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Book Review: Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the UN

Updated: Apr 5

Book Review: Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations
FILE PHOTO: United Nations World Flags © Envato


Author: John R. Bolton, the former National Security Advisor (2018-2019) to President Donald Trump. He also served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006.

ISBN: 978-1416552840

Language: English

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Inc. (2007)



I simply love the title Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the UN that embodies the strong will and passionate patriotism of the U.S. Undoubtedly, John Bolton is one of the best national security advisors in the world's esteem. His view adequately represents the upper structure of the U.S. and he is the one who honestly shares his experience and knowledge of the establishment on various important issues. This book is a must-read for citizens who want to grasp what the UN is in reality and what issues are still tormenting the establishment from the inside. Bolton doesn’t hesitate to share his analysis and opinions. Personally, I envy one of my friends who fortunately got a seat next to him on one occasional flight. In my research, Bolton’s testimony on the Hong Kong incidents is critically important, but it’s not in this review to discuss it because an upcoming book will reveal that.

It’s obvious that Bolton is a patriot of the U.S. and a great intelligentsia whose intelligence is superior to any Chinese politicians and bureaucrats of today. However, his misfortune is that he’s always wrongly depicted as a warmonger. In this book, his decision-making and thoughts behind his actions are rational to whom has common sense and a patriotic view. 

First, I have to mention one grave ideological issue about Hong Kong related to Bolton or his American patriotism. In short, the true guarantee of the safety of Hong Kong citizens lies in the fact that the majority of Hong Kong citizens are friendly to the West. This is why the U.S. still regards Hongkongers as pro-Americans or at least pro-Westerners, who are not any target of crippling sanctions. Yes, the U.S. establishment doesn’t recognize the Hong Kong population as Syrians, Iranians, Venezuelans or Cubans, which is fortunate. And this is the true guarantee of the political safety of this city until today. Hence, the true guarantor of the safety of this city is not any national security laws but the Western-friendly citizens of this city. In this view, the opposition has a vast advantage in the diplomacy of this city to protect it from the hostility of any Western political forces.


However, the HKSARG is eradicating the legacy of the pro-Western population by narrow-mindedly importing mainlanders to replace increasingly large portions of the population. This will change the Western attitude to the Hong Kong population. In the end, when the safe guarantee of a pro-Western attitude of most of the population disappears, it will turn into a hostile political confrontation between the West and this city, while jingoism, corporatism, authoritarian elitism, transnational repression, and grotesque nationalism are antagonizing the Hong Kong working class and the pro-Democracy majority of the population. That’s the worst scenario in terms of the true aspect of the safety of this city. Therefore, any anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism is fatally wrong and unfit for the great benefit of the population. This is why any political shift to anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism is disastrous to its population. What I mentioned here is a total blind spot that subsided because of the growing grotesque nationalism at the cost of the traditional safety of this city. One of the reasons for this grotesqueness is that Marxism strongly opposes any kind of nationalism as it essentially forces on people, a class-collaborationist attitude which is a disadvantage for workers. Thus, CCP totally forgets that Marxism is not nationalism, nationalism is not Marxism. This is one of their serious internal contradictions. Therefore, what we are witnessing in Chinese Marxism is Marxism in decay. Besides, it also seems to think that becoming the most brutal or pure neoliberalism to defeat capitalism. On the contrary, it is not the self-negation of capitalism but the self-negation of Marxism itself, because it will totally evaporate the remnant of social trust of workers in the ideology at the end of this extremism. It could only be completion of capitalism, not negation of it.

There are several points in this book. 


1.     What is the UN like? This means how ambassadors and staff work in it as representatives of their original nations and the UN as a whole. Does the UN simply represent a collective will or somebody else’s will? What problems untaught in schools or media occur in the system? Bolton points out several of them to readers. 

2.     How do the UN reps interact with each other? Human conversations between UN ambassadors, explicitly, Chinese ambassador and CCP staff talk normally and humanly, not just mechanically read bureaucratic statements like in front of us. The human talks in the UN between UN ambassadors are fresh and lively to readers who are only subject to daily mechanical bureaucratic statements of Chinese officials who don’t see citizens as counterparts of any equal dialogue. This is one big feature of this book written and read by Bolton. 

3.     How does the U.S. see the UN? The attitude of the U.S. to the UN is from hegemonism or simple patriotism of rational thinking? This is perfectly answered and explained by Bolton classically in the book. 

4.     What are the bureaucratic issues in the U.S. establishment itself?


These four points are the essence of this book. I cite the relevant part from the book to recommend readers to further read in detail.

▪️  What is the UN like?

Just pick up one concrete case of a UN resolution to grasp what it is like. If we analyze or assess something, it always needs a concrete case while there is nothing that can be assessed from empty, notion or abstraction.  

The UN is a target-rich environment.

John Bolton:

With the advent of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, however, I saw the possibility of righting the historic wrong represented by ‘Z/r’ and also demonstrating that the United States might actually be able once again to win highly contentious votes in the General Assembly, something long out of fashion. During 1989-1990, I consulted with the Israelis and with many private American groups, several of which were lobbying foreign governments to support repeal of Resolution 3379. I thought that the time was right in late 1990, and that it was symbolically important to repeal the ‘Z/r’ resolution on its fifteenth anniversary, during the global effort to liberate Kuwait, however, was nervous, fearing that a losing effort would do more damage than not acting at all, and urged delay until 1991. Baker and Bush were also reluctant, although for a different reason. They understandably didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize Saddam Hussein’s isolation.

After the liberation of Kuwait, however, the political environment changed dramatically, as the United States launched the ‘Madrid process,’ which opened the prospect of direct talks between Arabs and Israelis. Since it was certain that the United Nations would have no role whatever in a changed Middle East as long as ‘Z/r’ was on the books, Baker agreed with my importuning in early 1991 to start laying the necessary diplomatic groundwork for repeal. As a cautious vote counter, however, he made it clear that a final decision would not be made until later in the year. Accordingly, I increased the frequency and detail of our contacts with close allies, from whom we would want not only their votes, but also active lobbying of other UN members to maximize our chances. Sadly, many countries, including close NATO allies, responded in much the same way as the Soviets: Yes, Resolution 3379 was a shameful thing, but it would be a huge effort to repeal. ‘Let it lie on the shelves and gather dust’ was the way one Soviet diplomat put it to me, which was an unfortunately common response to problems in the UN system.

In September, as the General Assembly opened, I was convinced we had the votes necessary. Firing the opening shot in the campaign in his annual UN address, President Bush included a call for repeal, signalling that this year we were serious indeed. During the fall, I pressed for the signal to launch the all-out repeal campaign, because I knew, despite our vote count, that we had to overcome an enormous amount of inertia. With the Madrid Middle East peace process still shaky, however, Baker declined to pull the trigger, although he said we should do everything else necessary to be sure we could move out quickly once the word was given. I grew more nervous as the weeks passed.

Then, on December 3, Baker said it was time to launch, and we began a round-the-clock, round-the-world diplomatic campaign to obtain support and co-sponsorships for the repeal resolution. In the UN, private expressions of support are cheap and easy to come by, but when countries declare publicly by becoming co-sponsors of a resolution, there is no going back, and everyone at the UN knows it. Since we expected Arab and other ‘Z/r’ defenders to try either to amend our resolution to death or to side-track it procedurally,  the gathering of co-sponsors made it increasingly evident that these diversionary tactics would not work. We ‘demarched,’ the fancy diplomatic world for lobbying in foreign capitals, we pressed hard in New York, and we called in ambassadors in Washington. Bush and Baker were both ‘mad dialers’ by this time, as was I. Persistence paid off. As each new co-sponsor fell into place, we moved inexorably toward the magic halfway point of total UN membership where it would be clear not only that we had a majority for repeal, but that there was no way the resolution could be blocked procedurally.

Because Baker was unavailable, Deputy Secretary Larry Eagleburger gave the American speech on December 16, the day of the vote. I wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times that morning, and media attention on the General Assembly was higher than it had been at any moment since ‘Z/r’ original passage. Senator Moynihan and leaders of many of the groups that had worked actively for repeal were in the galleries, and expectations were high. Our co-sponsorship strategy was successful, and our vote count was accurate. As one of its last official acts before it dissolved, the Soviet Union voted to repeal the resolution, another side benefit. Europe and Latin America were almost unanimous co-sponsors for repeal, Cuba being a notable exception. ‘Z/r’ was dead. I was a happy man.


Cited from Bolton, John R.. “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.” (2007), pp.41-42.

Indeed, Zionism is not racism. ‘Z/r’ itself is racism against Israelis. Leftists must know that the Soviet Russia repealed the resolution with the U.S. thus, the Soviet Union in history was neither anti-Israel nor anti-Zionism.


On September 24, 1991, President George H.W. Bush urged the repeal of Resolution 3379. “To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history,” he told the UN General Assembly. “To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself. By repealing this resolution unconditionally the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace.” That same day, Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin followed suit, telling the General Assembly that the United Nations “should once and for all leave behind the legacy of the ice age, like the obnoxious resolution equating Zionism to racism.” And WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg told the JTA that Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk also supported repeal of the resolution. As a result, we were all hopeful that the injustice perpetrated in 1975 would at long last be undone. But there remained one last bit of drama. President Bush’s Chief of Staff, John Sununu, was undermining efforts to rescind the resolution. On December 3, Bronfman asked the President directly why Thomas Pickering, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, had not received the necessary instructions to bring repeal to a vote. Bush replied that he had indeed authorized the vote, excused himself for a few minutes, and when he returned told Bronfman apologetically that “my now former chief-of-staff held things up.”


On December 16, UN General Assembly Resolution 46/86, which declared that the Assembly “decides to revoke the determination in its resolution 3379 of 10 November 1975,” was overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 111–25, with thirteen nations abstaining and seventeen, including Egypt, Kuwait, and China, not voting. Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam were the only Communist countries that opposed repeal. India, Nigeria, Singapore, and the Philippines, which had voted for Resolution 3379 in 1975, now voted to repeal it.



▪️ How do the UN reps interact with each other?

It’s also best to see in a concrete case below:


John Bolton:

In the months before I arrived, Japan, India, Brazil, and Germany banded together as the ‘G-4,’ trying to aggregate their various supporters into a powerful enough coalition to obtain the necessary two-thirds General Assembly majority to amend the UN Charter and make them permanent members. I never understood this strategy because the creation of the G-4 actually motivated and united their opponents, who were sufficiently strong to block any changes in the Security Council. This group opposing the G-4, known as ‘Uniting for Consensus’ or informally as ‘the Coffee Club,’ made the seemingly reasonable point that major changes in the UN Charter should be arrived by ‘consensus’ (i.e., unanimity), meaning in turn they could stop any changes they chose, whether they had a blocking one-third-plus-one in the General Assembly or not. Moreover, China, which wasn’t any more enthusiastic about India than it was about Japan, could hide behind Pakistan; Britain and France, which saw their very seats in danger of eventually being lost to one permanent seat for the EU, could hide behind Italy, which was determined Germany would not get on the Council; and many others could avoid having to make a commitment to the G-4, despite intensive and often emotional lobbying in New York.


I saw how sensitive this whole question was after my initial courtesy call on China’s perm rep, Wang Guangya, on August 2, my second day in New York. I had known Wang during the Bush 41 administration when he served as political counsellor of the Chinese UN Mission, and he and I had been counterparts in the first days of the Bush 43 administration when I was T. I liked Wang’s forthright style, and his complete command of English made him not only easy to talk to privately, but a great friend of the press, with whom he conversed easily and freely. Both before and during my tenure in New York, Wang said positive things about me to the media, which I appreciated. It tells you something that Annan’s wife once asked Wang’s wife why he was saying such nice things about me. At our first meeting, Wang and I readily agreed that we had no use for the G-4 proposal, but I asked if he saw any circumstances in which China could agree to a Japanese permanent seat. His answer, while complex, was essentially ‘no.’ Shortly after our meeting, Wang told the press that we were united in our opposition to the G-4 proposal, which sent the Japanese media into paroxysms, because they misinterpreted opposition to the G-4 idea as opposition to Japan. I corrected this misimpression easily with Japan’s ambassador Oshima, but the incident showed how short the fuses were.


Japanese officials spent countless hours calculating compromising formulas and alternative ways to ensure a permanent seat for Japan, and were in constant contact with us in New York, Washington, and Tokyo. Japan rightly believed that without our support it had no chance of success, and that getting us on board with whatever approach they selected had to be their highest priority. I tried to persuade them that their association in the G-4 was counterproductive because they had simply inherited all of the opponents of membership for Germany, India, and Brazil, without picking up any new supporters beyond what they already had. Moreover, concentrating on finding overwhelming support in the General Assembly (where a two-thirds vote was necessary) continually diverted Japan from its real problem, namely finding a way to overcome China’s seemingly intractable opposition and likely veto. Japan’s inevitable response was that if a huge General Assembly majority endorsed their candidacy, China would be ‘shamed’ into voting to accept Japan as a permanent member, a view I found touchingly naive.


Instead of the failing G-4 approach, I proposed a ‘Japan only’ strategy, which would highlight the intrinsic merits of Japan’s candidacy and force China to say openly whether it would actually veto a UN Charter amendment. Japan feared, with some justification, that a ‘Japan only’ strategy would generate opposition because of the fears of Germany and others that ‘the train was leaving the station,’ and that there was really only one shot at obtaining permanent membership. For Japan to move forward alone, in this view, was tantamount to giving up for a very long time the prospects of these other countries. While some Japanese officials were attracted to this idea, others, long wedded to the G-4, could not break free of their previous intellectual commitments and kept working on ingenious formulas to float the G-4 proposal off the bottom of the East River, where it was resting. Ultimately, Japan concluded that the G-4 proposal was hopeless but wanted to let it expire quietly over time, rather than making a public break from their G-4 partners. I called this approach ‘separation but not divorce.’ What it inevitably meant was that nothing much happened for long periods of time, punctured occasionally by outbursts from other frustrated reformers, followed again by more long periods of silence. I also worked hard to explain to Oshima and others that they needed to keep in mind the two-thirds majority that would be needed in the U.S. Senate to ratify any UN Charter amendments. While there was certainly Senate support for Japan, I doubted that any of the other aspirations had nearly as much, at least in the foreseeable future.


Cited from Bolton, John R.. “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.” (2007), pp.251-253.


The G-4 proposal is a cultural reflection of Japan’s ‘everyone crosses the street together’ notion of elementary schools. The most surprising fact is not only the unmechanical normal conversations of Wang and Bolton, but is also the blind decision-making of the Japanese bureaucrats which is simply not based on the actual situation and understanding of UN politics. As a result, Japanese thinking is like gangsters in elementary schools, which is stubbornly subjective. Thus, Bolton’s judgment is basically based on the knowledge of how the UN reps work against such a proposal. That kind of realist judgment could be reached if solely based on observations on how the UN works. Today, this problem is worse than in 2007 when this book was written, undoubtedly. The strange ineptness of Japanese bureaucrats is highlighted against the will of the author, unfortunately. 

▪️ How does the U.S. see the UN?

While the UN is an instrument for individual nations to pursue their own foreign policies, there is neither supernational governance nor internationalism at all, in contrast to the leftist childish view on the UN's role. In fact, there is still nothing superior to any sovereign state's own decision-making. Thus, leftists equalizing the UN with the U.S. is definitely wrong in the eyes of Bolton’s explanation. Besides the UN, the instrument for nations to use for their own foreign policies, there are also supernational instruments, NGOs. NGOs also constrain traditional nation states and the system on global issues by interest groups. Bolton wholistically explained what the NGO is.


John Bolton:


There is no such thing as the United Nations. In particular, more effective U.S. diplomacy must avoid the trap of channelling all or most of our efforts through the UN system. Our independence by definition means we must decide ourselves where, how, and when our interests will be protected, even if the ever-growing propensity of the EU and others is to dial Turtle Bay. UN organizations, funds, and programs can be useful instruments of our foreign policy, but they manifestly cannot be the only or even the preferred instruments. They are only options among many others, and any resort to them has to calculate the costs as well as potential benefits of using them. Unilateral American action (Grenada, Panama), bilateral alliances (U.S.-Japan), multilateral defence alliances (NATO), ad hoc military coalitions (Persian Gulf Wars One and Two), regional originations (OAS), and enforcement coalitions of the willing (Proliferation Security Initiative) are all legitimate and potentially effective alternatives. In the marketplace for international problem solving, the UN has a lot of competition, as well it should. America should choose the instruments that serve its interests best and not assume that those interests are invariably the same as those of the EU or any other block.


For almost all Americans, these sentiments are neither controversial nor offensive. Many, however, disagree, taking offense that anyone would describe the United Nations as an ‘instrument’ of any national foreign policy, and most certainly not that the United States. These are the true believers, the High Minded elite who worship at the altar of the Secular Pope. Of course, all 192 nations pursue their national interests at the UN – seeking to use it as an instrument for their foreign policy – but only the United States is criticized for it. Even those who are not vergers for the High Minded, however, have ample practical reasons to channel increasing decision-making authority into the UN system, especially if part of their agenda is to circumscribe U.S. global power. I include in this category not only those seeking to influence traditional matters of foreign affairs, but also the increasing category of ‘global governance’ advocates who hope to transfer areas of authority traditionally left to national government to supernational bodies, or to constrain nation-states through ‘norming,’ effectively trying their hands. Issues like family planning and abortion, the right to keep and bear arms, environmental policy, the death penalty, and many others, even taxation, are now being dragged into the international arena, often, with the support of the U.S. left. They have found themselves unable to prevail in a fair fight within America’s system of representative government, so they now seek international forums to argue their positions, where their collectivist proclivities find greater sympathy among foreign governments and NGOs.


[…] Accordingly, I conclude only one UN reform is worth the effort, and without it nothing else will succeed: Voluntary contributions must replace assessed contributions. If America Insisted it would pay only for what works, and that we get what we pay for, we would revolutionize life throughout the UN system. There is simply no doubt that eliminating the ‘entitlement’ mentality caused by relying on assessed contributions would profoundly affect UN officials around the world. As noted in Chapter V, UN agencies that are now voluntarily funded – like WFP [World Food Program], the high commissioner for refugees, and UNICEF – tend to be effective and transparent, thus providing clear lessons for the remainder of the UN. To argue otherwise would ignore the experience of market-driven imperatives throughout human history, which is really what switching to voluntary contributions would mean. If member governments providing resources were not satisfied with the outcomes produced by their UN contributions, they could shift their funds elsewhere, thus providing a ‘market test’ for effectiveness. If non-UN programs or agencies proved more effective, the UN would quickly feel the consequences.


Cited from Bolton, John R.. “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.” (2007), pp.441-443.


Bolton’s ‘market test’ principle is the truth in every aspect and field of our investment or consuming activities, even if it includes all creative activities. If something we pay for doesn’t pay off for our own benefits, we simply should shift our investment and reallocate our resources to somewhere else to get desirable returns. Hence, it’s perfectly applicable to politics, too. For instance, why should we support and pay for an inept government or political party who doesn’t benefit or support us in return? This unfairness must be corrected by us. 


▪️ What are the bureaucratic issues in the U.S. establishment itself?

This involves what a civil servant should be. Bolton criticizes particular types of bureaucrats of the State Department and recommends solutions.

John Bolton:

The ideal civil servant is one who faithfully pursues the policies of the incumbent administration, respecting the democratic legitimacy that comes from the president’s election. The president is, of course, the only person in the executive branch with such electoral legitimacy (the VP being an adjunct of the president). To state the obvious, no one in the permanent bureaucracy is elected by anyone. Obviously, the president does not determine details of each and every policy, but the president’s senior appointees carry his policy messages to the diverse departments and agencies, and, working with career professionals, implement them, seek necessary legislative changes, and otherwise do what is necessary to carry them into practice, modified as necessary by the factual circumstances they confront. This model does not describe what happens at State, where too much of the permanent bureaucracy thinks it is responsible not just for implementing policy, but for setting it, no matter what the president of the moment thinks, certainly not if that president is Republican. Consider the following reasons.

First, political opinion among State careerists is overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal. This ideological coloration is in part due to self-selection at the entry level, and in part due to acculturation over years of employment at State, from forces both inside the bureaucracy and outside, especially from the High Minded in academia. I well remember the day after the 2004 election when State’s cafeteria might as well have been hung with black crepe, so gloomy was the mood after Bush’s victory, and the contrast with the 1992 election, where people were all but drinking champagne for breakfast. In fact, there are at least some conservatives within the  career-Civil- and Foreign-Service ranks at State, but they are few and naturally reticent to reveal themselves given the harm that can befall their careers. There are also careerists who are exactly what they should be: civil servants who follow the policy directives of the administration that is in power, and do so vigorously and unapologetically. In fact, almost all those who have come out of the closet to make their conservative views known, to their credit, follow this proper paradigm of government professionals, not allowing personal philosophies to override the direction taken by the department’s political leadership. I must confess that it took me years of my own government service to appreciate, let alone prize, these qualities of the prototypical civil servant, but I see it now as an endangered species that desperately needs protection. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient conservatives and true civil servants allows the predominant liberal bias free rein. There liberals include many with whom I have differed on both policy formulation and execution, and whom I have taken to task in these pages. My criticisms do not suggest that they resist the policies of conservative Republican admirations because of corrupt or illicit motives or incompetence. Instead they don’t believe in them, and – perhaps most important – they can get away with it. Even when some try to lip-sync the words, and some liberal bureaucrats honestly try, they perform inadequately, because their hearts just aren’t in it, and because they yearn for the Restoration of the High Minded.

Second, the Foreign Service regularly observes the way foreign policy is formulated in most other countries, where the permanent bureaucracies really do predominate, passing policy on to transient and typically compliant political ministers, who often do little more than read the talking points careerists hand them. After all, in London, for example, they don’t call such careerists ‘the mandarins of Whitehall’ for nothing. In Europe, there is little popular opinion is easily disregarded. European diplomats typically react with horror to the populist pressures brought to bear in America by economic interests, ethnic groups, powerful members of Congress, and others who affect policy making, let alone opinionated cabinet secretaries and their appointees. In fact, ‘political’ appointees in most foreign ministries are few and far between, certainly compared to the U.S. tradition. Many at State in the Civil as well as the Foreign Service yearn for the autonomy of EU ministries, far from madding crowd, and some do more than just yearn. They know how to use Washington’s multifaceted levers of power, leaking to philosophically congenial members of Congress and the media, and thereby carrying on the ideological struggle well outside of traditional bureaucratic corridors.

Third, presidential ineptitude cannot be ignored. Counterproductive or lackluster appointments squander the executive’s most effective tool for overcoming bureaucratic inertia. ‘Personnel is policy’ is not just a slogan; it is a fact. Presidents and secretaries of state who see senior officials as interchangeable have only themselves to blame when they are either captured by the permanent bureaucracy or unable to move it where they want it to go. Too many key appointments go to people who don’t know what the policy is, don’t care about it, or are too timid to stand up to the bureaucracy even if they actually know where they should be doing. State’s permanent bureaucracy is smart and subtle in its ability to ‘capture’ political appointees – by both selection and intimidation – and mold them to its will, as Powell’s entire tenure and careerist influence over Rice demonstrate. Jim Baker’s tenure, of course, demonstrates the opposite. Another classic example is co-opting political appointees to fight bureaucracy’s age-old turf fights, rather than pursuing their president’s.  ‘Battle fatigue’ among political appointees is another factor that should not be ignored by the White House, altogether too often Republican administrations act as though the problem does not exist.

A bureaucracy without sufficient political leadership cannot be used effectively. Led inadequately or inattentively, State’s careerists will simply continue doing what they want to do, as the case of North Korea demonstrates. Even beyond this phenomenon, there are still other problems confronting even the most disciplined political leadership at State, if conservatives ever put one in place. Here, we find the heart of the cultural problem. Different and analytically quite separate from ideology, it nonetheless magnifies and at times disguises the bureaucracy’s philosophical biases. To be sure, these State Department deficiencies exist in other ministries of foreign affairs, which may at times, fortunately, be the only thing that keeps us afloat diplomatically.

1.     The most serious of State’s cultural deficiencies is one that the permanent bureaucracy not only recognizes but has named: ‘clientitis.The term means excessively advocating the interests of the country or region for which an official is responsible (as if a lesser amount of such advocacy would be acceptable, or even natural!). Unfortunately, even the label chosen for the problem shows that the bureaucracy does not really understand it. The problem is not ‘excessive’ advocacy for Country X, but the fact that the bureaucracy doesn’t know who the real client is, let alone how vigorously to represent it. The ‘client’ is not France or Europe or whatever, but the United States. If ‘clientitis’ were actually the problem, it would mean excessively advocating the interests of the United States, something State is rarely accused of. A novelist could not have written a more precise statement of the department’s wrongheadedness than Rusk’s comment about the UN, quoted at the head of this section, no less! ‘Clientitis’ permeates the ‘functional’ bureaus at State (economic affairs, non-proliferation, refugee affairs, and so on) as well as the regional bureaus, although their parochialism favors international organizations and treaties rather than foreign countries. Thus, for many careerists dealing with nuclear issues, criticism of the IAEA or the NPT for being inadequate or incompetent is the equivalent of heresy, whereas protecting ‘their’ agencies and treaties is holy writ.

2.     ‘Moral equivalency,’ a disease of the sophisticated, is especially prevalent among EUroid diplomats, and is highly contagious, frequently spreading to State’s permanent bureaucracy. It involves equating actions or policies that are fundamentally different, thus allowing the High Minded to criticize or distance themselves from both, thereby adopting a satisfying tone of moral superiority. For example, Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli defensive responses are equated, both contributing to ‘the cycle of violence’ in the region, and both should be condemned. Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is in response to excessive American efforts to isolate the mullahs, and both should suspend their policies to allow EU diplomacy to resolve the problem. The list is almost endless. In its most poisonous version, as in the example of Iran, the United States is the cause for the overwhelming bulk of the world’s problems. According to this narrative, we provoke the disreputable behavior of rogue states and other undesirables, who, left alone by us, would have remained friendly and docile. If only our conduct were corrected, other countries would comport themselves with sweet reasons as well. Jeane Kirkpatrick called this the ‘blame America first’ syndrome, and it is rampant at State. One of the worst consequences of moral equivalency is the enervating effect it has on America’s own diplomats. If all positions are, in essence, ‘morally equivalent,’ how can one’s own so vigorously at the expense of other, equally ‘legitimate’ views?

3.     ‘Mirror imaging’ is related to moral equivalency, but is perhaps an even more widespread operational problem, involving the inability to see that representatives of other countries do not bargain on the same terms as our diplomats. Consider: You are a U.S. diplomat who is reasonable, moral, practical, and, importantly, a sophisticated woman or man of the left, as are almost all foreign diplomatic colleagues you encounter. You can see both sides of an issue, and you can find reasonable grounds for accommodation, surely, with even the most obdurate ‘interlocutor,’ a word almost as prized at State as ‘nuanced.’ Unfortunately, however, not everyone on the other side of the table is your mirror image. If your ‘interlocutor’ thinks you are a limp-wristed, weak-kneed, morally degenerate envoy of a decaying civilization, his priorities are likely to be very different from yours. In fact, if the person opposite is not your mirror image, you are poised to be taken advantage of, and will perhaps not even be aware of it. A classic example was Jones Parry during the December 2006 negotiations with Russia over Iran: ‘Please, if we have nothing to give, then how will we make progress?’ he said at one point. There is an urban legend among U.S. negotiators about a Cold War-era Soviet diplomat who used to open his conversations with Americans by saying, ‘What have you got for us today?’ Indeed. Moreover, many cultures, perhaps most, are more patient than ours, and more obdurate, perfectly content to prolong negotiations if they are not getting what they want. The ‘mirror imaging’ problem leads our diplomats to conclude that the failure to reach agreement must be our fault, and must therefore be resolved by further concessions.

4.     Most fundamentally, State careerists are schooled in accommodation and compromise with foreigners, rather than aggressive advocacy of U.S. interests, which might inconveniently disrupt the serenity of diplomatic exchanges, not to mention dinner parties and receptions. There are no ‘Stonewall Jacksons’ in the Foreign Service Hall of Fame. Smoothness and stability in diplomatic relations are prized despite the negative consequences such stability often entails. Officials throughout their careers are rewarded for reaching agreements, and quickly, with far less emphasis on evaluating what the agreements actually say. ‘Unity’ in the Security Council on draft resolutions, for example, is given pride of place in our efforts, rather than concentrating on the substance of the resolutions themselves. Too often, diplomacy becomes the objective, rather than simply one of many tools for achieving an objective. Straight talking is too often subordinated to accommodating foreign sensitivities, as if American sensitivities do not matter, or, even worse, are slightly embarrassing. So, for example, one never says another government has ‘violated’ a commitment, only that it is in ‘noncompliance’ with the commitment, or even ‘apparent noncompliance.’ Over and over again, we give foreigners the benefit of the doubt, a syndrome whereby we negotiate with ourselves before we even show up at the bargaining table, watering down our position in advance, thus helpfully making it easier for the foreigners to water it down even further. These are some of the consequences of the supremacy of process over substance. Another is the surprisingly short time horizon in State Department decision-making, which inevitably sacrifice policy and philosophical considerations. This is what, over time, produces senior Foreign and Civil Service officers who exemplify the culture, not as flawed individuals who aren’t tough bargainers, but as individuals who carry out what they have learned throughout their careers. This is not a question of personalities, but of a defective, self-perpetuating culture. An implicit foundation of the accommodationist school of diplomacy is that diplomacy itself doesn’t cost anything. Under this theory, it never hurts to negotiate with adversaries, since, compared to the alternatives, talking provides the potential only for benefits, without risk. If diplomacy were truly always costless, this argument would have force, but in fact the selection among alternative courses of action in international affairs, as in life itself, always entails benefits and costs. The costs of engaging in diplomacy are many, including: legitimizing outlaw regimes and giving them political acceptability and increased opportunities for propaganda and disinformation; reducing economic and political pressures that may be difficult to sustain during negotiations, especially protracted ones; and the signal sent of potential future weakness. Moreover, there is the long-term, cumulative cost of weak and ineffective bargaining, of always, ‘coming in too low’ in bargaining positions, as State consistently does. The effect of this weakness is analogous to the impact on airline costs of eliminating just a few pounds of weight from each flight. Over millions of route miles, the aggregate savings can be huge. In diplomacy, the cumulative cost impact over decades of weak American efforts must be frighteningly high. Most cost of all, however, is the factor of delay. By consuming time, diplomacy provides an adversary the most precious of resources, more valuable than any other because it is not for sale. This can involve time for the United States and its allies to grow complacent; time for an opponent to ready its defences or prepare its offenses; time to perfect its weapons of mass destruction; or even just time to think. Nowhere is delay more costly in contemporary terms than in WMD proliferation, where time is often the critical component in determining whether a proliferation effort will succeed or fail. Obviously, diplomacy’s benefits in many contexts will outweigh its costs, but it is a grotesque mistake to believe that diplomacy never has costs.  

Cited from Bolton, John R.. “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.” (2007), pp.448-454.


John Bolton’s criticism of the U.S. permanent bureaucracy is valuable for readers to think about in various ways. Although the types of problematic bureaucrat categories are superficially applicable to HKSARG's permanent bureaucracy, too, the fundamental difference is that Hong Kong critically lacks democracy in literal meaning. Thus, there is no such thing as ‘democratic legitimacy’ to infer further judgments about Hong Kong. Besides, Bolton’s reflection and viewpoints reversely reflect leftists in correcting their wrong typical generalization of ‘blame American Imperialism first’ attitude in almost all spheres of politics, even though they always lack specificity and particularity in their targets of criticism. In fact, those old types of leftists unnecessarily antagonize all Americans due to their lack of accurate and detailed particularization on whom or which party or which department or which branch to blame for. In most cases, people can find critics on both sides on any matter. Thus, categorical antagonization of the U.S. ruling class figures is a fatal wrong and only shows their own ignorance. John Bolton’s book shows us different American views and deep insights into world politics, not just about the U.S. itself. I highly recommend Bolton’s book to readers! It's really a gem. 


Keep moving! And keep firing like a big gray battleship!


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