John Bolton, outgoing ambassador to the United Nations, is only the latest in a string of high-ranking people who are leaving the U.S diplomatic corps. Last week, State Department counselor Philip Zelikow resigned, saying that he would return to his job as a history professor at the University of Virginia. Earlier in November, Undersecretary of Economics, Business, and Agricultural Affairs Josette Sheeran Shiner left Washington to become the head of the U.N's World Food Program. And in June, Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick returned to the private sector as a managing director for Goldman Sachs.
Why the mass exodus? It's a reflection of the Bush administration's disjointed foreign policy this year, where diplomacy was subsumed under muscular hawkishness and ideological obstinance. Zoellick, who had hoped for the Treasury post that went to Hank Paulson, left the administration in part because he wasn't given enough leeway to effect change while at State. The president still hasn't named a successor to Zoellick (who, after all, was #2 at the State Department behind Condi) since he stepped down six months ago. Perhaps that's because he was too occupied with giving his full support to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of growing criticism. Bush also stubbornly clung to misguided hopes that Bolton would pass muster with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and be placed in front of the full Senate for a vote. The midterm elections put an end to both Rumsfeld and Bolton's jobs. As for Zelikow, a longtime friend and confidante to Condoleezza Rice, he had indirectly, but not-so-subtly, criticized Bush's policies in the Middle East.
The Bolton departure is an acknowledgement from Bush that the foreign policy mood has indeed changed. Pushing Bolton's nomination would have caused unnecessary partisan strife, especially since there's no way the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have approved Bolton. So the question now is: How will Bush be able to garner up a list of solid experienced candidates to fill this post? For starters, he could name a new #2 at State, perhaps by officially elevating #3 Nick Burns to the position. Burns is a career foreign service officer, well-respected both inside and outside the Beltway. He's close to Condi and was also close to Clinton during his presidency. It would be a great signal that Bush is willing to work with Congress, as well as with other nations, during the last two years of his term. Zelikow may not need to be replaced, since the job of counselor has largely been dormant in the past; neither Colin Powell nor Madeleine Albright had a counselor. As for the U.N. post? How about Zelikow? He has said that he would willingly serve the president again. We've got some other ideas of who might also want the job, but it's by no means a comprehensive list. Who do you think should be take Zoellick and Bolton's seats? E-mail us here.