Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton makes a strong case today on the New York Times op-ed page for the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to ensure that the regime doesn’t get a bomb. He’s right that those who dismiss the use of force are underestimating the damage air strikes can inflict and overestimating Tehran’s ability to recoup its losses in quick order after it has taken them decades to get this close. But before you give too much credit to the editors of the Times for, in what is an increasingly rare gesture for them, giving space to opposing views, take a moment and think about whether this is the debate about Iran we should be having. For the past year and a half President Obama has attempted to portray opponents of his appeasement of Iran as warmongers when, in fact, most have rightly advocated sticking to the tough sanctions he has discarded in hope of forcing the regime to accept an agreement that, unlike the one currently being negotiated, would actually stop them from building a bomb. Whatever its virtues, the Bolton article merely serves to bolster Obama’s disingenuous arguments.
It’s not clear how seriously Republicans will take Robert Costa’s report in National Review Online today that John Bolton is exploring the idea of a run for president in 2016. While the prospect of a candidacy from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations set off chortles on both the far left and the paleo-con right, Bolton’s interest in the Republican presidential nomination may leave most GOP power-brokers and grass roots activists in early primary states cold. With a deep bench of potential Republican presidential candidates including genuine political stars like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and even 2012 retreads like Rick Santorum lining up for the next contest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a Bolton candidacy.
But though the odds are he never makes it to the starting line, let alone the finish line, the idea of a Bolton candidacy is not quite as insane as it may seem at first glance. With many Republicans starting to flock to the neo-isolationist banner put forward by Rand Paul and with many conservative activists now treating the ongoing war on Islamist terror as being not as important as their dislike of Barack Obama, it is arguable that there is no longer a solid Republican consensus in favor of a strong American foreign policy. Though some of the other possible candidates do differ from Paul about the impulse to pull back from a forward posture abroad, none have prioritized that issue. If Bolton is even talking about what would probably be a quixotic run it is only because he knows it is vital for there to be a vigorous debate about foreign and defense policy so as to turn back the Paulite push.
Last January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the president can only make recess appointments when the Senate has adjourned sine die, i.e. without setting a date for returning to session. Once it adjourns this way it is out of session until noon on the following January 3, when the 20th Amendment commands that a new session begin. (The president has the power to summon Congress back into session if necessary.)
This was a great restriction on the recess appointment power of the president, which allows the president to make temporary appointments to posts requiring Senate confirmation “during the Recess of the Senate.” Before that ruling, presidents had often made recess appointments while the Senate was in temporary recess, often of only a few weeks. They did this either because the president thought the post needed to be filled immediately (President Eisenhower gave William Brennan a recess appointment to the Supreme Court in 1956 and he was subsequently confirmed by the Senate) or because of obstruction in the Senate that made an up-or-down vote on an appointment impossible (such as George W. Bush’s recess appointment of John Bolton to the U.N. ambassadorship in 2005).
I’m not quite sure why so many of my fellow conservatives have focused so much ire on Susan Rice’s potential nomination to be secretary of state. She would definitely not be my first choice for the job (that would be Joe Lieberman) but compared to some of the other rumored second-term nominations—e.g, Chuck Hagel at Defense or John Kerry at State—the possibility of Susan Rice doesn’t seem so bad. She actually seems to have a more activist vision of American power than many in the Democratic Party who are eager to cut the American role in the world back as rapidly as possible.
Much of the criticism directed at her for her blunt, undiplomatic personality sounds like a virtual replay of the criticisms once made of Jeane Kirkpatrick and John Bolton, both conservative favorites when they served as UN ambassador. Indeed Rice sounded positively Boltonesque (admittedly not something she would consider to be a compliment) when she recently told off the Chinese ambassador, Li Baodung, in a UN Security Council debate over how to respond to North Korea’s missile launch. According to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy:
A rare kudos to CNN’s Kyra Phillips, who highlights another absurdity in the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer’s recent attack on Mitt Romney’s national security spokesman. Any true conservative must be a fan of Ambassador John Bolton, right? And, as we know, Fischer has claimed no real conservative could possibly hire a gay spokesman, right? Well, as it turns out:
FISCHER: He did a great job.
At first, you might think Eric Holder’s testimony this morning was hypocritical. After all, he defiantly echoed the Bush administration’s defense of the separation of powers that drove liberals absolutely crazy. (Watch this Jon Stewart interview with John Bolton from 2007 in which Stewart gets so frustrated by the executive privilege argument he tells Bolton to “man up.” I’m sure he’ll be telling Holder to “man up” any day now.)
But in truth, Holder’s defense of executive privilege was perfectly consistent with the Obama administration’s position on this all along. For example, here’s a McClatchy dispatch about a move Obama made immediately upon assuming office: