Somebody’s idea of a joke?

Skeptics can be forgiven for suspecting that President Bush has decided to cash in his U.N. chips and just play around in the international agency for laughs.

He has nominated veteran diplomat John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Among Bolton’s many credentials for the job, one stands out as unique: He doesn’t believe it exists.

“There is no such thing as the United Nations,” he once said.

Perhaps he meant that in the abstract sense because Bolton is clearly aware that it is there in the physical sense of a building on New York’s East Side. One of his other celebrated observations was, “If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Maybe not, because 28 stories would still be left.

One other celebrated reform idea he threw out was that the governing 15-member Security Council would be a lot more efficient if its numbers were reduced _ to one, the United States.

Bolton, currently the State Department’s top arms-control official, is notoriously blunt-spoken, disdaining the customary diplomatic niceties. (A loose cannon to control loose cannons, get it? Never mind.)

Senate Democrats, who collectively probably spend not more than 10 minutes a month thinking about the United Nations, are officially aghast at Bolton’s nomination and say that he will recklessly and needlessly upset the Europeans and other partners we need in multilateral coalitions. If I were the Democrats, I would not be going to the country saying Bolton’s a bad guy ’cause he irritates the Europeans.

I’m looking forward to what he has to say about a U.N. Commission on Human Rights that had Libya as its chair and numbers Cuba, Sudan, Congo and Zimbabwe among its members.

The North Koreans once refused to talk to Bolton because he called their Dear Leader a “tyrannical dictator” who had made life “a hellish nightmare” for the North Korean people. What? Just because the starving proletariat was reduced to eating grass? Anyway, how can you not like a guy the North Korean called “human scum and a bloodsucker.”

The Bush administration has offered various rationales for rolling a human hand grenade into the General Assembly. (Symbolically, Bolton, who will be bringing the rare mustache into the upper reaches of the Bush administration, keeps a model of a hand grenade on his desk.)

One is “tough love;” that Bolton will offer the kind of straight, no-nonsense, words-of-one syllable direction the United Nations needs if it truly wishes to reform. But “tough love” is a term of American psychotherapy that probably doesn’t translate well if at all.

As Cesar Mayoral, Argentina’s U.N. ambassador, put it, “I think any nomination, any designation, is to send a message. I don’t know what is the message.”

Another rationale is the “Nixon goes to China” sort of thing, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it when she announced Bolton’s appointment. That’s unfair to Bolton. When President Richard Nixon went to China to exchange baijiu toasts with the communist leaders of a slave state, it pretty much represented a repudiation of what he had seemed to stand for over the previous 26 years. Bolton has been consistent in saying that the United Nations is an ineffectual and at times even dangerous organization, and having a few belts of sorghum brandy with the human-rights reps from North Korea seems unlikely to change that.

If Bolton has a problem as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it is likely to be motivation. As a reward for a job well done, his predecessor got sent to Iraq.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)