Floor Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the Confirmation of John Bolton

On Confirmation of John Bolton
by Barack Obama/Floor Statements

Delivered on 11 April 2005.

Mr. Chairman and Senator Biden, the position of United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations is one of the most important diplomatic positions in the entire U.S. government.

Some of the most distinguished Americans - Democrats and Republicans like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, George H.W. Bush, and Henry Cabot Lodge - have served with honor in this position.

Yet, there is one man from my home state of Illinois whose experience as Permanent Representative is quite relevant today.

Adlai Stevenson served in this position during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, as we all know, it was Stevenson's presentation to the U.N. Security Council that proved to the world that the Soviets were moving intermediate range missiles into Cuba. Using charts and photos to build a compelling case, Stevenson declared to Soviet Ambassador Zorin that he was prepared to wait "until Hell freezes over" for Zorin's response to the U.S. charges.

What few people remember is that Stevenson's presentation came on the heels of what one might call an "intelligence failure." A year earlier, Stevenson had been misled by the White House and the CIA into publicly stating that the United States was not behind the Bay of Pigs invasion. Stevenson almost resigned over the incident.

This series of events is important to keep in mind today. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we were able to succeed diplomatically because of the stature and integrity of our Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In fact, President Kennedy said that, "the integrity and credibility of Adlai Stevenson constitute one of our greatest national assets."

As a result, Adlai Stevenson was able to get tough, isolate the Soviets, and convince the world we were right.

Today, we face a similar situation. With the rest of the world questioning our intelligence capabilities, and nuclear proliferation threats from Iran to North Korea that may require action by the U.N. Security Council, we must be able to convince the world that we are right. Now, more than ever, we need a credible messenger at the U.N.

Unfortunately, I have some serious reservations about whether Mr. Bolton is the right man for the job:

First, senior U.S. intelligence officials have called into question Mr. Bolton's credibility on statements he's made about non-proliferation. There are also accusations related to political pressure on intelligence analysts who did not agree with Mr. Bolton's statements. Considering that he's the top arms control official at the State Department, this is troubling to say the least.

Second, Mr. Bolton's history of inflammatory statements about the U.N. would seem to make it more difficult for him to advance U.S. interests at the U.N. I am concerned about whether Mr. Bolton even believes the U.N. is a viable institution and a useful instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Saying that it wouldn't make a difference if you lop off ten floors of the UN building in New York isn't exactly the best way to earn people's respect and support - whatever the context.

Finally, Mr. Bolton appears to have an overly confrontational history with several member-states on the Security Council. Like Adlai Stevenson, I believe there are times to be tough. But statements like "I don't do carrots" coming from someone who wants to be our chief diplomat at the U.N. certainly give me pause.

Mr. Chairman, there is no question that we need someone in New York who is unafraid to shake things up and challenge the status quo. But, we also need someone with the credibility, temperament, and diplomatic skill to work with other nations, form coalitions, and advance U.S. interests.

That is why I've invoked the memory of Adlai Stevenson here today: he was tough; he was credible; he was diplomatic. Most importantly, he was effective. Stevenson proved that we should not make compromises or trade-offs when selecting our Representative to the U.N.

I want to give Mr. Bolton a chance to speak on these issues, and so my mind is not made up yet. I want to hear from him as to how he can be an effective and credible advocate for the U.S. I look forward to hearing his testimony and answers to the Committee's questions.