Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton joined me this AM to discuss the incredible story of America not being invited to the Russia-Turkey-Iran “peace” talks re Syria:
HH: If there’s a Republican hall of fame, it has Ambassador John Bolton in it, former ambassador to the United Nations, former senior official at the Departments of Defense and State, an original Reaganaut. I asked him to join me this morning for a very specific reason. Mr. Ambassador, welcome, great to have you on, Merry Christmas to you.
JB: Merry Christmas. Glad to be with you.
HH: I remember reading your memoir, Surrender Is Not An Option. It was written about years at the U.N. when Russia was really not much of a player. But I also go back with you to the Reagan years when Russia was the only player. Yesterday, it was announced that Russia has convened peace talks about Syria with Turkey and Iran. We’re not even invited, Mr. Ambassador. What, Surrender Is Not An Option is the title of your book, but apparently, we have surrendered without a shot our seat at the table.
JB: Well, this is the fruition of eight years of Barack Obama. Call it what you will – leading from behind, not leading at all, the Middle East, a vital area of interest for the United States, the safety of Israel, the oil producing monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula, the homeland of al Qaeda and ISIS, the Iranian nuclear weapons program, this is a huge list. And now, three countries that don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart, despite one of them being a NATO ally, convening to decide what to do with the region. No United States, no Europe, it’s really remarkable. But it’s a sign of the times. It is a precise reflection of the diminution of American influence under the Obama administration.
HH: If we go in the way back machine back to the era of Reagan, in which you served and I was a young briefcase carrier, you were in a senior job back in the Reagan years, Russia was everywhere. But they weren’t in Turkey’s conference rooms. That’s really the shocker here. They were in Syria then, and they have never not been in Syria with their port, but they would never, ever engage in bilateral talks with Turkey without us.
JB: Well, there were two points back then. Number one, Turkey was still a secular country aspiring to be more western, following the legacy of Kemal Ataturk after World War I, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern secular state. President Erdogan moving in a radically different direction trying to make Turkey into an Islamic state, even as some would say with dreams of restoring the Ottoman caliphate. It’s a Turkey that’s moving away from the West, but also a Turkey that’s moving away from NATO. And this is something that during the Cold War against Russia in particular was absolutely critical, the southeastern anchor of NATO, bridging Europe in the Middle East. Turkey was a key player, a strong U.S. ally. And Putin is working hard, playing on Erdogan’s own Islamist aspirations, but working hard to slice Turkey away from NATO.
HH: Let me talk a little bit about how we rebuild this and replace it. General Mattis is the incoming Secretary of Defense, has referred to the United Arab Emirates as little Sparta. We do have some allies there with whom we can strengthen and deepen ties, Mr. Tillerson deeply knowledgeable about Yemen. Where are the new allies that we rebuild national security policy in the Middle East around?
JB: Well, I think we’ve got to strengthen ties, if we can, with all of the Gulf cooperation council nations, the six oil producing monarchies on the peninsula. We’ve got to end the conflict in Yemen by defeating the Houthis, the surrogates for Iran, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and even ISIS has an operation there. You know, the Saudis have not done a terribly effective job. We’ve got to close that back door. We’ve got to work with Egypt and Jordan. We have a lot of allies along with Israel, but for the past eight years, Obama has been so obsessed with this wretched nuclear deal with Iran that he finally signed in the summer of last year that our allies have been tearing their hair out wondering what we’re doing. I think we can put this back together, but there are things that have happened under Obama that will not be easily reversed, like the Russian air base at Latakia in Syria, just a few minutes flying time from Israel’s northern border. This is a significant defeat for the United States. It takes us back to the 1970s before Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet advisors from Egypt, and it’s something that’s going to take a lot of effort to roll back. But every day that goes by allows Obama, he’s got one month to go, and God knows what else he’s going to give away in that period of time.
HH: Now the next question that arises is what do we do about Europe, which has got a spasm of terrorism underway right now. Merkel might not survive, the chancellor of Germany, another nine months in her job. Certainly, Theresa May is much more secure in hers, but does the United States have a forward leaning position to assist them in this, in what is basically a convulsion? It’s a political convulsion sweeping Europe.
JB: Well, I think Obama, if anything, has been complicit in the mindset that’s leading to many problems in Europe today. Obviously, the threat of terrorism is most on people’s minds, especially after this tragedy in Berlin. But I think we’ve got to come to grips with a more fundamental strategic problem, which is that the so-called European Project, the effort to eliminate the nation-state in Europe and replace it with the European Union, was badly flawed at the outset. Its implementation has exposed those flaws. And much of the dissatisfaction, you can call it populist if you will, but much of the dissatisfaction you see in Europe today is really directed against remote bureaucrats and diplomats in Brussels telling people how to live. And as the Brits left, it shows the problems across Europe as a whole.
HH: Ten seconds, Mr. Ambassador, does the intelligence, is there just too much of it?
JB: Well, I think we’re not, we’re not listening to it. I think that’s one major problem. I don’t think Obama cares if America’s influence diminishes, so that’s exactly what we’re getting.
HH: John Bolton, great to talk to you, Merry Christmas, thanks for joining me on a busy week for you.
End of interview.