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Bolton Memoir Settles Scores, Dishes Dirt, Ignores Kosovo and Uganda

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Book Review

UNITED NATIONS, October 30 -- Exception must be made for the genre of tell-all books. If one approaches from the beginning with politics, it is an unfair assessment of whether and how fairly all is told. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's grandiosely titled "Surrender Is Not an Option" is a surprisingly detailed glimpse inside the Security Council, the U.S. State Department, and John Bolton's personality. Criticism of those with different policy views, like the still-ascendant Nick Burns (who Bolton pegs as a "careerist" friend of Democrat Richard Holbrooke), is par for the course in a political memoir.

    But Bolton takes seemingly gratuitous swipes at diplomats most of his readers have probably never heard of.  Bolton includes a description of the United Kingdom's deputy permanent representative Adam Thomson as "'Harry Potter' because of his resemblance to the character from the series of children's books... I could never look at or listen to Thomson without immediately thinking of Harry and all this little friends." Pg. 201. Thomson's boss Emyr Jones Parry fares worse, being called "limp-wristed" and arrogant. Before he retired in 2006, Jones Parry speculated with reporters on how he would be treated in Bolton's memoir. When Inner City Press asked if Jones Parry himself would put pen to paper, he replied that he didn't like tell-alls. Perhaps he'll have time for a book review.

            Swinging lower, Bolton writes of one of the candidates in 2006 for Secretary-General, Thailand's Surakiart Sathirathai as "'a rich man's son' who, according to local gossip, had once tried to bribe a college professor for a grade by giving him a Rolex." Pg. 277.  Simon & Schuster having embraced this standard of reporting, the time has come to note, at the same standard, the whispers among the UN press corps about Bolton's alleged past in sex clubs -- Plato's Retreat is the referent, if only urban legend -- with sourcing to divorce records. Rolex, anyone?

            More seriously, Bolton evinces some refreshing political candor. Of the standoff between Eritrea and Ethiopia (whose Meles regime the U.S. used to invade and still occupy Somalia), Bolton writes that

"neither the Ethiopian nor the Eritrean government would win any popularity contests, and I certainly had no favorite, but it seemed to me that Eritrea had a point: Ethiopia had agreed on a mechanism to resolve the border dispute in 2000 and was now welching on the deal." Pg. 344.

            Apparently Bolton didn't get, or subsequently tore up, the memo, which would downplay criticism of Ethiopia given its role as U.S. proxy in Somalia. That the U.S. subsequently allowed a rogue shipment of tank parts from North Korea to Ethiopia for use in Somalia is not included in Bolton's two-paragraph Somalia analysis, which concludes smugly that "the UN's role had been and remained minimal." Pg. 366. Nor does the book mention a major African conflict, that in northern Uganda with the Lord's Resistance Army. It does, however, show George W. Bush in a September 2005 meeting with Kofi Annan raising "the question of Iraq, saying he wanted a greater UN presence there to help out." Pg. 217. This largely explain U.S. - UN relations since.

Elie Wiesel, Bolton and Clooney talk Darfur, brewing book (and Kosovo) not shown

            Still-sitting Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is pegged as objecting "several times to the Weisel [sic] -Clooney meeting [on Darfur], deriding it as a media show, which just signaled to me that Russians were probably wondering how they could put together something similar on an issue of interest to them." Pg. 356. Kosovo, anyone? Strangely, Kosovo is mentioned only once in the book, and then only in passing.

            More a function of anti-Francophony than Fanonian analysis, Bolton dismisses the French as colonialists, "constantly worried that the potentially large force required for Darfur would drain from or constrain other African operations more important to France." Pg. 353. As an aside, there is another analysis, not in Bolton's book or anywhere else that we have seen, that some in the U.S. administration don't want Sudan peace talks to succeed, so invested are they in fingering al-Bashir and "Islamists" more generally for genocide -- a theory for another day. Since-retired French Ambassador de la Sabliere is portrayed as "insulting the Tanzanian deputy perm rep for not known what his instructions were" about a Cote d'Ivoire resolution that France was desperate to pass.

   In full disclosure, this reviewer in 2006 had opportunity to question John Bolton, mostly at the Security Council stakeout, on such topics as the U.S.'s nomination of Josette Sheeran Shiner to head the World Food Program, on the threat to international peace and security posed by drug trafficking by Myanmar -- "known in the United States as Burma," as Bolton used to say -- and his war of words with now-UK "junior minister" Mark Malloch-Brown, a shared bout, on different (UNDP corruption) grounds. (A strange peace ensued in September 2007, with an assist perhaps to Darfur, video here, at Minute 8:30.

            Perhaps the most ironic section, at least to this reviewer, has Bolton lambasting then-envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk for "popping off on his blog." Pronk's online analysis, certainly more restrained than Bolton's book, got him expelled from Khartoum -- "thus effectively ending his mission, which was what we had been trying to do earlier," Bolton writes. Pg. 359. This "earlier" appears to refer to July 2006, when Bolton "faced the bizarre issue of controversial comments on a personal blog that the SG's special representative in Sudan, a former Dutch minister of development, Jan Pronk, had been happily writing." And what was Bolton's mood during this dishing -- unhappy?

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540