The second term of the Bush Administration is off to an ominous start, even worse than his bitterest opponents had feared. Flush from a dubious 51 percent "mandate" and determined to "spend my political capital," Bush is aggressively pursuing his ideological objectives.
The president has made three controversial nominations for key positions in recent weeks --- John Negroponte as the new director of national intelligence, John Bolton as UN ambassador, and Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank. And all three seem to have gotten the nod simply because they adhere to Bush's neo-conservative ideology.
At a time when the US needs to mend fences around the world --- and fresh on the heels of putative goodwill trips by the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice --- these appointments seem to fly in the face of all logic. Unless, of course, one of the objectives is to reinforce to international and domestic opponents that this administration will do what it wants.
As the new intelligence czar, John Negroponte will be the primary conduit of all intelligence given the president. He'll have operational and budgetary authority over 15 intelligence agencies and will have the authority to direct new intelligence activities and determine policy. This is truly an awesome level of power.
Negroponte's background is remarkably short on actual intelligence-evaluation experience, but quite extensive in more sinister matters. As Ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s, he oversaw clandestine military operations and human rights abuses in neighboring Central American countries. Death squads operating in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador were supplied by the US, trained at Fort Benning, and coordinated by Negroponte.
Numerous international human rights organizations have ample evidence to support this position, which Negroponte naturally denies. (More information on his Central American activities can be found on nsarchive.org and hiddeninplainsight.org.) When Negroponte was nominated to be UN Ambassador in 2001, he was questioned extensively about his Honduran activities. And he clearly committed perjury based on documents now available through National Security Archives.
Negroponte began serving last June as the first US Ambassador to the new Iraqi government. In a story broken by Newsweek this January, it was indicated that Negroponte was behind a proposal to implement a "Salvador strategy" --- no doubt a cliché for a death-squad approach in Iraq. Now Negroponte is nominated to be one of the most powerful men in the United States.
It's difficult to imagine a more unlikely nominee for US Ambassador to the UN than John Bolton. Joining the State Department early in the Reagan Administration, he has since forged a career as a right-wing advocate of American unilateralism utterly disdainful of the UN and everything it stands for.
When the Clinton Administration came along, Bolton left the State Department and joined the American Enterprise Institute, where he prepared position papers and op-ed pieces advocating the neocon ideology. He opposed US adherence to international law, stating that the US should not be bound by multinational institutions and should not pay UN dues unless the UN supported the US position.
When the Bush Administration came to power, Bolton was nominated as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control. Due to his strident public positions, Bolton's confirmation hearings were unusually difficult and the vote was only 57-43 to confirm.
It was widely believed by Washington insiders that Bolton was actively undermining his boss, Colin Powell (who reportedly wanted to get rid of him), and was working closely with the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis of the Bush Administration. Beyond Bolton's ideology is his personal demeanor, which is described by those who know him as humorless, irascible, and petulant. Sounds perfect for a key diplomatic post where the US is trying to shore up international support.
You would assume that to be President of the World Bank the candidate would need a background in banking or finance, or at least some background in the internal development of Third World economies. In the case of Paul Wolfowitz, that assumption would be wrong.
Wolfowitz's history seems to point in a different direction on every particular. He was US Ambassador to Indonesia in the 1990s, when rampant crony capitalism preceded a mammoth financial collapse. (He also chose to ignore the genocide in East Timor.) He was one of the architects of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a document spelling out the details of a US-dominated world in which the US would be the ultimate guarantor of security and would use preemption as a strategic doctrine. One of its precepts was to prevent the rise of any conceivable global rival or ally. Another PNAC precept was to use economic power to help ensure American hegemony.
It would not be unreasonable to assume that other nations might well interpret the Wolfowitz nomination as a further move by the US neocon establishment to dominate the world economy through the auspices of the World Bank. Wolfowitz is clearly a polarizing figure, not only because of his association with PNAC, but also his hawkish stance on the war in Iraq. His limited financial acumen was clearly demonstrated in his public statements on how easy and cheap the Iraq war and subsequent reconstruction would be. Is this the level of judgment to be expected as the President of the World Bank?
In the Bush Administration, ideology and unstinting adherence to neocon orthodoxy mean everything. Competence, appropriateness for the job, and concern for domestic and foreign alternative input mean nothing. Following the patterns of the appointments of Condoleezza Rice, Porter Goss, and Alberto Gonzales, the administration is clearly not interested in any divergent points of view. Those prone to even the slightest independent thinking (i.e. Powell, former Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neil) are gone. Also gone is any hope during the remainder of this administration of improving our image throughout the world.