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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Ambassador John Bolton on the new Marine/Taliban scandal, and why Romney to replace Obama

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HH: Second hour, and we begin with Ambassador John Bolton, former Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back, it’s great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JB: Well, thank you very much, glad to be with you again.

HH: I want to talk politics with you, and the future of a Romney administration, but before I do, it’s the first day of a scandal that brings to mind Abu Ghraib. And I wasn’t even going to talk about it, because I thought Abu Ghraib hurt the American national interest so much. But do you have any advice to the media or to the Obama administration on how to handle the unfolding story of this video?

JB: Well, obviously, there’s still some more facts we need to know, but from what we can see, this is apparently a couple or four undisciplined Marines engaging in conduct that violates our morality, and certainly violates their training. Desecrating the dead is not part of the American character. And unless there’s something that’s not immediately obvious, I think these people should be subject to discipline. It does not help our cause to have this kind of behavior. Now I’ve heard people say well, you know, American dead are desecrated and what not. That doesn’t, that doesn’t justify this kind of behavior, in my view.

HH: I agree with that, Mr. Ambassador. The question, though, becomes how to handle it if you’re the American government. Do you think we did a good job with the Abu Ghraib photos and the aftermath?

JB: No, I think we absolutely did not. There’s no doubt. We’ve had examples in our military, as in our government as a whole, of people who violate their doctrine and training and should be punished for it. But the idea that somehow we’re responsible to put all this out in public, and in effect, make it worse for other Americans, I think is wrong. I think the safety of our troops depends on not allowing this sort of incident to be blown out of proportion. There’s no justification for what these people have done. They should receive full punishment if the facts bear out here. But I don’t think that means we need to turn ourselves into publicity agents for the Taliban, either.

HH: And so last question on this subject, ought the media, mainstream and ideological, to proceed very cautiously with this story, having reported it and noted it? Ought they to leave it alone?

JB: You know, there was once a time when the American media in their own editorial judgment withheld things that could hurt American troops or service members in combat situations. I think that was the proper kind of morality for the media. Nobody was making them do it. It was not censorship. It did not violate their 1st Amendment rights. I’m afraid those days are long gone. We could ask that they come back. But the chances of the mainstream media doing that, I think, are between slim and none.

HH: All right, Mr. Ambassador, you surprised a lot of people yesterday with your endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, to be the next president. Can you tell us why you did that?

JB: Well, I tried to follow the William F. Buckley, Jr. test in what I think is the most important presidential election in, perhaps in a century, and that is because of the importance of defeating Barack Obama and making sure he doesn’t get another four years to take our country in the wrong direction. And the Buckley test is you want to elect the most conservative candidate who can actually get elected. And that is the calculus, both in terms of the scale of conservatism and a scale of electability. And my judgment was that Mitt Romney had demonstrated on issues that are key to me, particularly national security, that he’s just as conservative as most of the other Republican candidates. I exclude Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. And I think that he can get elected. I think he’s got the kind of approach that will succeed in November. And so when I put that together, I’m enthusiastically in support of it. Does it mean that he’s as conservative as I am on every issue? No, but then, neither is Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry or some of the other candidates. So you know, everybody’s got his own judgment. Mine is that combination of conservatism and electability that matches best for the time we need is Mitt Romney.

HH: Now I want to start with Ron Paul to unpack this, because Bill Kristol, whom I know you know, and have worked with, has made the argument that we don’t want Romney to sweep to the obvious nomination at this point, because then it will just leave Ron Paul bagging delegates and getting a prime time speaking slot for an isolationist point of view that is not representative of but a small slice of the Republican Party. What do you make of that argument, John Bolton?

JB: You know, I see Bill’s point, but I’m not sure we can game out what the voters of South Carolina, Florida and all the other states that haven’t voted yet are going to do. I view Ron Paul’s foreign policy as just as far out and unacceptable as Bill does. I may be more sympathetic to Ron Paul’s domestic policies, and I will say this. I think Jim DeMint made an important point here the other day. Mitt Romney needs Ron Paul supporters, particularly those who care about the economic issues, to beat Barack Obama. We do not need a third party candidacy. If we have a repeat of 1992, whether it’s Ron Paul or anybody else who pulls a Ross Perot, we’re going to give Barack Obama a second term. And I think we’re all going to have to get over our dissatisfaction with whatever candidate wins the Republican nomination, because we have simply got to pull together to defeat Barack Obama. We can have a lot of disagreements after we win in Novembe,r and I’m sure we will. But nobody should miss the point, as Jim Baker used to say, keep your eyes on the prize. And the prize is getting the White House away from Obama.

HH: Another prize is maintaining the national security of the United States, Mr. Ambassador. The President announced a strategic reassessment. You’ve served both in DOD and the State Department, of course, as United Nations ambassador. What did you make of the so-called strategic reassessment, and the massive Defense cuts put forward by the President and Leon Panetta last week?

JB: It’s a disaster. It’s a debacle for the country. And what it means is a weaker America, an America less able to defend our interests overseas. It means putting our economy in jeopardy. It means putting ourselves at the mercy of governments and terrorists groups that do not have our best interests at heart. Obviously, we’re in a circumstance where we’ve got to economize in government. But there are lots of transfer of payments, domestic programs, entitlements programs, that can easily be reformed and save trillions of dollars that don’t involve Defense cuts of the kind we’re seeing here. It is a worse moment for the United States than the Carter administration, and a worse moment than we would have had if George McGovern had been elected in 1972. and what’s worst of all? Our adversaries around the world can see it very, very clearly, and they will act on what they think is a declining, retreating America, always to our detriment.

HH: Now Mr. Ambassador, I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s important to start talking about it now, which is if an enemy of the United States acts on the perceived weakness of the President, and in anticipation of his being replaced in January of next year, aggressively, vis-à-vis Taiwan, vis-à-vis, you know, Iran vs. Iraq, or Israel, what do you expect our nominee, what would you advise Mr. Romney to do in such a circumstance like that?

JB: Well, I do think we are very vulnerable in the next year, because our adversaries can see this is going to be a closely contested election in November, and they may well get a president next year who has a very, very different view of the world than Obama. And so I think the threat level this year is going to increase, and I think the only thing, really, that our candidate can do in the debate is make sure that national security is raised in the overall saliency of issues in the debates, and make clear how important this choice is. But I also predict that a Republican who wins in November is quite likely to enter office in the midst of several ongoing crises – North Korea, Iran, perhaps just having gotten, or being very close to getting nuclear weapons, and a range of others. So he is going to very much be under pressure beginning on January 20 of next year with a series of challenges internationally he’ll inherit from this failed presidency.

HH: Mr. Ambassador, there was an assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week. And they blamed, the Iranians blamed the United States and Israel, and we’ve denied it, and Israel’s said nothing. Do you expect that that level of counterattack on the Iranian nuclear gambit will continue, and perhaps even get larger in the next year up to and including massive air strikes by Israel on Iran?

JB: Well, I think that Israel has a very important strategic decision to make. Iran is very, very close to getting nuclear weapons. Even Secretary of Defense Panetta said they’re within a year. I think it could be sooner than that. It’s perfectly obvious the Obama administration isn’t going to do anything. So the spotlight is on Israel. Will they act in their own self-defense as they have twice before, destroying Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in 1981, and destroying a North Korean reactor in Syria in 2007? But will they allow Iran to have nuclear weapons? And I do think that decision could well be reached within the next year.

HH: Do you expect President Obama to support Israel if it acts that way?

JB: Certainly, he has put every bit of pressure on Israel he can muster to prevent them from using military force, and that includes implicitly threatening Israel not to resupply them for the losses they would suffer in any military attack. And I think he would be overwhelmed by Congress rejecting that approach, but it makes Israel’s decision an awful lot more difficult, and it’s consistent with the Obama policy of being the most hostile president to the State of Israel since Israel was founded.

HH: Ambassador John Bolton, thank you for your time today.

End of interview.

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