The New York Times
May 1, 2005
Never Shy, Bolton Brings a Zeal to the Table
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, April 30 - In the tumultuous days before John R. Bolton graduated from Yale University in 1970, he and his roommates leaned mattresses against the windows to keep out stray tear gas shells.
The trial of a top Black Panther in New Haven had ignited riots and set off a national uproar. The National Guard patrolled the campus in tanks. A bomb went off at the hockey rink.
At commencement, student speakers compared the United States to pre-Nazi Germany and called for an immediate end to the war in Vietnam.
But one student sounded a contrarian theme.
"The conservative underground is alive and well here," Mr. Bolton told his classmates and their parents, scorning a handful of hecklers. "If we do not make our influence felt, rest assured we will in the real world."
Mr. Bolton's prediction would prove true, and for no one more than for this brainy son of a Baltimore firefighter whose nomination as ambassador to the United Nations is now bitterly contested. Ten years after graduation, he would join the Reagan administration to begin what would become nearly two decades of service in Republican administrations.
Seemingly untroubled by self doubt, Mr. Bolton, whom former Senator Jesse Helms once called "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon," has never shied from a dispute nor hesitated to shatter a consensus. In his office he displays a grenade designating him as "Truest Reaganaut," a telling gift from former colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development.
From his battle, as a Justice Department official, for the doomed Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork to his dramatic declaration to poll workers tabulating presidential ballots in Florida in 2000 - "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team and I'm here to stop the count" [emphasis added by wheresthepaper.org] - Mr. Bolton has proved himself a fighter, fiercely committed to a bedrock American nationalism.
But now his brash performance as under secretary of state threatens his nomination, as government officials high and low who have clashed with Mr. Bolton strike back. Complaints that he bullied intelligence analysts who rejected his views have particular weight with Congressional critics, who are still fuming that administration claims about Iraq's arsenal and Al Qaeda turned out to be wildly inaccurate.
But as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee extends its consideration of Mr. Bolton's candidacy, President Bush has shown no sign of wavering in his determination to win confirmation for this least diplomatic of diplomats.
"See, the U.N. needs reform," Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Thursday night. "If you're interested in reform in the U.N. like I'm interested in reform in the U.N., it makes sense to put somebody who's skilled and who's not afraid to speak his mind at the United Nations."
Mr. Bolton, 56, has won loyalty from other bosses, too. They include former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, whom he served at the White House and the State Department and who summoned him to Florida for the recount, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who told an American Enterprise Institute audience after the 2000 election that Mr. Bolton deserved "anything he wants" in the new administration.
He wins such plaudits partly because of an extreme work style that sometimes has him firing off e-mail messages to subordinates from home at 4 a.m. before arriving at the office at 6. In his current job, he has required staff members to stand - along with him - at morning meetings, to discourage long-winded discussions.
"When you go in to brief John Bolton, as I found out early, you better be prepared," said Thomas M. Boyd, who was Mr. Bolton's deputy when he was assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department and who remains a friend. "He's kind of like an appellate judge. He will read everything. If you have holes in your argument, he won't work with you."
He has also impressed superiors with his dogged pursuit of goals he believes in. As assistant secretary of state in the administration of the elder George Bush, he took on the task of repealing a United Nations General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism, long resented by Israel and its American supporters.
For several weeks in 1991, Mr. Bolton devoted himself to what he called the "ZR campaign," according to one person who worked on it. Countries were singled out one by one, with Mr. Bolton systematically pursuing their ambassadors and tracking the results on charts until the vote - an unexpectedly lopsided 111 to 25.
"He's tough and he's relentless and he's very logical," said Frank J. Donatelli, a Republican consultant who has worked with Mr. Bolton both in government and party operations. "But I've never observed any kind of abusive behavior."
What really puts off Mr. Bolton's critics, Mr. Donatelli said, are his firm views. "Even in the Reagan administration, John would usually be the most conservative person in the room," he said.
The drive and ideological certainty that admirers believe make Mr. Bolton effective strike his critics as excessive. Avis T. Bohlen, who worked under Mr. Bolton as assistant secretary of state for arms control, said she agreed with several of his initiatives, including scuttling a protocol to the international ban on biological weapons. But she thought the United States should work with European allies to find a better approach to preventing biological weapons. Mr. Bolton did not.
"He was absolutely clear that he didn't want any more arms control agreements," Ms. Bohlen said. "He didn't want any negotiating bodies. He just cut it off. It was one more area where we lost support and respect in the world."
In handling disagreements, too, Ms. Bohlen said, Mr. Bolton sometimes went over the line. "What I find unfortunate is that he had a tendency to go after the little guys," she said. "I think Bolton is a bully."
The same traits, and the same divided views of them, go all the way back to Baltimore's McDonogh School, where Mr. Bolton discovered his intellectual gifts and his fascination with politics.
Raised in a working-class row house neighborhood in southwest Baltimore called Yale Heights - a far cry from the university where he would earn undergraduate and law degrees - Mr. Bolton won a scholarship to McDonogh, then an all-male military school.
That modest background is a key to his personality, some associates say. "He didn't come from money," said Mr. Boyd, his former subordinate. "Sometimes when you push the rock up the hill, you're hungrier. You have more of a drive to succeed."
From seventh grade on, he boarded at McDonogh, returning home on weekends to his father, Jack, who had been wounded in Normandy on D-Day, and his mother, Virginia, a homemaker. They also had a daughter, Joni, who is nine years younger and now works as a nurse near Baltimore.
"He had the same attitudes and beliefs then and now," said Marty McKibbin, 77, who taught at McDonogh for 46 years but still recalls clearly his debates with John Bolton about the Vietnam War in Asian history class and at lunch. "It's kind of surprising that Yale and Yale Law School and Washington, D.C., didn't change him much."
In 1966, Mr. Bolton, who has said he privately called the liberal teacher "Mao McKibbin," wrote an editorial for the school paper titled "No Peace in Vietnam," warning against "spurious" hopes for a settlement. When he stepped down as associate editor after his senior year, an unsigned notice of thanks said: "John Bolton has attacked his duties with the fervor of a political fanatic. His efficient, if sometimes controversial, management of the editorial page deserves more than conservative applause."
Ed Wroe, another McDonogh scholarship student, recalls John Bolton's fervor for the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. "When you hear people describe him as abrasive, you think, 'That sounds like John Bolton,' " said Mr. Wroe, an attorney in Idaho. "He didn't worry about what people thought of him."
But Dr. Bruce K. Krueger, his Yale roommate for five years and now a physiologist at the University of Maryland medical school, recalls Mr. Bolton as a far more pleasant character. "He might say something provocative - everyone else in the room might disagree with it - but he'd have something solid and well-reasoned to back it up."
Dr. Krueger said Mr. Bolton was the only conservative in their six-member suite and one of a shrinking minority of such students on campus. Yet Mr. Bolton seemed to enjoy his status as David versus the campus's liberal Goliath, Dr. Krueger said. "I thought he kind of liked that role - the loner, the sole counterpoint in the room."
Mr. Bolton joined the National Guard, in which he served for six years, before graduation. "I confess that I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asia rice paddy," he wrote in a recollection for his 25-year Yale reunion, in part because he felt that the war in Vietnam was "already lost" because of antiwar sentiment among Americans.
Today, associates describe Mr. Bolton as an avid reader, particularly of history and biography, and a political junkie. They describe him as a very private person who is devoted to his wife, Gretchen, a financial planner, and their daughter, Jennifer, who now attends Yale. When mother and daughter head off on ski trips, he stays behind.
"He can appear to be very stern," said Mr. Boyd, his former Justice Department colleague. "I think that's a product of his reserve. He's got a great sense of humor, a great cackle of a laugh - but he has to trust you."
In the loose shorthand of the news media, Mr. Bolton has sometimes been described as a neoconservative. That's wrong, said Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for a New American Century, a conservative strategy group.
The neoconservatives believe in spreading democracy; Mr. Bolton, with a less idealistic view of other countries' potential, prefers to focus on threats to the United States, Mr. Schmitt said. "He's a straightforward, traditional, national security conservative," he said.
On the Balkans, for instance, "John's view was that we didn't have a dog in that fight," Mr. Schmitt said. In Iraq, Mr. Bolton favored overthrowing Saddam Hussein. But, Mr. Schmitt said, "I think he would say we should not be in the business of transforming Iraq."
In a recent interview with the McDonogh School magazine headlined "The Patriot," Mr. Bolton, who is not talking to reporters during the confirmation period, defined his job as keeping American interests clearly in sight.
"Frequently you hear diplomacy described as a skill of keeping things calm and stable and so on, and there's an element of that," he said. "But basically, American diplomats should be advocates of the United States. That's the style I pursue."
Correction Tuesday, May 3, 2005
A picture caption on Sunday with an article about the background and career of John R. Bolton misidentified the Senate committee before which he was testifying about his nomination as ambassador to the United Nations. It was the Foreign Relations Committee, not Armed Services.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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