Bolton’s Uncompromising Power Politics

When the United States abstained at the last minute on last week’s Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, many were surprised, since Washington had made its support for the resolution clear. John Bolton was surprised, too, but in the other direction: if he had been there, the U.S. would have swung the pendulum all the way to a veto.


What’s interesting about Bolton’s stance is not so much the reasoning behind his unthinking opposition to this particular resolution — which he declines to provide in his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, instead simply labeling the measure “anti-Israel” as a matter of course — but the worldview that shapes his convictions. In chastising the United States for not thumping its veto loudly upon the table, Bolton does not seem the least concerned that the resolution passed; what really irks him is what he sees as the United States’ “weakness.” In his black-and-white conception of Security Council dynamics, there are only two positions: strength and cowardice.

But abstaining comes with its own costs. A permanent member’s abstention invariably reflects that it failed to achieve its objectives. It also signals timidity.

Included are some ruminations about other countries’ foreign policies that London, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing might be surprised to learn.

Britain and France avoid vetoes for fear that if they are seen to be too hard-edged, they will be harried off of the Security Council and replaced by one European Union seat. Russia and China are motivated by other pressures. Russia is cautious because its influence is waning. China’s influence is increasing, but it feels the need to tread lightly.

Nowhere does Bolton give any indication that countries might vote for a resolution because they support it, or vote against it because they oppose it. Everything is part of a hard-nosed political game, one with no room for compromise (or “surrender,” as revealingly Bolton terms it in his book). The idea of abstaining from a vote out of a sense of not wanting to derail an entire peace process, then, finds no room in Bolton’s schema. For what is peace in Gaza when there are important objectives like flaunting American power to accomplish?

(image from flickr user graney under a Creative Commons license)