So, Newt Gingrich said yesterday that he’d appoint John Bolton as his Secretary of State. David Bosco weighs in with a big, “meh” arguing that Bolton’s tenure as Ambassador to the United Nations wasn’t really that radical.

His memoir, Surrender is not an Option, mostly covers his stint as U.N. ambassador between August 2005 and late 2006 and it’s written to bolster that image. He includes plenty of jibes at feckless Europeans and blinkered U.N. bureaucrats.  But what was Bolton’s actual record in his most consequential government post? For a variety of reasons, it was not nearly as radical as one might expect…In short, Bolton was far more pragamatic and incrementalist at the U.N. than his detractors — and Bolton himself — suggest. (Emphasis)

“Not so!” says I. When left to his own devices, Bolton did, in fact, try to impose his hard-edge ideology on debates at the United Nations. He just did not get away with it because he still had to take orders from a Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) who was much more pragmatic than Bolton. In fact, when things got really bad Kofi Annan would telephone Rice and ask her to reign in Amb. Bolton. And she did. In December 2005,  I reported out a good example of this dynamic:

For days, frantic negotiations on the substance of far-ranging UN reforms dragged on from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. But the one UN ambassador who generally arrived earliest and stayed latest always looked more upbeat than his bleary-eyed counterparts. “All night — all right!” quipped John Bolton to a press stakeout.

There was a reason for Bolton’s cheer: He was the man most responsible for the complexity of these negotiations. A month earlier, the newly minted, recess-appointed U.S. ambassador had sent negotiations into a tailspin when he submitted some 750 alterations to a 39-page text known as the “summit outcomes” document. Bolton’s most eye-popping suggestion at this summit, billed as a renewal of the UN’s 5-year-old pledge to help poor countries, was that all 14 references in the document to the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) be deleted.

The MDGs grew out of a global agreement on poverty eradication known as the Millennium Declaration, which was signed at a UN summit in September 2000. The “goals” that Bolton tried to nix include, among other things, reducing by half the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day — right now, 1.3 billion — by 2015. While the United States had never signed the agreement, the goals were never a target of Bush administration animus before Bolton came aboard.

Bolton’s stance on the MDGs caused an uproar. In addition to the G-77 bloc of developing nations that had the most to lose from the elimination of MDGs, the British, who had recently played host to a G8 summit focusing on African poverty, were particularly livid. Even the United States itself seemed to back away. In a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations shortly after Bolton’s edits were leaked to The Washington Post for an August 25 story, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns refused to confirm or deny that, per Bolton, the United States was dropping its support of the MDGs. To those in the room, wise to the oblique lingua franca of the diplomatic world, Burns’ pullback hinted that Bolton had forged his own policy on the MDGs — ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Prospect has learned that, in the end, it took Rice’s personal intervention to set things right. On September 5 she participated in a conference call with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on the subject of UN reform. The next day, Bolton sent a letter to his UN counterparts relenting on the issue. Finally, to put all lingering questions about U.S. support of the MDGs to rest, President Bush himself stated America’s firm commitment to them in his September 14 speech to the UN General Assembly.

If Bolton is Secretary of State who is Ban Ki Moon going to call when the goings get rough? President Gingrich? I think not.

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