Yesterday evening, I posed a question to Under Secretary of State and former US Ambassador to NATO R. Nicholas Burns at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council of the United States. I think the meeting will appear today and during the coming week on C-Span.
I suggested that:
While former Ambassador Bolton is saying highly critical things of America’s recent deal with North Korea — and I admit that there may still be some difficulty in the implementation of that deal — there was an “equilibrium of interests” among the key stakeholders around the North Korea problem that snapped into place.
It seems to me that that “template” which may prove successful is not a new one. It’s the same kind of template that we applied to Afghanistan in 2002 when Ambassador James Dobbins, Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker and others worked with Iran and other regional stakeholders to pull off the “Bonn Conference” stabilizing Afghanistan at that time and punctuating President Karzai’s launch.
If we could negotiate and interact with Iran in 2002 — which we clearly did under this Bush administration — why can’t we attempt such a regional approach, or regional template, with Iraq? Not to do so seems to me to be very “un-Nick Burns like.”
Burns was terrific. He did not address the John Bolton complaints about North Korea and said that a problematic history of US-North Korea relations requires us to watch carefully how this deal is implemented. He said that China’s commitment to a deal became the new ingredient for success in this case. He didn’t take my bait on Iraq — but suggested that the multi-party framework that worked with Afghanistan (then) and recently in North Korea — was what we needed to deploy in dealing with Iran.
He said that the equilibrium of interests around Iran among major stakeholders was beginning to click and that he sensed important and noticeable new flexibility seeming to appear on Iran’s side.
Burns skill at answering my and other questions in the room last night was pretty mesmerizing. He’s an outrageously good diplomat, sort of like the antithesis, as I see it, of Ambassador Bolton.
But John Bolton is going to give the world some insight into his diplomacy. Was the bluster really just diplomatic tactic? What was behind his public call that Cuba was developing biological weapons of mass destruction — which turned out to be false? Or his view in 2001 and 2002, we should be bombing North Korea rather than reaching out diplomatically? Who was he checking up on in those famous National Security Agency Intercepts that arguably became the item most important in ultimately blocking his confirmation as US Ambassador to the United Nations in the U.S. Senate? Did he see his boss and immediate supervisory authority to be the President and/or Vice President, skipping past Colin Powell — or did he mostly behave under the supervision of Powell and Richard Armitage?
There are a ton of questions John Bolton might delve into in a perhaps “tell-all” or “tell-some” book, to use Al Kamen’s phrasing, that Bolton may publish before year’s end.
Here’s a snippet from the Washington Post “In the Loop” column:
Speaking of authors, John Bolton’s tell-all book on his days at the State Department and as ambassador to the United Nations could be coming out as early as the end of this year.
All right, maybe not a classic “tell-all” — perhaps just a “tell-some” — but top folks in Foggy Bottom and at the United Nations are most surely not going to be happy when this one comes out. The buzz is that it’s going to focus mostly on Bolton’s work at the United Nations, where he’s said to be still upset at his inability to lop off 10 of the building’s 38 floors that he had said were expendable. The book is likely to rank the floors in order of those most expendable.
Unclear how Bolton will treat his most recent bosses, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. His view of Rice may have altered a bit after last week’s agreement with North Korea on its nuclear program, an agreement Bolton and other conservatives have criticized as “a bad deal.” There are others at State sure to come in for their share of abuse.
No working title yet and no publisher, although several have expressed interest. But if this is to come out before Christmas, he’d better get typing.
A friend of mine who is very close to John Bolton told me that The Washington Note will probably not make it into any serious Bolton expose on his style of diplomacy and his vision of American national security interests. I was told that Bolton wouldn’t want to give this blog such pleasure or recognition. That’s fine — and that ‘s a quite honest answer.
But whether one appreciates John Bolton’s “applied Jesse Helmsianism” to global affairs or not, the book should be fascinating.
It will be interesting to see whether Bolton will thank Nick Burns, Condi Rice and Colin Powell for their professional and personal guidance and counsel during his years of work with them. Stay tuned.
– Steve Clemons