Bolton Discusses the GOP Race, Israel, Iran, and the Arab Spring
John Bolton is a very busy man. Formerly America’s ambassador to the U.N., he is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and is also a frequent op-ed contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, and of course, the Jewish Voice. He’s of counsel to the international law firm Kirkland and Ellis, a featured commentator on Fox News, and works with a list of NGOs and think tanks (including JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) so extensive, that if we were to present it all here, it would look like someone had spilled a bowl of alphabet soup. So suffice it to say that when he was able to take the time to speak with us, we were delighted.
Jewish Voice: First of all, Ambassador Bolton, let me say what an honor it is to speak with you. I’m a big fan of the work you did at the U.N., where your forthrightness and integrity must have made you something of an oddity. I also enjoy (as do our readers) your analysis of domestic politics and foreign affairs. Let me also say what a pity it is you aren’t running for president; but then again, all the best candidates are probably biding their time so as to not run against an incumbent, which statistically is a losing bet. Do you think you might seek nomination in the future?
John Bolton: I don’t know – I looked at it very carefully and decided not to because I didn’t think it was realistic in current circumstances. The media expect candidates for president to [have previously] run for lower office.
Bolton lamented how unfortunate this state of affairs was, as it helps to “perpetuate the idea that we have a political class, and that we should have one.” He went on to explain that the media automatically discount anyone who doesn’t “play by their rules.” It’s a big hill to climb, says Bolton, though not impossible, mentioning the ill-fated but nonetheless meteoric rise of Herman Cain to presidential candidacy.
“It’s hard for the media to appreciate you if you haven’t been elected to something else,” Bolton explains.
JV: So I see you’ve endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. What do you feel makes him stand out among the current field of candidates? Why is he the right man for the job?
JB: I think it’s in large part because he has real executive experience. What we’re seeking here is a president, one who will run the executive branch of our government, and someone who, in national security affairs, has the breadth of experience and background to carry through. Being president is about more than giving speeches about going from A to B; it’s about going from A to B…
Ambassador Bolton went on to explain that Romney’s executive background, and his “genuine conservative” values, were what set him apart.
JV: I see you’re one of the keynote speakers at the Gush Katif Museum Dinner. It’s certainly a major, what we in call in Hebrew a “zechut,” that is, a “merit” for them to have you. How did you become involved with the Gush Katif Museum?
JB: They contacted me, actually. I do a lot of public speaking for important causes. I was grateful for the invitation, and happy to do it.
JV: That’s good to hear. Let’s talk about U.S.-Israeli relations for a moment. What, if anything, do you feel is wrong with President Obama’s approach to Israel?
JB: For starters, I think he’s looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
He clarified this point, saying that, like so many of our European allies, President Obama is making the mistake of seeing Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as the main impediment to peace, as opposed to Palestinian terrorism or Iranian belligerence. This, he tells the Jewish Voice, is completely backwards.
JB: The real threat is posed by Iran and their continuing pursuit of and proximity to obtaining nuclear weapons. Until you resolve that problem, the prospect of true peace and stability is unachievable.
JV: What are your thoughts vis-à-vis the former Israeli communities in Gaza, and the current ones in Judea and Samaria? What should America’s stance on them be? Should we have one at all?
JB: The traditional formula has been land for peace, and yet Israel has given up land and hasn’t gotten peace. Gaza is the perfect example of that. Voluntary withdrawal, and if you read some of the press, it’s as if Israel is still there. The problem with retaliating comes when innocent civilians are being hit by rockets coming out of Gaza. This highlights that the solution to the problems with the Palestinians isn’t if you draw a line on a map, but if a Palestinian state will be able to live with an Israeli state, in peace and security. I don’t see any evidence for that. I think the formula of the two-state solution has failed. This may seem pessimistic, but I think it’s the only realistic assessment at the moment.
JV: I can’t really fault your logic there. Turning our attention for a moment back from Israel to the greater Middle East, do you feel that sanctions are having an appreciable impact on Iran, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons? Is military pre-emption still a valid option? What, if any, role should the U.S. take in that?
As recently as January 30, says Bolton, President Obama and Director of National Intelligence Gen. John Clapper testified before the Senate that sanctions had no impact on Iran’s behavior and their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Sanctions may have an economic impact, explains Bolton, but they don’t necessarily affect their nuclear pursuits.
At this point in the game, Bolton argues, we are down to two “very unattractive” options.
JB: Option one is allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Option two is military pre-emption.
Since that is unlikely to happen under the Obama administration, says Bolton, “the spotlight is on Israel.”
JV: I’d like to ask you about the so-called Arab Spring. Is it paving the way for democracy in the region, or a new wave of Islamist despotism? Or is it looking like democracy for some, Islamist rule for others?
JB: I thought from the outset that you need to look at this from a country-by-country basis. I hold to that opinion today.
Syria is different from other countries in the region, says Bolton, because of the presence and influence of Iran. He maintains that, given the present circumstances, there is no prospect for democracy in Syria at all.
Egypt isn’t much better off, as it appears to be moving in the direction of Islamism. Bolton offers in support of this assessment the rising safety concerns (justifiable given recent acts of violence) among Egypt’s Coptic Christian population.
In the case of Libya, says Bolton, “we don’t know.”
“I worry about anarchy,” he says, suggesting this is an alternative to either democracy or Islamist rule, and decidedly worse than the latter.
Bolton describes Tunisia’s future as being “the most hopeful,” qualifying that statement by pointing out that it is nonetheless “too early to tell.”