Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton joined me today to discuss the president’s moves on Cuba and his plans for 2016:
HH: On a day of huge news, I am in Hawaii at AM690, the Answer, but I’m joined from New York by former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. Mr. Ambassador, Merry Christmas to you, thanks for joining me on short notice today.
JB: Well, Merry Christmas to you. I’m glad to do it.
HH: Well, tell me first your reaction to President Obama’s announcement today of these steps to normalize and reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.
JB: Well, I think it’s an unmitigated defeat for the United States. The President, by his action, has given political legitimacy to this dictatorship, and he has extended an economic lifeline to the regime precisely at the time when we should be increasing pressure. The net of this is not going to be to benefit the Cuban people. It will be to help sustain the regime, which is why they agreed to it to begin with. And the difficulties go beyond the bilateral relationship with Cuba. The President has willfully overturned a 55 year long American policy, and it says to our adversaries all around the world if you want something from the United States, the next two years is the time to get it.
HH: Let me ask you as well, Mr. Ambassador, a lot of people are writing online today the 55 year embargo has not worked, so why shouldn’t we do this, why not try pushing freedom through every crack and economic liberalization?
JB: Well, I think the embargo has had a significant impact on constraining Castro and his regime over the years. The fact that they haven’t died, yet, or that the people of Cuba haven’t yet had the wherewithal to overthrow them doesn’t prove that the policy was a failure. It proves that they were sustained by totalitarians through that entire period. You know, right up until the early 1990s, it was the relationship with the Soviet Union that sustained the Castro brothers. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the oil subsidies, which were critical for the country’s economy, ended in the early to mid-1990s, the regime almost collapsed then. And in the past ten to fifteen years, it’s really only been sustained by Venezuela in exchange for which the Castro security forces have helped first Chavez and now Maduro stay in power. So there’s nothing that the Cuban government has done to change that pattern. It’s still propped up by authoritarian regimes. And now, the United States has opened the door to keep the regime in power for a sustained period of time. This is a huge loss to the ladies in white, the people, the women who have used their religious faith to oppose Castro. It’s a defeat for the human rights activists there. And it helps open the way for renewed Russian involvement with Cuba, and for a continuation of the Cuban-Venezuela access. How in God’s name does that help either us or the Cuban people?
HH: Mr. Ambassador, talking with John Bolton this afternoon to open the program hour here, the…at the same time the President is speaking about Cuba, he is silent about a terrorist threat at the United States, which has seen today Regal Movies, AMC Theaters, Carmike Cinemas, Cinemak and Cineplex Movies refused to show a movie that’s in the can and ready to be released in a week, because they’ve been threatened, apparently, by North Korea. We’re not certain about this. But the sophistication of the operation would suggest that. Ought the President to be speaking out about this?
JB: Well, I think this is an extraordinarily serious problem. You know, we don’t have a good conceptual handle in the cyberworld on what constitutes warfare, what constituted espionage, what constitutes, I’ll just call it, simple criminality. We don’t know who’s perpetrating this, but we do know what has just played out, including the Sony decision now not even to open the film on Christmas, and that is a threat not verified by the Department of Homeland Security, at least as far as I know so far, has caused Sony to back down completely. Now it could be that these hackers deliberately targeted the most spineless section of the American economy. But the implication has enormous ramifications that if you threaten people over the cyber networks, and they back down, that’s simply an incentive to escalate your threat. So I guess we…
HH: That which gets…
HH: That which gets rewarded gets repeated. That’s why I’m wondering if the President can’t staunch the yellow streak. Can he get people to stop doing this?
JB: Well, you know, in a way, we should be thankful that these hackers have targeted the entertainment industry instead of something important, like Boeing or Raytheon or Honeywell. But the fact is that something really incredible is going on here. Major economic change has been affected by warnings that at least part of the administration says have no foundation. So I think that this can only instill in the American people a concern that there are forces out there we either don’t know anything about or aren’t prepared to do anything to respond to. And I think that simply, as we’ve both been saying here, encourages others to do the same sort of thing, whether in the cyber world or elsewhere.
HH: At the same time of these two events, Russia is in chaos. And I’ve been reading stories all afternoon of their Weimar Republic-like behavior of a 36 year old manager who’s hording kilograms of poultry, beef and pork because the value of their currency is plummeting. How great a danger of this instability spreading beyond financial markets, John Bolton?
JB: Well, I think that the collapse of oil prices has had a dramatic impact, because Russia spends its oil revenues as fast as it brings them in, unlike Saudi Arabia and some other producers that are much more effective in their budgeting. So when the international price of oil falls nearly in half in a very short period of time, the consequences are entirely foreseeable. And what worries me is two things. Number one, that Putin, seeing this obvious threat to the stability to his regime, will in fact resort to external belligerence as a way of diverting people’s attention, perhaps against the Baltic states, perhaps against Ukraine again. We don’t know. But the other consequence, obviously, is this is an excuse for an extraordinary clampdown both politically and economically inside Russia, a return from a sort of quasi-authoritarian government now to something much more totalitarian, not necessarily communist, but much more rigid in its control of Russian society. And I think that bodes poorly for peace and security in the regions around Russia down the road as well.
HH: Now John Bolton, obviously these three issues are not the only ones that matter. We’ve got Iran on the brink of a deal with us that will be bad. We’ve got China unburdened of any worry about the United States. That means this could be a foreign policy election. And yesterday, Jeb Bush all but declared he’s seeking it. Does that assuage your fear that foreign policy will not be addressed? You think Jeb Bush represents classic Reaganism?
JB: Well, I hope he does. You know, he gave a speech about ten days, two weeks ago where he listed his five priorities, including education, immigration, a number of others. He said nothing on national security. Now maybe that was, what, a speak-o, an oversight. I don’t know. I hope I’m wrong on that. But the basic point is for any candidate for the Republican nomination, if you’re not prepared to be a national security leader, then you’re not qualified for the job. And if anything, what we’ve seen here in the President today, again, demonstrating how little he cares for American national security with this ideological move, in a speech where he compares the United States and the Soviet Union, our colonialism in Cuba and their communism, just the most radical thing I think he said in six years, if people aren’t willing to stand up and say the United States needs a president willing to defend it, and here’s how I’m going to do it, we’ve got real trouble ahead.
HH: So then has your calculation concerning 2016 changed? Last night, I asked rhetorically via Twitter, if I say national security and GOP, who comes to mind, the only names that came back were John Bolton, a couple of Marco Rubios, a couple of Ted Cruzes, but mostly John Bolton. Are you going to get into this race to make sure these issues are discussed, Mr. Ambassador?
JB: Well, you know, number one, I’m gratified to your readers or listeners who did that. I thought Marco Rubio, by the way, today handled himself with grace and great character and leadership in dealing with this debacle on Cuba. And I’m still considering. I have not changed my view over the last three years. We need a national debate on foreign and Defense policy. We need the people to make a decision what they think America’s proper place in the world ought to be. We cannot put this off any longer. And I want to see the candidates who are either in or about to get in show their commitment to that point of view. And I’m going to be watching it, and thinking about how I can help contribute to that one way or another.
HH: And do you have a timeline in your mind as to when you will make this decision?
JB: No, not at all. And I think it would be a mistake for anybody at this point to try and derive a timeline. Look, we need to focus on the substance, the policy. That, to me, is the most important part, and always has been.
HH: Mr. Ambassador, great to speak with you, thank you so much for spending some time with us today, and Merry Christmas again.
JB: Well, thanks again for having me, and Merry Christmas to you and all your listeners.
End of interview.