Friday, April 22, 2005

John Bolton's Taiwan Connection

Inside the Beltway, you can hear senators grunting “This one’s for Colin” as they take their whacks at the John Bolton nomination piñata.

Senate resentment at the Bush administration’s coercive and abusive style approach to policy and management that treated Senate-friendly Colin Powell—and the Senate itself-- with such ostentatious contempt appears to have crystallized around the easy-to-dislike figure of John Bolton.

Perhaps, if the nuclear option wipes out the filibuster and the legislative branch turns into just another drum on the White House steamroller, humiliating John Bolton might turn into the last exercise of the Senate’s independent advise and consent powers during this Congress.

Which perhaps explains why the objections to Bolton look unlikely to go beyond the gratifying airing of his personal failings as a decent human being and Gotcha! parsing of his previous testimony before the offended Solons of the Senate.

I have to admit I’m an agnostic on the John Bolton nomination. Part of me says that the best way to hinder President Bush’s confrontational foreign policy agenda and short circuit war against Iran is to send Mr. Bolton to the U.N. Mr. Bolton’s backstabbin’ wiretappin’ ways are sure to alienate the U.N. and most of its members and turn it into a center of opposition to whatever he’s trying to accomplish.

Certainly the Chinese wouldn’t trust him.

Since the current sentiment seems to demand examining Mr. Bolton’s lapses under a microscope, I hope that the issue of his ardent support of the Taiwanese government will be examined in minute detail, instead of excused and swept under the rug during his somewhat less contentious nomination hearings in 2001.

Up until now, there hasn’t been much interest in the media in going into Mr. Bolton’s Taiwan connection.

Only David Corn of The Nation and Tom Barry of the International Relations Center try to keep the flame alive.

Some background:

In 1993 and 1994, while a private citizen, Mr. Bolton wrote a series of research papers on U.N. readmission for the Taiwanese government in return for payments totaling $30,000.

Embarrassingly, the payments came from a secret, oversight-free $100 million slush fund that the Taiwan government used to purchase influence and support.

As reported by John Pomfret of the Washington Post in 2001 , other recipients of the slush fund’s largesse were Nicaragua ($16,000,000) Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress ($10,000,000; in return, according to Taiwan, South Africa postponed recognition of the People’s Republic of China by two years), and the fund’s crooked accountant, Liu Kuan-chun, whose disappearance with $5.5 million of the fund’s money triggered the closing of the fund and the subsequent revelations.

The money was carefully laundered through seemingly bona fide organizations like the Taiwan Research Institute. When the scandal broke, backgrounders from “former Taiwanese officials” sought to disarm the American media with flattering reassurances:

One former Taiwanese official involved in U.S.-China relations described Taiwan's payments to U.S. academics and former administration officials as "an insurance policy."
"We did not generally believe that you could buy Americans," he said.

And, he said, it tried to maintain good relations with people who had been sympathetic to Taiwan while they were in government.

"We know there is a revolving door in Washington," he said. "So we follow the careers of people and hope we can cooperate."

Just move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

When Mr. Bolton was nominated Undersecretary of State for Nonproliferation in 2001,
Walter Pincus reported Bolton had received an ethical clean bill of health both in 1994 and at his confirmation hearings in 2001:

A source close to the State Department said a Justice Department official then told Bolton that he was exempted from registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he was "providing legal services."

Bolton has said he will not speak directly to the press while his nomination is pending. At his March 29 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said the payments "have been disclosed and vetted in the ethics clearance process . . . [T]he Office of Government Ethics, [and] the State Department Legal Advisor's office have imposed no ethical constraint on my decisions on these [Taiwan] matters."

Given today’s dust-up in l’affaire Bolton—in which our ex-Ambassador to Korea claimed that Mr. Bolton misrepresented his horrified dismay at Mr. Bolton’s Kim Jung-il bashing speech as a ringing endorsement--whether Mr. Bolton accurately and completely recalled the remarks of the ethics watchdogs bears reviewing.

Mr. Bolton can draw consolation from this endorsement at the time of his 2001 confirmation hearing:

Marc A. Thiessen, spokesman for the Senate committee, said: "We know all about [Bolton's fees from Taiwan and House testimony] and it raises no concerns with the committee. He did absolutely nothing wrong. He did no lobbying for Taiwan."

On the other hand:

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of the foreign relations panel, said last week he had not known of Bolton's House committee appearances. He said they "raise a number of very serious questions that have to be answered before anything further is done about his nomination."

All from the same 2001 article by Walter Pincus. He also reports:

Nearly two months after that first payment, Bolton was invited to appear at a hearing before two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Bolton, who had been assistant secretary of state for international organizations during the Reagan administration, opened his statement by saying, "I believe that the United States should support the efforts of the Republic of China on Taiwan to become a full member of the United Nations."

That sounds like lobbying to me.

Mr. Bolton was not promoting his own point of view or even pro-Taiwanese positions. He was regurgitating the talking points of Lee Teng-hui, President of Taiwan at that time, whose newly-minted strategy of “pragmatic diplomacy” was designed to wrong-foot the PRC and at the same time create a legitimate political space for a more indigenously Taiwanese political movement based on de facto independence than the mainlander-dominated KMT.

The circumstances of how, when, and why the American conservative movement vaulted neatly from the KMT/anti-Chicom horse they had been riding for the 45 years, and landed in the saddle of the Taiwanese independence movement is an untold and probably fascinating story.

In any case, by actively advocating Taiwan’s readmission, it looks to me like Mr. Bolton was lobbying—for something that would further the political fortunes of Lee Tung-hui and his party, not necessarily the interests of Taiwan, and certainly not the interests of the United States at the time.

Fast-forwarding to 2005, some may be inclined to grant Mr. Bolton the Lloyd Armstrong defense: that Mr. Bolton was paid to advocate policies he would have advocated anyway, and the fee was a reward rather than a payoff:

Provable quid quo pro is not the issue in this case, as it might be in the domestic payola case of Mr. Armstrong.

A lobbyist for a foreign power—a distinction that Mr. Bolton, as champion of unalloyed American unilateralism, might be anxious to avoid—is required to register with the government.

Perhaps today, with the growing hostility to all things Bolton, the Committee on Foreign Relations may be inspired to examine the articles Mr. Bolton and consider if they merited a $30,000 payday (and qualified as legal advice), confirm, revisit, and review the clearances Mr. Bolton claims he received from the Office of Government Ethics and the State Department’s Legal Advisory Office, and decide if he really was lobbying for Lee Teng-hui’s administration after all.

Finally, in the midst of the important investigation of Mr. Bolton’s abusive management style, perhaps the committee might take time to consider whether America’s interests at the United Nations in these increasingly tense times would be best served by sending a paid anti-China advocate to deal with the People’s Republic of China on the Security Council.