Excellent. The Jerusalem Post runs an insightful interview with John Bolton during his stint at the Herzliya Conference in Jerusalem. I have never seen anything like it. Read it all - extraordinary, really. His remarks on Condi (and Bush) are quite revealing. Looking forward, the outlook is ominous. Very tough choices must be made - imminently.
During an hour-long interview before leaving Herzliya's Daniel Hotel and heading to the first panel-packed day at the campus of the Interdisciplinary Center, Bolton gave his take on Gaza, Iran, Turkey and, of course, on the outgoing and incoming American administrations.
Operation Cast Lead was timed to end immediately before US President Barack Obama's inauguration. Since then, rockets have continued to be fired on Israel from Gaza, with limited retaliation, and preparations for a possible second round. Had Israel not pulled out, would that have put an automatic strain on Jerusalem-Washington relations?
I do think the Obama administration will be less friendly to Israel than the Bush administration. And I understand why the leadership in Israel might have wanted the operation finished by January 20. There may have been other reasons to stop, as well, although with the renewed launching of rockets, those reasons are less apparent.
Military operations like Cast Lead should be carried through to their own logical conclusions, and I think Israel has to calibrate its military actions based on its own self-interest. Trying to judge what it should do based on American politics is a perilous venture.
But doesn't Israel rely on the US? Can Israel "go it alone," without American approval?
Well, it has done so in the past. For example, it undertook the very important operation, in September 2007, to destroy the North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. That was done, if not over US opposition, certainly without US approval. Personally, I think that US policy was wrong. I think Israel's destroying of that nuclear facility was beneficial to international peace and security.
You're saying the US was actually against that operation?
Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wanted very much to avoid that strike. In fact, when Israel came to the US and first proposed it in the spring of 2007, she urged that it be postponed indefinitely. The Israeli response was, "We'll postpone it, but not past the end of the summer."
And that's exactly what happened.
Speaking of Rice, she seemed to have shifted to the left over the course of the Bush administration, particularly in its second term, when she became secretary of state. Does it really make a difference, then, whether it's Bush running the show or Obama?
Sadly from my perspective, there will be a lot of continuity between the Obama and Bush administrations where Middle East policy is concerned - generally on Iran, and specifically on a range of other issues. That doesn't warm my heart. It shows that mistakes were being made, especially during the second term of the Bush administration, many of which were made at secretary Rice's behest.
Was this because Bush came to rely on her so heavily, or did he actually hold with her views?
He did trust and rely on her very extensively in the second term, when a number of major voices of the first term left the government in one way or another and others, like vice president Cheney, had a much lower profile. I believe historians will judge that Rice was the dominant - in fact, nearly exclusive - voice advising the president on foreign policy in his second term.
Was he personally under her spell in some way, or did he change his mind about his own doctrine?
I can't explain it, quite frankly. It was a big disappointment to see the changes that were made in a variety of policy areas. It was one reason for my not seeking another appointment at the UN, and I thought it appropriate to leave in December 2006, because the administration had shifted on too many important foreign policy issues.
At last year's Herzliya Conference, you responded cynically to the suggestion that Bush might bomb Iran before the end of his presidency. Why, at the time, were you so certain he wouldn't do it?
Well, I had changed my view on that subject. I originally thought that president Bush was prepared to use military force. He had said repeatedly during his first term that an Iran with nuclear weapons was unacceptable. And, being a man of his word, I thought that his use of the word "unacceptable" meant it was not acceptable, and therefore if diplomacy failed - which I was sure it would - that left the robust response as the only option. I think what happened was that the president was persuaded by secretary Rice that a military answer to the Iranian nuclear threat would have provoked Iran to respond in Iraq, by increasing its destabilizing activities. I happen to think that analysis is incorrect - that Iran, if it retaliated at all, would retaliate by having Hizbullah launch attacks on Israel. But I think that secretary Rice persuaded the president that his biggest legacy in Iraq could be threatened and undermined if Iran stepped up its destabilizing activities.
From what you know of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, do you think she will take a similar view, or is it possible that she, ironically, might take a more hard-line position on Iran?
Bill and Hillary were a year ahead of me at Yale law school. I've known them for a long time - not that we were close buddies. And my recollection of Hillary was that she was one of the most radical leftists among the students there. She has gone through a lot of changes since then, among them in her political awareness, but I think fundamentally her views have not changed. I would worry that she will fit right in to an Obama administration, whose views are very European when it comes to a wide variety of foreign policy issues.
The danger of a nuclear Iran is an issue around which there is consensus across the Israeli political spectrum. In the event that it becomes necessary, would it be legitimate for Israel to take military action alone, if doing so were technically feasible?
Absolutely. With the end of the Bush administration, the possibility of US use of military force against Iran's nuclear program has dropped essentially to zero. The diplomatic effort failed years ago, and I don't think any renewed American effort is fundamentally going to make any difference. Iran has all the scientific and technological knowledge it needs right now to create a nuclear weapon. We can tell from publicly available information from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has enough low-enriched uranium which, if enriched to weapons-grade levels, would allow it one nuclear weapon now, and possibly another one or two this year. Let me stress here: That's what we know publicly from the IAEA - no James Bond involved in that calculation - and there may well be additional activities we don't know about, which would make Iran's capability even more substantial. So, if the diplomatic option has failed, that leaves only regime change or the use of force. And with no likelihood of American use of force, that leaves Israel.
Of course, the military option is a very unattractive one. It's risky. You could end up with the worst of both worlds: taking action without breaking Iran's control over the nuclear fuel cycles, and yet incurring the disapproval of governments all over the world.
But you have to have the military option front and center, because the alternative is far more unattractive.
Now, there are people who will say that Israel can't do it without American approval, or that it's not possible technically. I don't believe any of that is accurate, though I don't mean to downplay the risk involved. But there's another thing that you have to keep in mind: The military option is declining over time. This is because Iran will undoubtedly take steps to disperse and harden its facilities even further. It will increase its air defense capabilities by purchases from Russia. It will do many things to make it even more difficult for the US or Israel to take military action in the future.
So there's a very narrow window. If it closes, then you have to contemplate what to do with a nuclear Iran. I've tried to stay away from theorizing about how you deal with a nuclear Iran, because once you start theorizing about it, in a way you're accepting it. But if the reality is that Iran is now unimpeded - except for the possibility of a military strike - then you have to start thinking about it. That's why regime change starts coming back into the picture. The only long-range way to deal with this problem is regime change. You can't contain a regime of religious fanatics. Their calculus on the value of human life is very different from ours. If you prize life in the hereafter more than life on earth, the deterrent value of retaliation isn't very persuasive.
Look at the people who carried out 9/11. What threat of retaliation would have deterred them from the suicide attack? The answer is none. So, we're at a very grave point here. There's not much time left to deal with Iran if you want to keep in non-nuclear. And once it becomes nuclear, the entire balance of power in the region shifts - not just for Israel, but for the Arab states in the Persian Gulf as a whole. It will be a dramatically different region, because of the substantial increase of influence that nuclear capability will give the Iranians.
What good can changing this or that specific radical regime do, when the forces of jihad are global and exceed borders?
By regime change in Iran, I don't mean switching a few figures at the top; I mean the elimination of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The few cases of countries' having given up their nuclear weapons programs have come at a time of regime change. For example, when South Africa moved away from apartheid toward a true democracy, that's when it gave up its nuclear weapons program. When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus gave Russia back the nuclear weapons that had been left on their territory, because they wanted a non-nuclear future.
There's no guarantee that regime change in Iran would achieve the same objective, but if there's any chance for that to happen, it's when a new government says it doesn't want nuclear weapons, and does want peace and stability. If that doesn't work, then the options are even more unattractive. That's why this is such a critical point, without much time remaining before we find out what happens when Iran does get nuclear weapons.
It has been said that Iran's nuclear program is being set back by the global financial crisis and sanctions. Is that not true?
The fall in the price of oil globally has had a dramatic impact on Iran. There's little doubt about that. And Iran's economy is in very bad shape. There's little doubt about that, as well. But neither of these two factors has anything to do with sanctions. Iran's economy is in trouble because of nearly 30 years of misrule since the Islamic Revolution. The lesson is: Don't put religious leaders in charge of an economy. They have misinvested in Iran's oil infrastructure. They have subsidized fuel prices to the point where they're now dependant on importing refined petroleum products. You can see evidence of economic dissatisfaction all around the country. But, again, that's not because of the sanctions that have been imposed by the US or the Security Council. Those sanctions have had a very limited impact.
What about UNRWA?
UNRWA is an example of an organization that should have ceased to exist long ago, because its functions were transformed over time from humanitarian to largely political. The idea that refugee status can pass down through the generations is contrary to the principles of international humanitarian law that the High Commissioner for Refugees operates on elsewhere. And it shows why single-purpose organizations like this often are self-defeating.
Apropos the passing down of refugee status through the generations, if Hamas and Hizbullah are proxies of Iran, how can Israel eliminate the threats they pose with this or that territorial compromise, or this or that military operation?
It is a mistake to think that you can deal with the problem of Hamas, Hizbullah or even the regime in Syria separately from the problem of Iran. And neither of those three is disconnected from the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. Nor am I sure that you can deal with all at once, without regime change in Teheran. This is not to say that you have to have a macro solution to everything before you can have a micro solution to anything. It is to say that as you approach these threats and problems, you have to understand the linkages between them.
According to polls Binyamin Netanyahu - like you, a former ambassador to the UN - is going to win Tuesday's election. Is it true, as his opponents have been claiming, that Obama will not be able to relate to him or his worldview?
I don't want to put myself in the middle of an Israeli election, but it's a mistake to think that Obama won't deal with whomever becomes prime minister of Israel, as he would deal with the leader of any country, from whatever side of the political spectrum.
I do think, however, that how Israel should deal with the Obama administration is to appoint a counterpart to George Mitchell as the Israeli "special envoy" handling the Middle East peace process. I think it's a mistake for the prime minister to deal directly with Mitchell. He or she should deal with President Obama; the next foreign minister should deal with Secretary of State Clinton; and Mr. or Ms. X should deal with George Mitchell.
Mitchell has said that all conflicts can be solved, pointing to Northern Ireland as his prime example. What can Israel expect from his efforts on this front?
The Good Friday Agreement did not solve the Northern Ireland
conflict, which, after all, in one form or another, had been going on
for 500 years. It was solved by the British army thrashing the IRA.
What was negotiated in the Good Friday Agreement were the terms of
surrender. That hasn't happened in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank,
which in any case is a very different environment. As for what to
expect, well, this is probably the last major assignment of Mitchell's
career, so he has a strong incentive to reach a deal and do it quickly.
This means that its substance will be less important than the deal
itself, and that if reaching it drags out too long, it will be seen as
a failure on his part. This should be of particular concern to Israel.
Read the whole thing.