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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 2003, pages 18-20

Special Report

You Don't Have to be Jewish to Be a Neo-con: John Bolton and James Woolsey

By Richard H. Curtiss

John BoltonJohn R. Bolton II, the Bush administration's under secretary of state for disarmament affairs and international security, may be one of a kind: he is one of the few goyim in his chosen world of Israel-firsters.

The neoconservative was foisted on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell allegedly to keep an eye on Powell for administration hard-liners. Bolton, however, who can be genial and even pleasant when he chooses, had a tough time getting Senate confirmation, especially from Democrats, but he slipped by with a final vote of 57-43.

Born in Baltimore in 1948, Bolton graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, spending his senior year as editor-in-chief of the Yale Conservative. A four-year member of the Yale Young Republicans, he received his J.D. from Yale Law School.

After college he worked for the campaign of James Baker III, when the latter ran for Texas attorney general—a connection that changed Bolton's life. Later, with the help of Baker, who eventually became secretary of state, Bolton joined the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He served in several positions in the Departments of State and Justice, and also as general counsel at the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1981 and '82. By the beginning of Reagan's second term, Bolton was an assistant attorney general.

Returning to private life, Bolton was an associate of the Washington law office of Covington and Burling, where he worked from 1983 to 1985. He then spent the following four years back at the Department of Justice.From 1993 through 1999 he was a partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton and McManus. Bolton also was a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute before becoming president of the neoconservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.

More recently, Bolton served as the lead Republican attorney in the November 2000 Florida presidential vote recount. According to a Newsweek account, Bolton strode into a library full of officials counting Miami-Dade County votes, declaring, "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the vote." Such boldness meant that George W. Bush owed Bolton an appointment in his new administration.

One of the points Democrats levied against Bolton at his confirmation hearing was the fact that, in 1994, Bolton had lobbied on behalf of nationalist Chinese seeking independence from the mainland—a break from Washington's long-standing "one-China" policy. According to The Washington Post, Bolton was paid a total of $30,000 by the government of Taiwan for his efforts. Since obtaining his State Department appointment, however, Bolton has been careful not to upset his boss, Colin Powell. If there are to be fireworks, they have yet to arrive.

One of Bolton's stranger characteristics is his seeming attraction to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who some call "the butcher of Beirut" for his hand in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres. Bolton is a long-standing supporter of Sharon, although his current boss has a different take on the Israeli leader, and even President Bush has cooled his support—his words about Sharon being a "man of peace" seeming to have been struck from the record.

Bolton was in Israel this past February for meetings on "preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction." While there he met with Sharon and with former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. According to the Feb. 18 Ha'aretz, "Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials...that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards."

Bolton has maintained friendly relations with "the Armageddonists" and other extreme right-wing Republicans. Although personally a Lutheran, Bolton seems to fit right in with hard-line Bible Belt Christians, setting him light years apart from Secretary of State Powell in his convictions.

In a January 2001 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina called Bolton "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world." It's not clear where Bolton stands on Armageddon, but it is clear he has the greatest sympathy with the Christian Right's worldview. If, however, he shares their eagerness for the end of the world and has no compunction about what will happen to the rest of the world's population after the "Rapture," his foreign policy decisions should be of considerable concern. As the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,'s U.N. correspondent Ian Williams wrote, " would be very dangerous to ignore Bolton's statements. These are harbingers of endless wars."

Bolton seems very dogmatic in his prejudices. He has campaigned tirelessly, for example, against the International Criminal Court and all other causes having to do with the United Nations and multilateralism. Four years ago, Bolton called it "a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so." Joseph Cirincione of the mainstream Carnegie Foundation describes Bolton as "an ideologue's ideologue."

Strangely for an undersecretary of state for "disarmament affairs," Bolton has been a staunch advocate of the Bush administration's revival of the "Star Wars" missile defense system, and its rejection of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He is a hard-line opponent of U.N. peacekeeping missions and, indeed, has been dismissive of the U.N. as a whole. For example, in a 1994 panel discussion sponsored by the World Federalist Association, Bolton claimed "there is no such thing as the United Nations," adding that "if the U.N. secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

According to Salon Online's Nicholas Thompson, "His competence has ultimately allowed Bolton to do much harm, scuttling the international agreements and treaties that make up much of the legal basis for international order and security...Bolton and his administration allies have burned most of the international goodwill that the United States built up before and after Sept. 11."

Not surprisingly, Bolton's right-wing positions drew sharp criticism at his March 29, 2001 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) wisecracked that Bolton underwent a "confirmation conversion"—meaning that Bolton seemed to have recanted much of what he had said publicly in order to appease the committee. Bolton bristled at that remark, saying, "I must tell you, Senator, those words sting. And I don't think they are accurate."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called Bolton's U.N. views "outside the mainstream of America." Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) also vigorously opposed Bolton's nomination, leaving Senator Helms to come to Bolton's defense several times. Helms objected to Kerry's manner of questioning, saying it seemed like a "cross-examination," and called Bolton the "most qualified man for the job." In another speech, Helms praised Bolton as a "treasured friend," a "patriot," and "a brilliant thinker and writer."

Bolton also defended his own ability to separate his personal beliefs from his professional duties. Said Bolton: "Of all the different jobs I've had in government, I've never had any allegations that I wasn't following the policies that were set."

In fact, however, Bolton was indeed accused of ignoring administration policies while serving in the Reagan Justice Department. At that time he held an unauthorized press conference in which, in effect, he expressed a point of view different from the administration's. His comments drew sharp criticism from then-White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who called Bolton "intemperate and contentious."

According to The Washington Post, Bolton had the CIA investigate former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, whom Bolton suspected of being unreliable. He reportedly was very angry when the CIA could find no evidence of sympathy for Saddam Hussain on the part of Blix.

Bolton is one of the signers of the Jan. 26, 1998 "Project for the New American Century" letter sent to President Bill Clinton advocating the removal of Saddam Hussain. According to John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World, "There is an axis of undersecretaries like Bolton who out of office were doing bad things, and now they're in office and are doing even worse things."

Salon's Thompson wrote on July 16 that "Bolton may well be the most important administration official America has never heard of. Moreover, because of his background and connections, Bolton has played an important role in strengthening the crucial alliance within the Bush administration between the Christian right and the neoconservatives."

How Bolton now could change coats and support Powell with impunity on everything he has fought against in the past staggers the imagination. Since Powell clearly will not change, however, Bolton must if he is to remain under secretary of state.

His dogmatic, acerbic and opinionated comments are something Bolton apparently can't curb, making it difficult to believe that he and Powell can work together harmoniously. The real question, then, is: what does President Bush himself believe?

James WoolseyR. James Woolsey may be one of the more unusual neoconservatives. A native of Oklahoma, he is the son of Robert Woolsey, a prominent lawyer and lifelong Democrat who was famous in his own right as a Civil War buff. James was born in Tulsa, where he attended public schools. He received a BA from Stanford University in 1963, an MA degree from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar from 1963-65, and an LLB Degree in 1968 from Yale Law School, where he was managing editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Woolsey's parents were conservative Democrats, but their son took some uncharacteristic detours. He served as a marshal in the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality, and launched a chapter of Citizens for Eugene McCarthy in hopes of halting Lyndon Johnson's presidency and the Vietnam War. During his tenure as CIA director he wrote, "I think I'm the only person in that job out there at Langley who was involved in both the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement."

His wife, Susan Haley Woolsey, worked with him on both of these causes. She holds a BA with honors from Stanford in history and psychology, and an MA and Ph.D. from Harvard in clinical and social psychology. The couple has three sons, including a pair of twins. (Coincidentally, all sons happened to be in New York City when the twin towers came down. One was entering a tower when a fireman warned everyone to evacuate. The son was saved but he was never able to learn whether the fireman was also saved.)

While students at Stanford, both Susan and James were deeply influenced by assistant dean Al Lowenstein. The three remained close friends until Lowenstein's murder in 1980. That friendship may explain the origin of Woolsey's increasingly neoconservative leanings.

Woolsey's friends—including Richard Perle, who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, and Paul Wolfowitz, the current under secretary of defense—are influential in securing appointments in both the U.S. government and in think tanks for their fellow neocons. Susan Woolsey, for example, served a one-year stint as a Washington Post editorial writer, and also as the chief operating officer for the National Academy of Sciences.

Woolsey has worked at more than 14 companies, almost all of them heavily involved in high technology. He was an early member of the board of directors of Yurie Systems, Inc. During his 12 years of U.S. government service, Woolsey has held presidential appointments in two Democratic and two Republican administrations. The most colorful was as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995.

Strangely, Woolsey honestly believed that he had been asked to help Warren Christopher, soon to become President Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, in finding a CIA director. After sharing a series of stories about football and anecdotes of Oklahoma, Woolsey realized that he was the candidate—only minutes before his appointment was announced.

This, however, was the beginning of a very dark period in Woolsey's life. He became so unhappy as CIA director that his family urged him to resign for the sake of his health and the family.

Woolsey's two greatest challenges as director were to determine the punishment for Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent and longtime Soviet spy, and to establish some sort of working relationship with President Clinton. The latter would prove difficult: as Woolsey would later say, "I didn't have a bad relationship with [Clinton], I just had no relationship."

Woolsey related how Clinton was notoriously unpunctual to his daily CIA briefings and started the briefing when he chose to, which caused the punctual Woolsey soon to become utterly fed up. "Remember the guy who in 1994 crashed his plane onto the White House lawn?" he once quipped. "That was me trying to get an appointment to see President Clinton."

To make things worse, Woolsey, who always conducted himself like a corporate lawyer, seemed to take it upon himself to find mitigating circumstances for Ames' unspeakable treachery. In his two unhappy years as CIA director, Woolsey became quite unpopular with his staff and his colleagues.

Exacerbating the tension were reports by Woolsey and his wife that they had once seen a flying saucer in New England. The intelligence director—whose responsiblities range from national reconnaissance satellites to anti-ballistic weapons—seemed to harp on the subject of UFOs during extremely serious briefings. Woolsey was informed early on that there were no secrets about extra-terrestrial events, but apparently neither he nor his wife let the issue rest. As a result, many members of the CIA concluded that he was a kook, and the story became grist for the rumor mill.

Realizing he would never get the support he needed from Clinton, Woolsey resigned his CIA post in December 1994."I just sort of wandered in," he later said, "and just wandered out."

After leaving the CIA, Woolsey became a partner in the law firm Shea and Gardner. Under the terms of the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm is registered as a foreign agent for the Iraqi National Congress, one of the key groups involved in the push for war against Iraq in early 2003.

After the Sept. 11 events Woolsey became a man possessed, warning the American public that far more serious terrorist threats lay ahead that must be dealt with seriously. Speaking to a group of college students on April 2, 2003, he said, "The United States is engaged in World War IV," which could continue for years." Describing the Cold War as the third world war, he then said that "this fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us."

Woolsey also was fanatical about getting rid of Saddam Hussain. The May 11, 2003 London Observer called Woolsey "one of the most high-profile hawks in the U.S. administration [who] is a key member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board." The Observer also noted that Woolsey "is a director of the Washington-based private equity firm Paladin Capital. The company was set up three months after the terrorist attacks on New York and sees the events and aftermath of Sept. 11 as a business opportunity which 'offers substantial promise for homeland security investment.'"

According to his wife, since 9/11 Woolsey has pursued a grueling seven-day-a-week schedule unlike any period in his life since his embattled CIA tenure. Woolsey's single-minded work mentality is best evidenced by the following anecdote: When he was once asked to speak before an Israeli audience that included current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Woolsey traveled to Israel, delivered his speech and then, without pausing, flew directly back to the United States in order not to disrupt his many other commitments. Woolsey's abrupt departure, however, should not be taken as a sign of displeasure with Israel. "Throughout the decades of American involvement in the Middle East," he has said, "the intelligence community has been a silent partner with Israel."

Returning the compliment, a 1997 Jerusalem Post article, written following Woolsey's participation in a Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)-sponsored trip to Israel, noted, "Woolsey and his friends visit each other's homes, meet at conferences and worry about Israel."

Woolsey's support for Israel influences his opinions of other nations. He recently has said that "hideous lies about Jews are spread by the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs and government-controlled media." He acknowledges, however, that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah is making commendable efforts toward new Saudi policies.

There is some indication that James Woolsey may see himself as a latter day Old Testament prophet. "Only fear will re-establish respect for the U.S.," he has said. "We need to read a little bit of Machiavelli."

Needless to say, this fits in very nicely with the beliefs—and actions—of his fellow neoconservatives. Together, many of Woolsey's beliefs, along with his sense of destiny, make him a potentially dangerous, or at least a highly unusual, public figure.

Richard H. Curtiss is executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.