Much thanks to our favorite blogger in Finland, KGS over at Tundra Tabloids who has transcribed my interview with John Bolton. Go here.
Atlas Shrugs: We’re here with Ambassador Bolton in the continuing master work series, Atlas V-logs, where we get to the serious stuff, we leave the ‘puff and the stuff’ to the networks and the cables.
I’m going to cut right to the chase because we only have a certain amount of time on You Tube, we have to work within the confines of the new technology. I want to go back to recent history, but really sort of ancient history now, in comparing the two administrations, Bush’s first and Bush’s second.
The second is so different in tone, if it could have another name on it, you would be believable. There was this thinking from the outsiders, that, there were two warring factions in the Bush administration, there was the Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton faction, and there was, lets say, Colin Powell, Armitage, Kritell, Catlin and subsequently Condi Rice.
Now at some point, it pains me to say, that the former lost out in the intellectual argument, or was defeated or what have you. The Condi State Department nearly took over in the second administration. I sort of saw it as a defining line, historically, in the summer of 2006 when Israel didn’t hold up its end in the strategic battle on the war on Jihad. You sort have had, Bush allowing…I’ll let you talk, I promise, because that is really why they’re watching, Bush allowing Israel to eradicate Hezbollah, and Olmert hesitated, lets be frank.
So that was crushing I thought, and then of course losing the Congress, then it was really over and ‘Bush Shrugged’. Could you tell me where I have it wrong and your perception from the inside, because it sure don’t matter now.
John Bolton: Yeah. Well there are a lot of issues there and I do think that there was disagreement within the Bush administration, I don’t think it necessarily followed fixed lines, I think that different people took different positions. In the first Bush term on many foreign policy issues, not Iraq, but on many other foreign policy issues, the disagreements within the administration often led to policies that were, if not internally contradictory, at least not entirely consistent, and I think specifically of Iran and North Korea, and our efforts to stop their nuclear weapons program.
The debates within the administration were not resolved within the highest level, and I believe one reason for that was the national security decision making process run by Condi Rice was not functioning as effectively as it might. It didn’t bring crisp disagreements to the president for decisions. The second term was very different, with a number of people departing for other positions and leaving the administration…
Atlas: You included.
Bolton: I didn’t leave until a little bit later, but Secretary Rice then became Secretary of State, and she, from basically the beginning of the second term, was the dominant voice in national security advice to the president. Eclipsing others, many left like Secretary Rumsfeld, eclipsing the Vice President for reasons only President Bush best knows. But, I think the, therefore the process in the second term was different, and the outcome was very different. Condi, in too many instances in my view, channelled the view of the State Department. She spoke directly to Bush obviously, and he listened almost exclusively to her.
So the net, net, at the end of Bush’s second term was that we followed policies in many respects, on the Middle East, on Iran and North Korea, that functionally were not all that different were Barack Obama was when he came into office.
Atlas: Now the first time I saw you speak, it was 2005 and you were talking about the Mehlis investigation where the UN had investigated the assassinations in Lebanon, it was triumphant, he basically indicted the Assad administration so to speak, Syria at the highest levels, and it really was a component, a major component I would think in getting Syria out of Lebanon.
And now you see him, I’m sure you saw the ban that was lifted yesterday by President Obama, there’s talk of him going to Damascus, and you saw him being invited on the tarmac by Assad, um, oh my G-d, how far, how fast? Can you tell me the implications of the Cedar Revolution, is it dead, I mean what happened, what’s your perception of it going forward?
John Bolton: Well I think that Lebanon remains on a knife’s edge. I think that the recent election obviously strengthened the democratic forces, somewhat surprisingly Hezbollah was set back within the Lebanese political context. But Hezbollah has been completely rearmed, resupplied and restocked since the 2006 war, and it still has the capacity to take control of Lebanon at its will.
The main problem with the Obama approach with Syria, is that it rests on the same false understanding of what it takes to make progress with a regime like Syria or Iran or others in the region. Obama believes that the simple fact of his election and that he’s not George Bush and that he’s willing to talk with adversaries, will cause regimes like Syria’s to change their basic substantive position that underline their national interest, and that is completely wrong, it is a way of getting the United States into negotiations that legitimizes the Assad regime in Syria and provide them space and time so that they can further their objectives, which remain taking over Lebanon, getting back the Golan Heights from Israel and a variety of others within the region.
Atlas: Speaking of Iran, because Syria is basically a vassal to Iran. I’ve been very, sort of devastated by the fact, particularly on the right, I’m the only blog, or of one or two or three, that are covering the events on the ground. This is what you and the Bush administration were talking about for so long, you felt that we weren’t doing enough to encourage, or to support the dissident movement in Iran.
What has happened, it’s been ignored, don’t you think?
John Bolton: Yeah. Well I think the demonstrations since the June 12th presidential elections, the fraudulent presidential elections in Iran, show just how much discontent there is within Iranian society. And that discontent is simply about Ahmadinejad, discontent with the Islamic revolution of 1979, and had the Bush administration over its eight years done more to support the dissidents in the Iranian diaspora and in the country, we might have been in a very different situation after June 12th, but we had not done nearly enough, and therefore the people in the streets were on the own.
John Bolton: Nonetheless, I think, they demonstrated just how strong is their antipathy toward the regime. And here when people criticize Obama for not saying more publicly about the dissidents, not coming to their support, I think there is a point we have to acknowledge that there is a risk when an American president is verbally supporting revolutionaries which many of those people were, without being able to provide concrete support.
I remember, or had
read at least about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when we
encouraged Eastern Europeans to rise up against the Soviet masters,
they did, and then we did nothing to support them, and the Soviet tanks
massacred in the streets of Budapest. I remember in 1991 when the first
president Bush said to the Shiia and the Kurds ‘rise up against Saddam
Hussein’ after the first war, after the liberation of Kuwait, and they
did, and again we didn’t do anything to support them.
So, the fact was that, Obama didn’t have any cards to play, but having said that, I think his administration cares even less than the Bush administration about supporting the Iranian dissidents. For me the real long term answer to the Iranian nuclear weapons program is a change of regime. Again, not just a change of Ahmadinejad, the overthrow of the Islamic revolution of 1979.
If Obama and the United States are not willing to work for that end, then we can count on not just the Mullahs being in charge for a long time, but possibly even worse, the Islamic revolutionary Guards Corps, who are more fanatic, more militaristic and the ones in charge of the nuclear program.
Atlas: I don’t know if you saw Thomas Sowell this morning, but he wrote Disaster in the Making.
John Bolton: No I didn’t.
Atlas: I just heard. But he’s basically saying if all this guy does, Obama does, is run out the economy, that’s of the best case scenario. He was talking of our children being held hostage by, if we allow Iran to go nuclear, I mean the implications that he was pointing out, that there’s so much more than the imminent threat of today. He’s talking about the implications of ten or twenty years and how drastically different the world will look.
John Bolton: Well look, this is another indication of the inexperience and naiveté really, of the Obama administration. Statesmanship if its anything, is looking decades into the future trying to identify risks and challenges and opportunities and structuring events as they develop to maximize the opportunities and minimize the risks. So when you hear Obama during the campaign saying ‘well Iran is a small country’...
Johan Bolton: …’it doesn’t represent a big threat’, you know that maybe true today, with respect to the United States, but Iran like North Korea are not small threats to our friends and allies in their area. Japan and South Korea with respect to North Korea, Israel and the Arab states the Persian Gulf when they look at Iran. And moreover, whatever the state or play Iran is today, you have to longer than just the next six month or twelve months, you have to say what are the implications for the world at large if Iran gets nuclear weapons.
And it’s not simply the threat of a nuclear Iran, well that’s bad enough, it’s the consequences of a nuclear Iran. Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons, possibly Egypt, possibly Turkey, possibly others in the region, that's what we mean by proliferation.
A nuclear Iran actually leads to a more dangerous, more unstable situation with possibly several nations having small numbers of nuclear weapons, thus increasing the likelyhood that somebody is going to use them. So this issue of a nuclear Iran is critical for Israel, the Persian Gulf states in the short term, possibly critical to the world as a whole over a longer period.
Atlas: Ok, lets get back a little bit to home, because having the Republicans thouroughly routed, and my communication is really on the grass roots, there's talk of a third party but it's dismissed out of hand because we know that it's just, we're shooting ourselves in the foot, we already have the example of Ross Perot, and he got whatever, 19-20% of the vote, and we got less than 50%...alright.
So looking at the political landscape, (a) what did the Republicans do wrong, you know, apart from the relentless cy-op of the Left-wing media clubbing the people over the head with Iraq and so forth, but going forward I would like to talk about a little bit of your, if you reveal maybe of some political aspirations, I mean I don't want to be the first to announce or anything like that, but there are a great many people that like, you know, that are invested in someone like Sarah Palin that see you as a man, I don't want you to get your head all swelled up, of intergrity and great statesmanship and clear headed rational thinking.
So first what we did wrong, and now that we've been routed, can the conservative principle sieze the party they way, you know the Left was routed Bush, House and Senate..who siezed the reigns of the Demorcatic party? The Hard Left. The whack jobs in 2001 where they had signs Bush-Chimp-Hitler which were like (gasp)..or 9/11 we deserved, it and we went (gasp).. it became the mainstream news some years later.
John Bolton: Well first, thank you very much, second, I think the main problem really came from the Republican party itself and I'm sorry to say the Bush administration on domestic policy by abandoning fundamental conservative principles, on fiscal restraint, reducing government spending, holding taxes down, keeping the role of the Federal Government small.
And I think particularly in the last six months of the administration he conceded in the middle of a financial crisis, the Treasury Department almost without supervision from the White House, was pursuing policies that are functionally indistinguishable from what the Obama administration has been doing.
So I think it's actually isimpler, analytically than some people think for the Republican party to right itself and get back in the game. I think it's actually happening now. I think we simply return to the basic principles, we should have an open door. I don't think we should have saliva test security, but I think that the Republican party has always been the party of liberty.
That's what it's about, and once we get back to that point, I think we'll be in much better shape politically. I think that the Obama administration has radically over reached in its domestic policy, I think that the people in Novemember of 08' were rejecting the Bush administration, rejecting the Republicans as they did in the Congressional elections of 06', but they did not think they were electing a radical president of the United States.
And we have, in both domestic policy and foreign policy the most radical president we've ever had. The Cap & Trade bill, the Health Care bill, a whole variety of other indications of that, and I think as we talk at the end of July of 09, you can already see public opinion turning against the administrations policies. The people still have very high hopes for Obama, they wish him well, they're gratified that we've shown, unlike some of our critics in Europe, we can elect a minority to head our government.
It'll be a cold day before a lot of these governments who criticize the United States of racism will ever get used to something that in their own countries. So, Americans have a lot of good will for Obama the man, and I think that's entirely understandable, but where they are parting company is on his policies.
And I think if Republicans can keep the debate focused on policies as I think they're doing fairly successfully in the Health Care debate now, with help from a lot of democrats who don't buy these Obama policies anyway, we can see the road forward.
Atlas: So how do we get a guy like you to run?
John Bolton: Heh, honestly, it's very gratifying that people even mention that and a lot of people ask me when I'm going to run for it and so on. I don't, what I'm concerned about and what I've always been concerned about professionally, is a strong American foreign policy, and that's what I've spent my time doing since I've left the Bush administration. That's what I've tried to do in the Bush administration, and it's what I'm going to continue to do.
I've never run for elective office publically,
Atlas: That's what makes you so delicious in such a way...
John Bolton: Heh..heh..it is extraordinarily unlikely, but I'm going to speak out on foreign and domestic policy issues since I think the strength of our domestic economy says a lot about the role we can play in the world, and hopefully strengthen the Republican party and see some changes in Congress in 2010 and hopefully in the White House in 2012.
Atlas: Lets talk about 2012. We'll put you aside, we'll put you in a box just for now as far as candidates. I would like to know your take on Palin, I ask you that because I don't know if you have ever spoken to her, have you ever advised her, she would be really well advised to chat with you for whatever many reasons. But I don't like what the right is saying about her. I mean how could not want to prop up someone who is so well liked within the party?
John Bolton: well actually I had a chance to meet her in the summer of 2007, I was on a National Review cruise to Alaska and we stoped in Juno, and she was kind enough to host the reception for some of the speakers, some of the National Review people at the Governers mansion. And I happened to have a chance to talk to her for five minutes or so, and we talked about missle defense, which of course being in Alaska was very familiar with. And we talked about the Second Ammendment issues and some of the things I've done to prevent international gun control treaties from being adopted by the UN.
So it wasn't a long conversation, but I remember saying after leaving that reception, that if she gets another term as governor or if she runs for the Senate, she could be a national figure. I think that in some respects, she was unlucky to have been picked in 2008 to be the Vice President, and for a lot of reasons that we could go on about for hours. The media was determined to malign her and assault her and they did what the media is very good at doing and that regard. And in a way, and this analogy is imperfect, I admit, but it has a certain force. She ended up in a Dan Quail position.
Dan Quail was very unfairly treated, but I don't think that he could have been a viable presidential candidate if George Bush 41 had won a second term. for Palin, I don't think we know the answer to that yet. She's left the governorship,
People ask will she do whatever she's got to do, if that includes a run for the presidency? I think she should be given a fair shot at it, but the inviorement in the media is very hostile to her. Now, it's very hostile to most Republicans.
Atlas: Which Republicans, you mean, the Rhinos, what Republicans, they made reagan out to be an idiot, what Republicans did they ever like? I want to make something clear about this Quail thing, at the time, the American people were not so hip that the media were so corrupt. I mean you went from a media that was a Cronkite, a secret Liberal, a crypto-Liberal that you never really saw it, to a media that's become, it's not even a media, it's an activist arm.
John Bolton: It's in the middle, it's one of the reasons the analogy's imperfect, it's a very different inviorement now, and I don't know what her future holds, and I haven't spoken to her since the summer of 2007, so I 've hardly have any insight, but if she decides she's going to run, I think she'll get a fair reception within the party, and we'll see what the competition looks like and where we'll go from there.
Atlas: Who do you like?
John Bolton: Well, I think Romney with his extraordinary back ground in business and finance, certainly in the current economic circumstance has a lot to (unclear). I confess, I'm an old friend to Haly Barber the governor of Mississippi and I don't know whether he's interested or he's a, prepared to do anything about it. But I think that there are a lot of people in Congress who also have possibilities. I'm a big fan of John Cyle of Arizona, so I think many people have said the Republican party is in difficulty because we don't have a clear leader, there arn't two or three top contenders.
I'm not really worried about that, the party needs to reenergize itself, I think it's in the process of doing that, and look, at this time in the summer of 2005, who would have ever predicted that Barack Obama would be the next president? so we have plentyu of time, I'mjust not that worried about it.
Atlas: I mean it's a V-log, so it's only for today. It's ok. I have to go back to Romney for a second. I know he has a very extensive business back ground, you know it's laudable. But how could you possibly reccomend a guy who two weeks ago told Newsweek magazine, that Jihad has nothing to do with Islam? Now I don't know how involved you are with this issue, but I think, apart from the Nuclear Jihad, the violent Jihad, Islamic supremacism is a huge issue that's little understood because everyone is so afraid to talk about it. Now if you read Atlas of course, you know all about it. I know you read Atlas so I know that you know about it. But how can you reccomend who can make such a, I mean look, everyone says things, but such a critically, fundamentally wrong, but seriously wrong in its implications, that statment.
John Bolton: I didn't see the statements but, as the saying goes from the Franklin Roosevelt eras, somebody said, "not all Democrats are horse thieves, but all horse theives are Democrats". Taking that forward, the terrorists today are Islamic fundamentalists, that's were the threat lies. world wide, and the worst threat of all, is obviously getting nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
I think Romney in 2008 did suffer by comparison on national security issues, I think that's why many Republicans supported John McCain or either Fred Thompson, so part of Romney's burden going forward, if in fact, he runs again is to demonstrate that he can handle not only the domestic economic issues, but foreign policy questions as well.
Atlas: And your outlook?
John Bolton: Well I'm very optomistic. I think that the circumstance domestically are turning in favor of conservatives, I think that people see the administration as over reached dramatically. I think his policies nationally are coming under more adverse scrutiny. The only trouble is how much damage will be caused before the American people to get to vote again and correct the problem. But, we did this to ourselves in a sense by devaluing the Republican brand in the last part of the Bush administration. the Iraq war was not popular, and it's the function of any administration, not just to carry out policies, but to advocate them effectively, and in number respects the Bush administration didn't do that, for which all of us who were in it are responsible in part.
So the loss in 2008 was not all that surprising given the economy and all those other things, that's part of politics. My first election was when I was fifteen years old for Barry Goldwater, and it was a pretty depressing election I must say, but if we had given up then, we would never have Ronald Reagan sixteen years later, so, you win some and you lose some as you say and we lost one in 08' and we got to come back from it. I think that we are on track to do that, I think that things are moving in the right direction.
Atlas: well I want to thank you for joining us in the Atlas-sphere, and I hope that you'll come back.
John Bolton: Thank you very much, we'll see ya.