THE BLOG
05/04/2007 07:01 pm ET Updated 4 days ago

Getting John Bolton Off of Bush's Payroll Correlates with Improved US Foreign Policy Gains

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I agree with Scott Paul that John Bolton's co-mingling during his Bradley Prize acceptance speech of Senator Chris Dodd and and former Senator Lincoln Chafee with prominent citizens of Pyongyang, Havana, Damascus and Tehran was at first glance disconcerting.

But now that I've had the day to think about it, there are sensible "prominent citizens" in Havana who I recently met -- and with whom we should be charting new possibilities for US-Cuba relations. Bolton seems to relish the derision of broad swaths of people even when it undermines the interest of his own nation, president and fellow citizens.

I still remember John Bolton's shocking views on the moral inferiority of killed Lebanese innocents when compared to lost Israeli lives -- a passage in Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony that apparently got struck out at the last moment by some sensible, alert pragmatists in the State Department just before Bolton began reading his speech.

Then there are those citizens in Pyongyang, Damascus and Tehran. . .

Thanks to Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic team -- strengthened enormously by some key departures and addition of new talent -- we are talking to "prominent citizens" from all these cities.

It's useful to note that none of this would have been possible without the departure of John Bolton, followed by the exit of Robert Joseph -- who at least was honorable in his decision to resign because he couldn't support the direction of America's dealmaking with North Korea.

In contrast, John Bolton had to be pushed out and preempted by withholding Senate confirmation before he began his barrage of criticism against his fellow Bush administration colleagues and the president himself.

Condi Rice has a decent team today, and they are on a bit of a good roll. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Legal Adviser John Bellinger -- and even Counselor Eliot Cohen (protecting her right flank from Cheney's minions) -- are all part of this leadership team and are making some important and constructive things happen on the world stage. There are clear, positive, tangible gains on a great number of complex diplomatic fronts.

Policy Planning Director Stephen Krasner has now officially departed for Stanford -- and "Acting Director Matthew Waxman" is in place.

matthew_waxman_naf.jpgWaxman is an ideas entrepreneur with character (he is one of the real insider heroes who while at DoD fought against the erosion of the Geneva Conventions on torture). He also gets strategy and knows that water wars, transnational disease transmission, environmental challenges posed by climate change dynamics, massive refugee crises, and other non-traditional problems must be dealt with as well as thinking through how a superpower manages its interests in a world where other superpowers -- and even not so super powers -- aren't the overriding security challenge.

State has yet to find the person that they would like to have as their own version of Andy Marshall, who heads "Net Assessments" at the Pentagon and who is brilliant, old, and sort of "yoda-like." In fact, he is nicknamed "Yoda".

But perhaps State should remove the "acting" from Matthew Waxman's title and roll the dice on someone who appears to many to be a 21st century "young Yoda." Waxman, who I have met on occasion, reminds me of a hybrid of strategic wunderkind Paul Nitze and Eisenhower acolyte Andy Goodpaster.

One senior State Department official believes that Condi Rice "wants a name" heading Policy Planning -- someone "with more stature." But this is a pivotal time in American history and foreign policy. Not a lot of what we did yesterday will be that helpful in thinking through what we need to do tomorrow. Everything needs to be rethought. Lots of "unthinkables" need to be worked on.

Fresh thinking and working to benchmark the complexities of deploying diplomacy as well as hard power in the 21st century are what a nimble mind like Waxman's may be better equipped to do than those who are regular Foreign Affairs groupies.

Hopefully this blog post won't sink Waxman's chances to succeed Krasner, but someone out in civil society had to point out that there is incredible talent embedded in our current government and that it has been the "big names" like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and John Bolton who have caused the worst problems for American foreign policy and who, in many cases, have taken the country in very troublesome directions.

It may be time to try something new.

Many of us would applaud it.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note