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Bolton On Obama: “We Haven’t Plumbed The Depths Of That Ignorance Yet”

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Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was my guest yesterday. The podcast is here, the transcript is here. Key excerpts:

HH: Now Mr. Ambassador, one of the things he said that caught my ear on Friday was that when Kennedy met Kruschev, we were on the brink of nuclear war. It’s a minor paraphrase, but he clearly did not have a good grasp on the history of the United States in the 60’s. When Kennedy met Kruschev, it was in June of ’61. The Cuban Missile Crisis came in ’62. What does that tell you about just generally his grip on the necessary fundamentals, the basic chords of how you conduct foreign policy?

JB: Well you know, the liberals used to ridicule Ronald Reagan for remembering scenes in movies that had never actually occurred in real life, and I think what Senator Obama is remembering is the liberals’ view of the Cold War. That meeting between Kennedy and Kruschev in the early days of the Kennedy administration was a humiliation for the new President Kennedy. Kruschev understood that, and he judged new President Kennedy to be so weak at that point, weak as a person, that many think it was a significant factor in Kruschev and the Soviet Union’s decision to put those missiles in Cuba to begin with, a crisis that did, in fact, bring us to the brink of nuclear war. So this is, the stakes of summit diplomacy are high, and really goes to what I think is just a fundamentally important point about negotiation and diplomacy generally. And that is like all human activity, it has costs and benefits. It has to take place in a specific context, and you have to look at when it benefits the United States, when we should engage in it, what our objectives are. This is all about specifics and context, and that is, I think, one of Senator Obama’s biggest weaknesses. He talks in vague generalities, and so far, look, he’s getting away with it. But that’s not how you conduct foreign policy in the real world. …

HH: Do you think [Obama] had any kind of a serious vetting yet in terms of the media drilling down on things like…do you think he understands the relationship, say, between Hezbollah and Iran?

JB: I think the, we haven’t plumbed the depths of that ignorance yet, but I wouldn’t count on the mainstream media to do it during the course of the campaign. Look, he has led a very cosseted, privileged existence in his life, that this is not somebody born in poverty who was risen by his bootstraps. He’s had, basically, a fairly comfortable middle class life. He’s gone to Ivy League universities, he’s lived in a liberal bubble in Chicago. And you know, you don’t have to acquire a lot of knowledge to be acceptable in those circles, and I think what we’re seeing is, as he emerges from that bubble, we’re seeing his view of reality. And I think it’s right there for Senator McCain to go after.

HH: Now you have spent way too many hours across the table from North Koreans and Iranians. How tough are they? What will they make of Odalai Bama, the kid from Chicago?

JB: Well, I think they will make hash of him and his advisors, too. Let’s not forget one of his most amazing defenses against being criticized for him saying he would negotiate with the rogue states without preconditions was to say well, I wouldn’t negotiate without preparations, without lower level exchanges, as if somehow we’re confused about what he said. But remember, he also has a team of advisors that I’m sure the rogue states would love to negotiate with, even if it never gets to him. This is a very serious issue of the United States, as to who’s going to represent us in international affairs, whether it would be Obama and his team, or McCain and his team.


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