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“The John Bolton I Know – a formidable diplomat and a patriot” by Robert C. O’Brien

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“The John Bolton I Know – a formidable diplomat and a patriot” by Robert C. O’Brien


The press is reporting that former UN Ambassador John Bolton is being considered for various senior positions in the Trump Administration.  As during the 2005 debate over his nomination to be UN Ambassador, his opponents are once more floating the argument that he is “undiplomatic.”  While I am unaware what Trump Tower is thinking, or whether John will once more enter public service, I do know this:  such criticism is flat out wrong. In today’s political parlance it is simply “fake news.”  Indeed, much of it mirrors the unfair attacks on the President-elect and his cabinet designees.


I spent a year working with John at the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York during the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly.  We faced tough issues during 2005-2006, arising from a deteriorating situation in Iraq, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and President Bush’s conduct of the War on Terror.  John’s job as our man at the UN was never easy, often exhausting and painfully slow at points.  But John, the definition of a diplomat, never grew physically tired or ever lost his temper with other diplomats or the mission’s staff.


John, as he had done in previous positions at the State Department and the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George HW Bush, proved himself to be a formidable diplomat.  His foreign counterparts were always impressed with John’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work of negotiating resolutions himself rather than relying on staff.  A former big firm lawyer, no one was better in these drafting sessions than John.  He would work late into the night to get the resolutions right.  Often in such cases, John sat across from other nations’ deputy ambassadors because their bosses either lacked the subject matter expertise to negotiate with him or because they were more interested in hitting the Manhattan cocktail party circuit.  When the issue was important to America, John would not leave the room until we achieved our goals, even if that meant late nights or very early mornings.


I sat in on numerous bilateral meetings with John and other Ambassadors.  Those meetings were always conducted with professionalism and decorum.  In fact, John usually visited other nations’ missions in New York in a show of respect to his colleagues in the UN diplomatic corps.  This practice was almost unheard of at the UN where many small nation ambassadors were accustomed to being summoned to the US mission, if they could get a meeting with the US ambassador at all.  Americans would have been very proud of their nation’s diplomacy had they seen John in action, behind closed doors.


Notwithstanding the cordiality with which he conducted diplomacy, John never made the mistake of believing he was the UN’s ambassador to the United States – the person some foreign policy elites believe should explain and defend the UN to the American public.  Rather, he knew that his job was to represent the United States at the UN.  They may not have always liked the message he delivered but other diplomats were never unclear about the American position when John spoke.


I accompanied John on several early morning walks from his official residence at the Waldorf Hotel to the UN.  We were always greeted with fist pumps from working folks – the people that are up at dawn and make NY run – construction guys, sanitation workers, delivery drivers and cops.  They may not have followed the issues we were facing at the UN but they knew that John was their ambassador and that he was looking out for America’s interests when he went to work.


In subsequent senior positons at the State Department in the Bush Administration, as a close advisor to Governor Mitt Romney over two presidential campaigns and co-chair of his international organizations working group, and as a foreign policy advisor to both Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ted Cruz, I have worked closely with scores of America’s top diplomats – career foreign service officers and political appointees from both parties.  There is no question that John is at the very top of that list.  It was a truly a privilege to serve with him at USUN.  Indeed, everyone who did so walked away a better diplomat because of the experience.



Robert C. O’Brien is a partner at Larson O’Brien LLP. He served as a U.S. Representative to the United Nations General Assembly. O’Brien was also a Senior Advisor to Governors Scott Walker and Mitt Romney as well as Senator Ted Cruz during their presidential campaigns. His book: While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis (Encounter Books) was released in September. He can be followed on Twitter: @robertcobrien.



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