Many commentators on President Bush's second-term appointments have linked the nominations of Secretary Rice to her position at State, Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank, and John Bolton to the United Nations as a troika making a particular statement. The Guardian, for example, published a column by Martin Jacques to this effect under the portentous heading "The neoconservative revolution."
Certain of the mainstream media have suggested that by appointing officials who support his administration's policies, President Bush has demonstrated a troubling audacity. The Los Angeles Times thought it appropriate in this context to ask, in mulling over Wolfowitz's nomination, whether Wolfowitz can "display sufficient independence from the Bush administration[.]" Perhaps this is a standard the Los Angeles Times would like to apply generally to Bush's cabinet officers, as well.
The nominations have become a kind of pons asinorum for the mainstream media. Bolton's nomination provoked the remarkable statement by Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank that Democrats have "assailed Bolton's knack for making enemies and disparaging the very organization he would serve." Jay Nordlinger noted:
That encapsulated perfectly the Democratic mindset. You see, we Neanderthals think that the purpose of the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is to serve the United States, particularly its foreign policy, as made by the government's executive branch. It is the other view that the U.S. ambassador is to serve the United Nations—to be part of that clique, that bureaucracy. That is why Barbara Boxer and others shudder so at Bolton's "contempt" for the United Nations. They love that body, and value it as a check—or a brake—on U.S. foreign policy.
But few of Bush's second-term appointments fail "the Milbank test" more markedly than the president's appointment last month of the United States representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).
The UNCHR is a cesspool of anti-Semitism—of which Israel is, of course, the primary focus. Anne Bayefsky's April 2004 National Review column provides a good summary of the UNCHR's business last year: "Business as usual." Business as usual at the 60th session of the UNCHR included the adoption of five resolutions condemning Israel and the carving of three hours out of the UNCHR schedule to mourn the death of Hamas terrorist leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Bayefsky has elsewhere observed that fully 30 percent of the UNCHR resolutions condemning specific states adopted over the past 40 years have been directed at Israel. So whom did President Bush nominate to represent the United States in this troubled body during its just-concluded 61st session? Funny you should ask. He happens to be a friend of mine.
On March 4, President Bush nominated Rudy Boschwitz; Boschwitz's appointment was confirmed by the Senate two weeks later, 99-0. Boschwitz's nomination and confirmation passed virtually unnoticed last month, but his story is nevertheless of interest, especially in the context of current controversies.
Boschwitz was born in Berlin in 1930. When Hitler was made chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Boschwitz's father immediately declared that the family would leave the country. They emigrated from Germany and made their way to the United States two-and-a-half years later. Relatives who stayed behind perished in the Holocaust.
Boschwitz graduated from college at age 19 (Johns Hopkins) and law school at 22 (NYU), but found the practice of law boring. He moved to the Midwest and went into business, ultimately founding his own retail company in Minnesota. After building the retail company into a business (that is still going strong), Boschwitz was elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota in 1978 as part of "the Minnesota massacre" in which Republicans won the state's two Senate seats as well as the governor's office. He served in the Senate for 12 years with verve and distinction, but was narrowly defeated for reelection in 1990. Unlike so many defeated congressional officeholders who never return to their ostensible homes after leaving office, Boschwitz went back to work in his business. (I served as the treasurer for Boschwitz's losing 1996 senate campaign against Senator Paul Wellstone, who had defeated Boschwitz in 1990.)
Boschwitz has been an ardent advocate of Jewish causes and of America's alliance with Israel before, during, and since his tenure in the Senate. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush sent Boschwitz as the American emissary to Ethiopia in a mission which resulted in Operation Solomon, the rescue and dramatic airlift of the small black Jewish community in Ethiopia to Israel. In June 1991, President Bush awarded Boschwitz the Citizen's Medal for his achievements in the Horn of Africa. Boschwitz takes special pride in his involvement in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, referring to it as "a major league mitzvah" ("good deed" in Hebrew).
His advocacy of Jewish causes, his belief in America's alliance with Israel, and his view that the United Nations is an unfriendly forum for the United States are all plausible grounds on which to give Boschwitz a failing grade under "the Milbank test." Despite these defects, in the UNCHR session which concluded this past Friday Boschwitz accomplished much. In his April 14 press release, for example, Boschwitz reported:
The United States offered two resolutions of condemnation—one against Cuba and the second against Belarus. Belarus came first, and a "no action" motion (which is like a tabling motion in the U.S. Senate) was offered. That won by a single vote: 22 Yes, 23 No, 7 abstentions and 2 countries sat silently in their chairs and simply did not vote. After the no action vote failed, the vote on the underlying U.S. resolution was 23 Yes, 16 No, and 14 Abstentions.
Cuba, annually the biggest test for the U.S. Delegation, won by 21 Yeas, 17 Nays and 15 Abstentions. The margin of victory, 4 votes, was a great improvement over last year when that margin was just 1.
But the votes underscore the need to change the Commission on Human Rights as Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out in a speech here in Geneva to the Commission on April 7th. The exact nature of what the changes should be is not entirely clear to me yet.
The absence of votes and the votes themselves confirm that the membership of the CHR still contain too many arsonists and not enough firefighters. When a "no action" vote on Belarus wins by a single vote; when the Nays and Abstentions against the Castro regime total 32 of the 53 member Commission; when 23 members of the Commission cannot see their way clear to condemn the gross human rights abuses of North Korea; when it is clear that there aren't enough votes to censure Zimbabwe so no resolution at all is offered—then there is no doubt that the CHR needs to be changed.
This is underscored by the failure today to undertake the real test of the 61st Session of the CHR: a strong resolution condemning the most egregious human rights violator of this time, Sudan. The number of deaths in the Darfur region may now be as high as 300,000, and the number of dispossessed is at 2,000,000, and the violence, particularly against women, incalculable. The resolution against the Sudan was put off till Monday. It may well then be moved from Item #9 to Item #19, which means it will become a weakened consensus resolution that will be most unsatisfying to the American delegation. We will surely say so and do everything possible to keep a strong resolution in Agenda Item # 9. If it fails, as it well might, the CHR will have condemned itself.
As usual, the perennial UN punching bag, Israel, was the subject of not one but 3 condemnatory resolutions which all passed handily. The United States voted and spoke against all three. Yet one of the better aspects of the 61st Session of the CHR has been a recognition of the advancing peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians which was mentioned by a number of countries in their speeches. The votes were not quite as lopsided as in earlier years. A more moderate tone about the Middle East was also in evidence throughout the entire Session here.
As Boschwitz anticipated, the session ended with a disappointing consensus resolution that condemned "violations by all parties" in the Darfur region of Sudan without explicitly condemning the Sudanese government. The AP quotes U.N. high commissioner on human rights Louise Arbour herself castigating the narrow ambit of the commission's concerns with human rights: "There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered only by reference to four states." Reasonable observers might conclude that it is "the Milbank test" that deserves a failing grade rather than President Bush's nominees.