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John Bolton On Putin’s Olympics

Friday, February 14, 2014
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HH: Before I go back to what I was just talking about, I’m joined now by former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. And the reason I wanted to talk with you, Mr. Ambassador, is today there was a coup in Libya and nobody came. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, yet, but the Libyan military attempted to pull an el-Sisi, and they got laughed, I guess, out of the coup business.

JB: Well, it was a very strange circumstance to say the least. I don’t think this is necessarily over. In other words, the, apparently, the coup led by pro-Qaddafi forces have not had much visibility since Qaddafi was removed over two years ago. But they’re not gone, yet, and while this one was put down in ways that I think the prime minister called laughable, and perhaps it was, although details are sketchy, it’s not over, yet. It’s not only, yet, and it’s a reflection of the continuing instability in Libya where the writ of the central government, it’s sort of laughable to call it a central government, but barely extends beyond the capital. I mean, this is one of the reasons that we had the tragedy in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012, and it’s a reflection of the breakdown of the state.

HH: That is what, I drew, as soon as I read the David Kirkpatrick report this afternoon in the New York Times, In Libya, A Coup, Or Pehaps Not is the title, I thought this, the big story here is that Libya is completely upended. And after it’s been, how long, since Qaddafi was murdered, we’ve done nothing to bring stability there.

JB: Well, I think this is one of the principal lines of criticism, justifiable lines of criticism, against the Obama regime. After deciding that they were going to intervene for humanitarian purposes to prevent Qaddafi from conducting attacks on civilians in Benghazi, and Qaddafi in fact was removed and killed by the Libyan people, the President just walked away from it. And it was that act, I think, that was the basic precursor for the insecurity and the lack of attention to that, that resulted in Benghazi in 2012. This is a mark of a president who simply doesn’t care about foreign policy unless it’s absolutely shoved in his face. He had that, he campaigned on this right of humanitarian intervention, and the British and the French, as you’ll recall, basically shamed him into doing it. And then once it was done, he walked away from it.

HH: I’ve got to ask, then, Mr. Ambassador, is the Libyan situation and that which the President has done, and former Secretary of State Clinton, current Secretary of State Kerry, is this emblematic of their foreign policy such that it will define the 2016 debate? Or is it an exception that proves the general rule of competence?

JB: No, well, I think there’s certainly a competence question here that both Obama and Clinton have to answer. But I think the decline of American influence in the Middle East, just to focus on that, I could make that case worldwide, the lack of presidential involvement, except in a few issues like pressuring Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, this is emblematic of the Obama administration policy. He’s content with a declining America, withdrawing America, a less assertive America, because he thinks, in his view, that it will actually lead to a peaceful, more stable world. I think that’s like looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope, but I think that is the Obama policy.

HH: I’m talking with Ambassador John Bolton, former Ambassador for the United States to the United Nations, potential presidential candidate in 2016. Let me ask you, Mr. Ambassador, the second question. We’re about at the midpoint of the Olympics, and I’m not going to do any spoilers, although people who like figure skating ought to watch tonight tape delayed across the United States, because it’s an extraordinary performance. I’m not going to tell you by whom. You’re going to want to watch it. So Mr. Ambassador, have these Games been a net plus for Putin or a net detriment for Putin given the complexity of the storyline around Sochi?

JB: To this point, I’d have to say they’re a net plus for Putin, but the great unanswered question, obviously, is will there be a successful terrorist attack. I would predict that if we’re all fortunate enough to get through the Games without a terrorist attack, that it will seem a much bigger plus for Putin as time goes on, the fact that he was able to carry them off. Obviously, there were some embarrassments and lack of readiness in the hotels. We’ve all seen the pictures. But if he’s able to carry it off without a terrorist attack, I think he will have demonstrated the point he wanted to make, which is that Russia can handle this kind of thing, that he has brought Russia back center stage with this kind of performance, and all these defects and embarrassments, I think, will fade. Now that would pale if there’s a terrorist attack.

HH: Obviously, that is true. The second, the first premise, though, it’s been such a corrosive storyline – no snow, cut in half toilets, the restaurants aren’t open, it’s a fiasco in seating, all sorts of different things. You don’t think…it’s sort of like Obamacare’s rollout. This is his Obamacare rollout, something he can work through to a greater message.

JB: Well, I think the criticisms are valid. I’m not trying to defend their performance. I think there’s a lot to criticize. But my point is that if we get through without a terrorist incident, which let’s face it, was the big concern in the run up given the precursor terrorist attacks that have been carried out, I think nonetheless what people really remember is what they see on television – the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony, if Russia does well in the medal race, that kind of thing. Certainly for domestic purposes, it will be a big victory for Putin, and I think honestly, the rest of the world will see it that way, too. I think these inconveniences fade away. It’s not like Obamacare where one problem simply leads to another problem day after day after day. The Olympics begin, they go, and then they end. And that impression then is what happens after.

HH: So John Bolton, is Russia a superpower, an honest to God superpower?

JB: Well, I would say it still is, because it has one of the, one or two largest arsenals of nuclear weapons in the world. That’s always good for superpower status. And while it has a declining, unhealthy population, it’s still a major exporter of oil and natural gas. It’s got natural resources it can and does use. It has taken advantage of high oil prices to modernize and upgrade its conventional military forces. So I think it is a superpower, it acts like a superpower, and compared to the Obama administration, Putin looks like a successful international wheeler dealer.

HH: We’ve got a minute left, and I’m just curious as you look across the challenges that are emerging both out of the Middle East with radical Islam, the People’s Republic of China and Russia. Of those three, which is the greatest?

JB: Well, I think ultimately, China is the largest question because of its size and its economy. But along with Russia, those are some of the great strategic issues that we’re going to have to deal with, which the administration is not considering at all at this point. I think the more immediate problems of Iran, of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, should get a lot more attention. But I think this is a problem generally in the United States that the President doesn’t deal with national security issues, as I said before, unless he absolutely has to. And I don’t think the Republican Party has done a good job, frankly, in explaining to the American people that the intersection of national security and domestic policy is real and palpable in their daily lives. And I’m afraid that the way people are going to realize that again is the way we realized it on 9/11, because we had not been paying attention. I’m very worried we’re moving into exactly the same situation.

HH: Ambassador John Bolton, always a great pleasure to talk to you, thank you. And are you going to go to CPAC, Mr. Ambassador?

JB: I’ll be there.

HH: Oh, then I want to tell…

JB: I’ll be there and I’ll be speaking.

HH: All right, then I want all the listeners of the Hugh Hewitt Show who are interested in having front row seats to that give me a call. We’ve got the special $2,500 backstage all-access pass. You can go see Sarah Palin, John Bolton and everyone else, and be right there in the VIP, and a special dinner with Charles Krauthammer, Bill Bennett and Michael Medved.

End of interview.

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