Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, by John Bolton. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. 486 pp. $27 (hardcover).


What is it like to be an American diplomat trying to advance U.S. interests? In Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, John Bolton recounts his harrowing experiences in the foreign policy establishment of the United States government. The book is an enlightening introduction to the bureaucratic machinations that guide our foreign policy.

At the book’s start, Bolton describes himself as a “libertarian conservative” (p. 7) and tells why he agreed to join the Agency for International Development (AID) when Reagan offered him the appointment in 1980.

I was attracted to AID because it involved both U.S. foreign policy and domestic policy in the recipient countries. Our goal was to make AID’s programs more market-driven, to induce recipient countries to foster private enterprise, and to turn AID away from a welfare-oriented approach known as “basic human needs.” This rubric disguised a belief that poverty in developing countries was caused by a lack of resources and that poverty could be overcome by developed countries’ transferring the missing resources. I regarded this as essentially backward: The creation of wealth by developing countries was the long term cure to their poverty, which they could accomplish by market-oriented policies that rewarded rather than penalized domestic and foreign trade and investment. (p. 20)

While there, Bolton helped return $28 million to the Treasury, by “canceling AID projects around the world that were failing” (p. 20). He also had his first professional contact with the UN, where he says he learned much about the behavior of countries at international bodies—for instance, that “countries with which the United States has close bilateral relations are not always helpful in such bodies” and that “this was just business as usual at the UN” (p. 21).

Bolton relays how, during the first Bush administration in 1989, he served under Secretary of State James Baker as assistant secretary for International Organization Affairs (IO), a position “responsible for overseeing the entire UN system” (p. 31). In his capacity as assistant secretary of IO, . . .

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