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This Op-ed by Maura Moynihan (Class of 1975) appeared in the March 30, 2005 edition of Newsday
Diplomatically speaking, Bolton is no Moynihan
By Maura Moynihan
In recent days, a chorus of conservative voices, from Condoleezza Rice to Robert Novak, has likened John Bolton, the White House choice for the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to my late father, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
In doing so, they have distorted our New York senator's views on diplomacy and international law. I am sure that Moynihan's constituents know better. Still, I am compelled to set the record straight.
Moynihan was both a fierce defender of American interests "with our great emphasis on law as the arbiter of relations" and a pragmatic internationalist. He was a hugely popular ambassador to India; a regular participant in international treaty negotiations, from SALT to NAFTA; and a well-traveled legislator and social scientist who understood the need for dialogue and diplomacy in a world loaded with weaponry and seething with ethnic conflict.
When right-wing commentators claim that Bolton's outspokenness makes him "the next Pat Moynihan," let us remember that Moynihan often said that in Washington toughness and ignorance are frequently confused.
Bolton has said that if the UN building in Manhattan "lost 10 stories it wouldn't make a bit of difference," and Robert Novak recently said, "No one had more contempt for the UN than Pat Moynihan." Nonsense. Moynihan said: "The UN was created by our country, and embodies our conception of international law ... these are the proclaimed standards of the nations of the world, to which they are bound by solemn covenant."
Moynihan sought to restore integrity to the UN, not to dismantle the institution created by the Allies after the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers.
The senator frequently admonished his constituents that we'd be worse off without the UN, and was furious with the United States for not paying its UN dues, since it weakened our influence and stature.
Which brings us to international law. Bolton said in 1999: "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interests to do so - because over the long term the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are [sic] those who want to constrict the United States."
In his 1990 book, "On the Law of Nations," Moynihan wrote: "A great many people seem to think of law as a kind of self-imposed restraint on America's ability to act decisively or with force in world affairs. This misstates what law is, and obscures the fact that international law can actually enhance the national security of the United States. ... Macho strategists, much to be found in Washington just now, let it be known that in their view the law is for sissies ... real men do not cite Grotius."
Bolton called reliance on the World Court "fuzzy-minded romanticism that is not just naive but dangerous." Whereas in a 1984 speech at Syracuse University College of Law, Moynihan said: "International law is a practical need, as much as domestic law is a practical need. Absent law, there would be no sanction for conduct that injures society." The senator repeatedly warned that there was an alternative to law, as he cited the poet Wordsworth: "The good old rule, the simple plan, that they should take who have the power, and they should keep who can."
Moynihan well understood what made America singularly powerful - a nation based on the rule of law at home, and adherence to jus gentium, the law of nations, abroad. Conversely, Bolton and his supporters voice contempt for law as they steer our nation on a perilous isolationist course with their disdain for treaties and their new doctrine of preemptive war.
It was two years ago last Saturday that my father passed away, just days after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every day I wonder what he would say about America's conduct in this war. In the introduction to his 1976 memoir of his time at the UN, Moynihan wrote: "I learned in Washington what I had known as a child; that the world is a dangerous place, and learned also that not everyone knows this." Should Bolton become ambassador to the United Nations, I hope that he might study the words and teachings of his predecessor and consider the dangers of abandoning the laws and alliances that have sustained our nation so well for so long.
Copyright (c) 2005, Newsday, Inc.