However, according to this WaPo story, that might be the case. Seems that since Bolton has left the State Department, some progress has been made in several arenas his irked leftist and centrist critics have said he bunged up most when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control.
Now with Bolton no longer in the job, U.S. negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland next month, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs.
The prospective revival of the plutonium disposal project underlines a noticeable change since Bolton's departure from his old job as arms control chief. Regardless of whether the Senate confirms him as U.N. ambassador during a scheduled vote today, fellow U.S. officials and independent analysts said his absence has already been felt at the State Department.
Without the hard-charging Bolton around, the Bush administration not only has moved to reconcile with Russia over nuclear threat reduction but also has dropped its campaign to oust the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and made common cause with European allies in offering incentives to Iran to persuade it to drop any ambitions for nuclear weapons.
Bolton also put up barricades to one-on-one communications with Pyongyang, sharing civilian nuclear technology with India, joining Europe's effort to incentivize Tehran to cease its trek toward nuclear weapons, working with the Brits to get Libya to dump its nuclear precursors, and, most infamously, engineered Jose Bustani out of a job for fear that actual inspections in Iraq might find nothing and thus chill war fever. Indeed, except for the case of India, it could argued that Bolton's major role was to make sure that no chilling went on anywhere the U.S. might wish to exercise a military option.
So, what's going on?
"Throughout his career in the first Bush administration, he was always playing the stopper role for a lot of different issues and even when there was obvious interest by the president in moving things forward, Bolton often found ways of stopping things by tying the interagency process in knots," said Rose Gottemoeller, a Clinton administration official who worked on nonproliferation issues. "That's the situation we're seeing dissipate now." ...
Still, other specialists cautioned against overstating the extent of the changes since Bolton's departure and noted that he was always acting in concert with the president's broad wishes. "He was a lightning rod because of his strong and blunt statements," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy organization. "But this Bush administration is not going to become the Adlai Stevenson administration just because John Bolton has left the State Department." ...
But Bolton was shut out of Iran after Rice's ascension, according to two U.S. officials, and his policy was reversed. In early January, officials from France, Britain and Germany flew secretly to Washington for a brainstorming session on Iran. Bolton was not invited, European diplomats said. Instead, they met with Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council.
"We weren't the ones who wanted to keep the meeting secret," one European diplomat said. "It was the American side that didn't want him there."
This gave both me and Laura Rozen a chuckle.
Advantageous as it might be to have your bad cop screeching diplomatic obscenities and stomping out of the room while the good cop stays behind to shake her head, buy sodas and move the discussion forward in a still-firm yet more reasonable tone, Bolton's appointment to the U.N. - which faces a cloture vote in a few hours - seems it could be no more than a red meat dish for the party's hard right. Since Bolton was no more acting on his own in all those contretemps with allies and foes than was General Sanchez at Abu Ghraib, he can't be jettisoned without risking repercussions. But that doesn't mean somebody didn't try to put him overboard with the sharks while giving the impression they were putting him on a yacht.
I try to suppress the conspiratorialist in me, but could Condi Rice have secretly expected Bolton to get chewed up in his confirmation hearings? Did she care if he did?
Perhaps Rice wanted to ensure that anyone carrying water for Rumsfeld and DoD at the State Department be given his walking papers before undermining her own agenda, which, despite what we all expected just a few months ago, seems to be diverging at least somewhat from that of the harder-line Neo Imps. Whether that's a serious assessment, insane hopefulness or merely my false reading of skimpy evidence remains to be seen. Given other appointments, like Negroponte, I can argue it whichever way.
Update: Cloture Failed 54-38. Take the poll.
Cross-posted at The Next Hurrah.