POLITICS
05/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

John Bolton On Diplomacy: 1% Difference Between McCain, Obama

Storied Bush administration anger-droid John Bolton injects himself into the harebrained "appeasement" debate raging between the Obama and McCain campaign this morning with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that splits so many hairs that it practically begs for a stronger brand of leave-in conditioner.

In Bolton's opinion, the Obama view of foreign policy - specifically its emphasis on diplomacy - "highlights a fundamental conceptual divide between the major parties and their putative presidential nominees." Just how can that divide be quantified?

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

Wow. As silly as it is to attempt to express the distinction between Obama's foreign policy and the Bush/McCain policies numerically, Bolton extends the inanity by attempting to hang his hat on a statistically insignificant one-percent difference. It's especially stupid when you consider that just a few paragraphs later, Bolton finds a way to accidentally account for the difference: "Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders."

Most of Bolton's complaint regarding negotiations involves the weird notion that engaging foreign rivals diplomatically automatically accords the rival with "legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset," when what it really does is fill the vacuum with a strong insistence that our own interests - ostensibly the interests of democracy - have a vital legitimacy of their own. But Bolton doesn't stop there:

...negotiations entail opportunity costs, consuming scarce presidential time and attention. Those resources cannot be applied everywhere, and engaging in true discussions, as opposed to political charades, does divert time and attention from other priorities. No better example can be found than the Bush administration's pursuit of the Annapolis Process between Arabs and Israelis, which has gone and will go nowhere.

It buggers the imagination to hear Bolton, servant to the constantly vacationing, over-napped Bush administration, complain about how diplomacy is a waste of precious time. But to see that coupled with a fundamental misread of the flaws of the too-little, too-late Annapolis Process, staged with no more vital statecraft in mind than a burnishing of Bush's mostly empty legacy, is an extreme exercise in fatuousness.

Ultimately, Bolton is correct when he asserts that the President's comments in the well of the Knesset "may well have created a defining moment in the 2008 campaign." The President fired a broadside at Obama, earned a brutal beatdown from an allied Democratic party, and ended up wussing out entirely, sheepishly whining that he wasn't referring to Obama when he made the comments. As an example of how Bush and McCain define "toughness" and direct it at their rivals, it's fairly clear why their foreign policy fails nearly 100% of the time.