly the one action Israel can take which would turn the US against them.
  3. Israel bombed the UN bunker because the UN was sheltering Hamas. Given the UN reputation it isn’t implausible, but even so Israel probably wouldn’t bomb the bunker directly.

The UN bunker was unfortunately destroyed, but if you’re going to send UN observers into the middle of the enemy army you shouldn’t be shocked if you get accidentally hit.

U.N. Gets “Tough” on Iran

July 21, 2006

France and Germany are sponsoring a tough resolution on Iran. It calls for unspecified sanctions on Iran if it doesn’t stop making uranium. Sanctions are next to useless against a country which doesn’t care about its people and what little value they have is destroyed by not telling the sanctioned country what you’re going to do. This sanction is like a stickup where the robber, who has no gun, says give me the money or I’ll do something to you. (I exaggerate of course, this sanction isn’t nearly so fearsome to Iran’s leaders. Its more like a stickup where the robber, who has no gun, says give me the money or I’ll do something to some gerbil 10 miles away.) Russia however is angry about this war-mongering approach. They switch the demand to a request, slow down the sanctions, and forbid military action against Iran. To update the metaphor this is equivalent to a robber coming into a bank and saying “You don’t have to, but would you please give me the money. If you don’t I may do something to a gerbil a couple of years from now, but don’t worry I won’t hurt it.” Is it really that hard to say you continue developing nukes we can invade your country, and nuke your nuke.