Nick Burns-Style Diplomacy & John Bolton’s Next Word

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nick burns.jpg
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.
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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

Comments

19 comments on “Nick Burns-Style Diplomacy & John Bolton’s Next Word

  1. rich says:

    JohnStuart:
    It’s no surprise that Bolton is articulate. But then, that doesn’t speak to the issue. Erudition or effective writing isn’t a valid substitute for sound political judgment in the service of the national interest. You don’t have to read David Halberstam or Thomas More to pick up on that–or do you?
    –”I never experience the “bully” aspect – because, I think, only the vulnerable are bullied – by definition.”–
    By definition that is wholly untrue. It fails by misplacing responsibility on the target, rather than the supposedly ‘strong’ perpetrator. And it’s more than a little contemptible.
    I wouldn’t call the Germans or French
    vulnerable.’ Yet in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, John Bolton was literally screaming on network TV that “the Germans & French should *just shut up and follow orders*.” That is consciously chosen wording with an unmistakable intent: the Germans more than anyone know the implications–AND that the Nuremberg defense is worthless. Yet Boltson was stating that Germans should “just follow orders” again–unlike WWII, though, this time the US would be giving the orders.
    Both are sovereign, democratic countries–so mull the profound inversion of core American principles at work here–before pretending that trenchant writing repairs the misdeeds that’ve so badly damaged our national security. It was an ugly spectacle–but Bolton’s open assertion that the US is stepping into the third reich’s shoes will not be forgotten–nor acceded to. And it’s precisely that betrayal; it’s THAT breach of trust that has provoked antagonism and terrorism and turned America into a target. That’s always been lesson #1 of Realpolitik or our Founding as a nation.
    John Bolton only bullies the strong–and those who oppose him. It’s how all bullies work. Sure, they enjoy the easy pickins–but they always go after the strong, too, because those with integrity and courage and actual sound judgment are the real threat to someone who’s got nothing. The only reason you weren’t bullied, JohnStuart, is because you were either agreeable or weak–or both. ‘Vulnerability’ does not explain bullying behavior away–nor does any other ‘condition’ serving to essentialize the victim. Bolton’s responsible for his own behavior, and for some extraordinarily reckless and costly methods & policies.

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  2. JohnStuart says:

    re: no working title, no publisher
    John B’s book will be published by a Simon and Schuster imprint, Threshold Editions, with the working title “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”
    JohnStuart

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  3. Carroll says:

    I don’t like being tendentious, but I do think you are revealing a certain lack of sophistication with this post.
    JohnStuart
    Posted by JohnStuart at February 22, 2007 02:37 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Well first as they say in the movies..”are you talking to me”?
    Second.. did you mean to say you didn’t like being tendentious ..or did you mean to say you didn’t like being pretentious?
    Using “sophistication” for understanding Washington doesn’t apply, everyone “knows” about Washington.

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  4. reticulant says:

    That\’d be Blackton, as in J.S.

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  5. reticulant says:

    |\”No working title yet and no publisher, although several have expressed interest.\”|
    We\’d suggest Regnery. Not quite the stuff of lux et veritas or Blackston collegiality but closer, many would argue, to Bolton\’s prefontal \”nature.\”

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  6. sdemetri says:

    I have Burns’ interviews on NPR twice in the past few weeks, and for all his talents, which may be considerable, I wasn’t impressed. He said we were in Iraq by invitation, presumably meaning we hadn’t been asked to leave yet. And he said Iran was in Iraq without invitation, simply not true, at least with regard to the envoys invited by the Iraqi government and assisting wounded getting to Iran for medical care. His last interview last evening relied heavily on the “diplomatic efforts” we are trying to influence the Iranians with… I think it was ElBaradei that complained that setting preconditions to talks with Iran on the very thing talks would be about, halting uranium enrichment, is insincere at best, sure to fail at worst.
    The flexibility in Iran’s position seems to be coming through sanctions and US arm-twisting and threats towards Iran’s trading partners. Burns may be a diplomat with long service… ah but the company he keeps.

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  7. David N says:

    Bolton is cut from the same cloth as Bush, and this is shown by his objection to the North Korea agreement.
    Basicly, Bolton’s (Bush’s) idea of diplomacy is as follows:
    I tell the other side what to do.
    They do it.
    Actually listening to, much less understanding, the needs, agenda, and positions of anyone is simply beyond the scope of either man.
    That would take too much recognition of reality.

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  8. JohnStuart says:

    Caroll,
    are you really putting Burns and Bolton in the same category?
    Few people who know them would do so.
    Few people who know Washington well would do so.
    One is a clever lawyer and ideologue with a flair for sound-bites.
    The other is a talented career foreign service officer who speaks quite good French and serviceable Arabic. He is well regarded by a wide spectrum of foreign affairs stakeholders – both liberal and conservative.
    They have almost nothing in common other than the fact that both are articulate and bright.
    I don’t like being tendentious, but I do think you are revealing a certain lack of sophistication with this post.
    JohnStuart

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  9. Carroll says:

    Well, how cute!.. that some of us are so impressed by diplomats and how entertaining it is to discuss how masterful Bolton is and clever Burns is…it’s like admiring all the pretty ozzing colors in a bloody rotting wound.
    When this is all some can say about these people we know they are the ones who have given us this goverment that only they deserve.
    I would suggest it behooves one to learn the difference between smart and smart. It’ not difficult to be regarded as smart when surrounded by stupid.

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  10. Carroll says:

    Well, how cute!.. that some of us are so impressed by diplomats and how entertaining it is to discuss how masterful Bolton is and clever Burns is…it’s like admiring all the pretty ozzing colors in a bloody rotting wound.
    When this is all some can say about these people we know they are the ones who have given us this goverment that only they deserve.
    I would suggest it behooves one to learn the difference between smart and smart. It’ not difficult to regarded as smart when surrounded by stupid.

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  11. Gene says:

    “How many times have I read a story like the one above from the radical Islamic folks? They will kill you over a defamatory cartoon of their cartoon religion.”
    We NEVER have radical religous violence in the USA, do we?
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_viol.htm
    Not that this has anything to do with Nick Burns or John Bolton.

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  12. JohnStuart says:

    You may be somewhat surprised by John’s book.
    I worked directly under John a long time ago and I can assure you that he:
    • Writes trenchantly and well;
    • Knows how to craft a tight argument (using facts, not just bombast); and,
    • Is very well-educated & knows how to draw upon that resource to good effect.
    This does not mean that you will like him any better when you read the book, but John B in prose in quite different from John B in TV sound-bites.
    I actually found it fun to work with him – even though we were in regular disagreement.
    If one is confident, articulate, and holds one’s own ground, jousting with John is like doing practice rounds with a good boxer who isn’t going to kill you, but who will exploit every weakness in your defense.
    I never experience the “bully” aspect – because, I think, only the vulnerable are bullied – by definition.
    I won’t predict that his book will be a block-buster, but I expect that it will hold its own amongst this decade’s Washington memoirs.
    There will be more of the Yale Summa and less of the Fox News bluster than you might expect.
    JohnStuart

    Reply

  13. JohnH says:

    Obscured in the coverage of Iran is perhaps the real reason the US is trying to squeeze them at this particular moment. It has nothing to do with hypothetical, future nukes or with helping their opponents, the Sunnis in Iraq. It may not even have to do with the fact that Bush and Cheney feel a pressing need to spill the rest of their bile while they’re still in office. No, the real reason may be that this is the moment that Iran can be squeezed and forced under America’s “benevolent” hegemony. Iran is running out of refined gasoline, presenting an opportunity for an embargo, squeezing their economy, and making ordinary folks unhappy with the regime. But it has to be done quickly, before Iran completes its new refineries and converts its automobiles to natural gas.
    http://www.iags.org/iran121206.pdf

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  14. Robert Morrow says:

    Female Pakistani minister shot dead for ‘breaking Islamic dress code’: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article1414137.ece
    How many times have I read a story like the one above from the radical Islamic folks? They will kill you over a defamatory cartoon of their cartoon religion. Honor killings because their sister is a slut OR she is just seen in public with another man. They will kill you over violating THEIR totalitarian dress code. Having liquor is a capital offense. They will blow up a Buddhist statue. Flying kites is a deep violation of their whackjob “moral” code. But head-chopping of the “infidels” is A-ok.
    Most Muslims I would not let into America; maybe only a few “Reform” Muslims if there is such a thing. And, furthermore, our military is running on fumes and we are kicking out homosexuals in the face of this Islamic insanity out there? THAT is insanity.
    I am no fan of the “gay” agenda, whatever that is. But I really don’t think that drinking a beer, flying a kite, a woman showing her face, or homosexual activity should be capital offenses. Ditto adultery. It’s not right, but I think that execution is a BIT harsh of a penalty.
    So I am for “gays” in the military and Islamic radicals/fascist/fundamentalists/true believers OUT of the USA.

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  15. earl says:

    I heard Nick Burns on NPR last night giving the Big Spin on how we have been bending over backwards to work with Iran. He was the embodiment of snake oil, very slick and evasive to all questions while delivering the message of ‘the government’.
    Now I don’t worry about Iran, because I know the government will never allow anything bad to happen. It was good to listen to the nice man.
    Grape is my favorite flavor.

    Reply

  16. bAkho says:

    One problem with Bolton is lack of ability to understand the positions of others. He interprets the actions of others within his own narrow-minded framework, not understanding that the framework of others is different. In making deals, it is important to differentiate what the other side really wants and what they are willing to bargain. Bolton unnecessarily demonizes others and assigns to them more inflexibility than is warranted. Bolton starts with the disagreements and demands concessions. Good negotiators start with what the two sides can agree on and work to minimize the differences.
    Bolton is clueless.

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  17. Pissed Off American says:

    Gosh Steve, the multi-party framework “worked” in Afghanistan? I guess Burns has been too busy lately to take a look at the reality in Afghanistan, eh? Now theres a real “mission accomplished” for these guys to add to their long list of “successes” in the Global War On Terror, ya think?
    Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it, this GWOT slogan? May I suggest it stands for George’s War On Truth?

    Reply

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