Former UN Ambassador John Bolton on what ails the State Department and the UN
HH: Pleased now to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show Ambassador John Bolton, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton, welcome to the program, good to have you.
JB: Glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
HH: I’d like to spend a lot of time talking about Surrender Is Not An Option, quite a remarkable book, perhaps the most detailed diplomatic memoir published this soon to the completion of a tour of duty that I’ve ever read. Before there, a couple of quick questions, though.
HH: Can we persuade you to move from Baltimore and run for Senate in Virginia?
JB: (laughing) Well, I think a political campaign is not in my future, but I’m happy to help out candidates around the country. I’ve done that a little bit, and I’m happy to do more of it.
HH: All right. Number two, do you favor the ratification by the United States Senate of the Law of the Sea Treaty?
JB: I do not. I think that Reagan was correct to reject it during his administration. And as Ed Meese and Judge Clark pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, many of the reasons Reagan had to reject it remain valid today.
HH: And we have a very precarious position, a situation in Pakistan today, Ambassador Bolton, and we’re getting conflicting signals, not surprising having read Surrender Is Not An Option, from the State Department and from the President. What ought to be the reaction of the United States to Musharraf’s declaration of military rule?
JB: Well, I don’t think it’s anything we should celebrate, of course, but I think we have to be practical about this. This is a regime in control of a number of nuclear weapons, it’s a regime we need to fight the remainder of al Qaeda and Taliban along its border with Afghanistan. And I don’t think we ought to be pushing Musharraf out the door, or necessarily in a direction of coalitions with the likes of Benazir Bhutto, if he thinks it would weaken his position, because the alternative is not a nice Jeffersonian democratic government. The alternative to Musharraf right now is an Islamo-fascist government in control of nuclear weapons, and that’s definitely something to fear.
HH: Is there a danger that Musharraf could become Bush’s Shah or his Diem?
JB: Well, I think that’s entirely possible, and I think part of the reason is the State Department was pushing Benazir Bhutto on him, and I think it was a very foolish strategy, because you can’t say take on some of the democratic opposition and not take on the rest of it. This trying to read internal Pakistani politics is hard for the Pakistanis, let alone for people at the State Department.
HH: All right, let’s switch to the book, Surrender Is Not An Option, your new memoir. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com, available at Amazon.com, bookstores everywhere. First of all, it’s very candid and detailed, as I said. How did you go about the recordkeeping that clearly underlies this effort? Were you doing daily dictation?
JB: Well, what I tried to do, particularly for the quotations that you see in the book, was either write them down contemporaneously or as soon thereafter as I could. And I did that, because I didn’t want to be in a situation where I was accused of making up the quotes or anything like that. Those quotes are accurate. If a statement is not in quotation marks, it means it’s a paraphrase, it’s not a direct quote. I felt that was important to give the tone of a lot of the discussions we had, both in diplomatic exchanges and behind the scenes at the State Department and the White House. And for much of the rest of it, you know, I did a lot of public speaking, and speaking with the press. And much of the chronology is found in the transcripts of the press conferences.
HH: You know, when a Woodward book comes out that purports to detail internal conversations of the United States administration on these issues, it gets enormous play and a lot of attention. I haven’t seen many people yet paying attention to Surrender Is Not An Option. Has it roiled the waters inside the Beltway?
JB: Well, I don’t think it has yet, although it’s just come out, and I’m sure it’s roiling some waters in the State Department building. But this was an effort to tell, very candidly, how things happen behind the scenes at the State Department and the United Nations. And one person I quote in there is a career senior State Department official who said on occasion, if the American people knew how we made foreign policy, they’d be after us with pitchforks.
JB: And that’s what I wanted to convey, because many people say how could the State Department come up with that position, or how could the U.N. come up with that decision. And really, what I wanted to show is exactly how it happens.
HH: Well, let’s start with…I want to cover in detail four policies, five Americans, and a couple of foreigners. And the four policies are North Korea, Iran, U.N. reform and State Department reform. So let’s start with North Korea, perhaps the most important pages in the book, Pages 100-117, on North Korean negotiations. You conclude it by saying the worst happened after I left, but was well in train by then. Are these alleged breakthroughs, and you know, they’re just letting our inspectors into the dismantled plutonium plant. Are these all fig leaves on a completely out of control situation, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: Yes, I believe they are. I don’t think Kim Jung Il has the slightest intention of giving up his nuclear weapons program voluntarily. He’s very good at negotiating about giving up his program. He’s even pretty good at committing to give up his program. He’s done it four or five times in the last fifteen years. But when it comes right down to it, he never actually does it. He’s happy to receive tangible economic and political benefits that help subsidize his regime, help keep it in power. But he’s not going to relinquish those nuclear weapons voluntarily, no way.
HH: What about these inspectors and these technical experts who are going to Pyongyang to…not Pyongyang, but the…
JB: To the Yongbyon reactor.
JB: Look, the Yongbyon reactor is probably beyond the end of its useful life. This is one of North Korea’s negotiating techniques, to give up something of very little value. There’s not much about Yongbyon we don’t already know. The real issue is not what’s going on there. There are several real issues instead. One is what were the North Koreans doing with the Syrians in the middle of the Syrian desert? Apparently, according to some overhead photography, perhaps building a clone of the very Yongbyon facility that is now being monitored. Where is the plutonium that they’ve previously extracted from that reactor? Where are the weapons that they fashioned from that plutonium? And tell us about the uranium enrichment program, the separate route to nuclear weapons that the North Koreans embarked on after they signed one of their previous commitments to give up the quest for those weapons, the 1994 agreed framework. Yongbyon, looking at Yongbyon is like looking at North Korea through a soda straw. It is a very small piece of the big picture.
HH: Well then, Ambassador Bolton, how do you think it came about that this is being trumpeted when you have obviously a very clear-eyed President Bush early in the administration saying exactly what should be said about Kim Jung Il, the nature of his regime, and the criminal enterprise there? How has this…has it fooled him?
JB: I think…I ascribe it in my book to the persistence of the bureaucracy. And I call it the risen bureaucracy. The policy that’s being advocated now by the State Department is precisely the same policy that was being advocated by many of the same people on January 19th, 2001, the day before President Bush became president, and every day since then. They have never varied in any meaningful particular from the direction that we’re now pursuing. Why did the President succumb to it? I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. I think it’s in part because he’s distracted with Iraq. I think in part, I don’t think, I hope, I guess I would say, he doesn’t fully understand the agreement that the State Department has reached with North Korea. And I do live in hope that he will ultimately repudiate this agreement, and return to the principles that he previously articulated.
HH: Now Ambassador Bolton, on Page 112 of Surrender Is Not An Option, you quoted General Laporte as saying if, in fact, it comes to blows with North Korea, “We will kick his ass.” However, if you go to a book called Going Critical by Dan Poneman and Robert Gallucci and Joel Wit, they say a million people will die in the first three or four days of that war. Who’s got it right?
JB: Well, you know, nobody should want a war on the Korean Peninsula. Let’s start with that proposition. And our goal ultimately should be the collapse of the North Korean regime short of war. And frankly, I don’t think we’re going to solve the North Korean nuclear problem until the North Korean regime disappears. This is not a case of regime case. This is a case of reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which has been our policy since 1945. But I do think it’s important, and this will apply in the case of Iran as well, not to overestimate the threat that North Korea poses militarily. It certainly should not underestimate it. But we’ve got to try and get it right. This is a country where for the past several decades, the average height and weight of the population has been declining. And that is a remarkable statistic. So whatever military capabilities they have, and the regime has been pursuing chemical and biological as well as nuclear weapons, if we let them intimidate us, they win in effect without having been put to any kind of proof. Now again, I want to underline nobody should be looking for military hostilities on the Peninsula. But if you simply acquiesce every time North Korea demands something, they’re prevailing simply by bullying, and not by any other reason.
HH: Last question about North Korea before we move onto Iran is that again, the Poneman-Gallucci argument is that every year that every warhead is delayed is a victory for non-proliferation. And we don’t really know the extent of the uranium program. Do you expect that that uranium program, that second track, is actually operational now within the North Korean government?
JB: We don’t know, but let me come back to the fundamental point that they’re making about delay, because it’s almost certainly the reverse of what is actually happening on the ground. It’s true if you can delay proliferation, you’re ahead. You’re ahead of the game. But by and large, time actually works in favor of the proliferators. The more time they have to perfect the techniques they need to manufacture weapons, and to create ballistic missile delivery systems, the better off they are. So time is normally not on our side. And that’s why dragging out these negotiations, dragging out the agreed framework over a long period of time benefits North Korea. It doesn’t benefit us or the other nations like South Korea and Japan that are concerned about what the North is up to.
HH: Let’s switch over to Iran now. Page 340 of Surrender Is Not An Option. The fact is, you write, that Iran will never voluntarily give up its nuclear program, and a policy based on contrary assumption is not just delusional, but dangerous. This is the road to nuclear holocaust. Overstatement? Or do you really believe we’re lurching towards the use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East?
JB: Well, you know, the President himself believes that there’s a risk of nuclear holocaust. And his recent remark about World War III was a public reflection of things that he has said and felt since the beginning of the administration. I think this problem of Iran was put very well by Dan Gillerman, who’s Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and a good friend of mine when I was in New York. He has said that President Ahmadinejad is denying the existence of the original Holocaust while preparing for the next one. And I think that’s a very insightful assessment of what’s going on in Iran, so that if we follow, continue to follow the course that we’ve been pursuing for four plus years, led by the Europeans to try to negotiate Iran out of nuclear weapons, not only will we fail, we’ll end up in a worse position. It goes back to the point I made a moment ago. Time is typically on the side of the proliferators. And in this case, Iran has very effectively used four plus years of negotiations with the EU to perfect uranium conversion, changing uranium from a solid to a gas, and to perfect uranium enrichment, to get the U245 isotope up to weapons grade levels. So time has been used against us here in a very profound way.
HH: It is very agonizing, reading those pages on how the dithering went on, but let me ask you if you’re…
JB: It was agonizing to live through it, too. I can tell you…
HH: (laughing) I’ll bet. I just…you know, on a side, I think you’ve put out a book that will persuade most sane people never to go to work at the U.N., because it sounds just the most awful job ever.
HH: I want to go back to, though, your colleagues at the Mission and at the State Department. When they hear Ahmadinejad talk about the blue haze, and they read about the 12th Imam, and they read what the supreme leader thinks, do they laugh it off? Do they ignore it? How do they not understand this is different from our previous peer competitors?
JB: Well, you know, when Ahmadinejad sent a letter, a long, rambling letter in the summer of 2006, most people around the world either took it as the sign of a delusional individual, or saw in it references to Islamic teachings that were profoundly dangerous for the United States. But many people at the State Department said well, this give us a basis to negotiate. This is the kind of perception by too many of our career foreign service officers that everything is open for negotiation. And let me just add here quickly, because I make the point in the book, and I think it’s important, I don’t want anybody to understand that I’m criticizing everybody in the foreign service, or all the civil service people who work at the State Department. There are many very good and effective diplomats who understand the proper role of diplomacy. We need a strong State Department. One of the things that I try to explain in the book is what we need to change the culture of the State Department. And that’s something that the next president really needs to wrestle with. But the culture that’s developed over the years is very firmly entrenched. So this is not an issue about this individual that I disagreed with or that individual. It’s about an entire way of thinking that I’m sad to say pervades the building.
HH: And for those of you who are trying to find that segment, that’s on Page 449, where he talks about the prototypical civil servant being excellent, and we’ll come back to that. But before we move on, is there any awareness within the State Department, Ambassador Bolton, that they botched the first Holocaust, they held back on the refugee numbers admitted to the United States, they did not facilitate the distribution…in many ways, they were complicit in the launching of the Holocaust. Is there any burden that they bear, vis-à-vis the second pending holocaust as a result of that? Or has that gone down the memory hole?
JB: Well, you know, the answer is I don’t think they have any recollection or burden in that regard, and it’s a fascinating aspect of the State Department where one of the arguments for the culture as it is, is this deep expertise on regions of the world, and the nature of the problems. The historical memory at the State Department is actually very thin. I was shocked by that on any number of occasions in the various jobs I’ve worked in the Department going back to the early days of the Reagan administration of how hard it is to get people who can think back more than a few years. That’s something, that’s another problem that needs to be corrected, because each new person who comes onto the job approaches it as if everything that’s gone before has not had the benefit of their superior wisdom, so they some in and think that they can immediately solve things, which is another dangerous risk we often run.
HH: Well, let’s jump over U.N. reform, and we’ll come back to it, and focus, since we’re there, on State Department reform. In Surrender Is Not An Option, you quote the late Dean Rusk, successor to Alger Hiss, I thought that was very funny, and your predecessor, both of them…
HH: …about his principal client. How do you fix clientitis when that client is understood to be other than the United States?
JB: Well, this is very interesting insight into how the State Department views its own problem, because they’ve misnamed it. Clientitis refers to the propensity of officials to take up the cause of the country whose affairs they’re supposed to be dealing with. So if you’re on the French desk, or if you’re in our Embassy in Paris, and you sound like you’re simply advocating French positions, that’s called clientitis, being excessively deferential to the French. Well, if the State Department has any client at all, it’s the United States. So if you’re suffering from clientitis, it ought to be that your accused of excessive zeal on behalf of the United States, which is very a very rare accusation at the State Department. Let’s put it that way. They’ve misnamed the problem, because they fundamentally don’t understand it. But this…the idea that too many people are advancing the parochial interest of the government or the region that they’re responsible for is a problem that we pay for in our diplomacy every day, over and over again. And it is the kind of deeply rooted problem that has grown up over decades, and it will take a long time to correct.
HH: But now you talk about that, and I agree with that, and it’s beyond the Department of State. It goes into the intelligence community as well.
JB: It certainly does. It goes in the military as well.
HH: But fixing it, obviously, the State Department and a lot of the CIA is drawn from East Coast elite institutions, much like media replicates itself. Are you proposing that the foreign service protections given to careerists be shortened, and that turnover be heightened?
JB: Well, you know, actually, I think one of the benefits of the foreign service, and we’ve now seen it called into question by the objections some people have of going to Iraq, one of the benefits of the foreign service is that they do turn over assignments. There’s another form of clientitis, a form of parochialism, that the civil servants have, too. And you can see this in many domestic U.S. departments of people who have been engaged in one particular program for so long, they simply can’t see anything wrong with the program, they’re immune to trying to change it. For example, at State, many people who work in the non-proliferation area are just absolutely convinced that the International Atomic Energy Agency is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and they won’t brook any criticism of it. That’s a form of clientitis as well. The foreign service, at least, has the benefit of moving around, and you get more of a chance to bring a fresh perspective on things than you do in the civil service in State and many of the domestic departments. And that’s why this recent controversy over going to Iraq is so interesting, because foreign service officers have plusses and minuses in their job. When anybody makes a career decision, they have pros and cons they have to weigh. And there are many, many attractive aspects of working in the foreign service. One negative aspect, though, that you take on from the outset is to agree you will be available for immediate worldwide assignment. And that’s a conscious decision. And people understand that that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a call one morning to say pack up and move to Paris for five years. So when you see the foreign service revolting, or part of it revolting against Secretary Rice’s effort to send them to Iraq, that’s another sign of a broken system, basically.
HH: Now you’ve worked at Justice, as I have, and you know that career prosecutors never lose their allegiance, they don’t go over to the Mob, and you’ve got FBI guys who don’t go over to organized crime. What is it about the culture of Justice that keeps career prosecutors and AUSA’s on the beam that is different from that at the Department of State that sees them go native or go hostile to the administration?
JB: I think Justice is different from State in so many, many ways. You’ve certainly named one. I’ll give you another that I think is tied in. The State Department is consumed on a daily basis with turf fights among the different bureaus. The economics and business bureau fights with the Asia bureau over policy. The non-proliferation people fight with the European bureau. One country desk fights with another country desk. At the Justice Department, while there were certainly disagreements on various policy issues, the bureaus and offices and divisions basically ran on their own. There was very little turf fighting, compared to the State Department. So I think what’s happened is that at State, there’s an excessive devotion to process at the expense of substance. Now both process are substance are important. They both have to work to have an operational policy. But at Justice, I think people focus on the policy objective and substance, which is indicting and convicting criminals, whereas at State, they’re consumed with process, and that is another aspect of the cultural problem that needs to be fixed.
HH: Two more questions, and then we’ll move back to U.N. reform. You write about the battle fatigue capture problem of political appointees at State. How long do you think a political appointee should stay max at State Department to assure that they don’t go over to the careerists, and that they don’t get worn down by the constant turf battles?
JB: I wouldn’t put a particular time limit on it, but what I would say is that you to have a clear sense from the very top of the State Department, from the secretary on down, clear reinforcement, and not just for the political people, but for the career people as well, so that policy which comes from the top is carried through and implemented all the way through. If you had an effective leadership from a policy perspective at State, and this is especially true in Republican and conservative administrations, I think people could go on for much longer than they do. The problem is that the bureaucracy is so sophisticated, so seductive, so effective, the political people are so isolated that they get picked off one by one. And if you could avoid that problem, I think people could stay a lot longer, and they’d be a lot more productive. Can I just say one thing on this?
JB: I know this discussion probably sounds bureaucratic to some people, but I want to tell you that this is the front line of where policy is made. Back in the Reagan administration, people for the first time said and understood personnel is policy. And at the State Department, that’s true in spades, and that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about here.
HH: Now you do not, except by implication, discuss the NSC, the National Security Council, in the same terms as you do State. Now obviously, the President can replace every single person at the NSC, unlike the foreign service. They’re serving at the pleasure of the president over there. Is the NSC as broken as State?
JB: Well, I think today, the NSC is simply an adjunct to the State Department, and I say this with all due respect to Steve Hadley, somebody that I know and am friendly with, have a great deal of professional respect for as a lawyer, and a foreign policy expert. But we have not had as powerful a secretary of State since Henry Kissinger. And the NSC, as then during the Nixon administration and the Ford administration, is no longer serving the kind of role that it should serve as an honest broker for the president. It’s just another branch of the State Department. I think that’s unfortunate. I do think the best way for the NSC to function is not to be colonized by the career services at State, the CIA or the military. I think a president’s got to have…if he can’t have his own team at State, he certainly has to have his own team at the NSC.
HH: Let’s go back to U.N. reform now. In the book, the most compelling case study is that of the outcome document by way of setting this up. This is sort of the successor document to the World Summit, which was one of the many summits, Rio Summit, Cairo Summit, Women’s Summit, blah, blah, blah.
JB: They were everywhere.
HH: They were everywhere. And so you turned the tactics of the U.N. against them when you become the Ambassador, so that when the ash and the trash comes at the end, it’s our version of the ash and the trash, because you ran the clock out on them. Why don’t we do that every time?
JB: I think because…there are two reasons for this, I think. The first is many people will say these documents are utterly irrelevant, and therefore, it’s not worth the time and the effort. And I would have to say in the great scope of human history, they are irrelevant, except that they creep over the years like a corral reef. Each new document, one lies on top of the other, and pretty soon, you find after years have gone by, this massive wall of documents that somehow or another, the U.S. has agreed to, which we always find being used against us. That’s why we have to fight these mind-numbing battles against this sort of thing time and time again. But I think more importantly, the only way you’re every going to get people’s attention at the U.N. to the way the U.S. sees things, which is fundamentally different, in many ways, even from our friends in Europe, is to fight over these issues. And when I say fight, I don’t mean in an unpleasant way, I mean simply saying we’re not going to accept this garbage, and pretend that it’s smoothing over differences when it contains language that’s ultimately going to come back and bite the United States.
HH: Were you better at this because you were a litigator first, and that you’re not unwilling to go as long as it takes in a deposition or a trial?
JB: I think that there’s certainly an element here of being prepared to face the consequence, the possible outcome of no document at all. For most people, most foreign ministries, the idea you have a meeting and you don’t have a document that the meeting produces is a kind of heresy. But there’s a circularity here. You need…people want documents to advance their agenda, and therefore, they have to have a meeting. And if you have to have a meeting, you have to have a document. So the whole thing just kind of goes in circles. And it’s very hard for diplomats, American diplomats included, to be isolated. They don’t like being isolated. It’s not fun at the cocktail parties and dinners that follow the day of negotiations. I couldn’t have cared less about being isolated, and I couldn’t have cared less whether we had an outcome document or not. I think that strengthened my hand in the negotiation, and I think it would strengthen our negotiators to take that kind of attitude in a wide variety of other negotiations as well.
HH: In the summary of your six years in the Bush II administration, you write we withdrew from the ABM, the biological weapons convention verification procedure draft was tanked, you unsigned the Rome treaty on the International Criminal Court. You got some focus on resuming nuclear testing, you foiled international gun control. But it’s like Lucy in the chocolate factory. They just keep coming. This international Law of the Sea Treaty has got a general authority in it which looks like the General Assembly to me.
JB: Well, I think your analogy is a good one, and the Law of the Sea is a particular problem. You know, we’ve learned from experience there are not just the problems the Reagan administration saw in the Law of the Sea treaty. We know from the international criminal court that when you set up these adjudicatory bodies, internationally, you’re turning over potentially enormous grants of our sovereignty to them, so that the problem is actually worse than we originally saw it. And that’s why I thought in the early days of the Bush administration there was so much promise, because he was prepared to reject the Kyoto protocol, withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, unsign the international criminal court treaty, and a variety of other things, all of which we’ve left behind in this…now this push to support the Law of the Treaty shows the completely 180 degree nature of the turn that they’ve taken.
HH: Well, that leads me, though, to the idea that don’t we need a moratorium on international agreement of a generation, even, in order…you argue for voluntary contributions as the effective solvent on U.N. craziness. But I’m thinking we can’t win at this game, because there aren’t ever going to be Boltons every year, or Kirkpatricks or Moynihans. We’re always going to have period of lassitude followed by periods…we just can’t win if the United States…and I’m not one of these North American Union nutters, where they’re worried about agreement that don’t exist. But can we play in this arena and ever advance the American interest abroad?
JB: Well, I think we can if we could get the State Department on track. And I would say there are two elements of this front of international agreements. One is the front of traditional international negotiations, the International Criminal Court, the Land Mind Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, all of which are bad ideas. The more pernicious front is the kind of treaties that people have been proposing about gun control, about the death penalty, about family issues, abortion and the like, because not only are these agreements contrary to our principles, but they are efforts to reach into what are fundamentally domestic political questions. At least you can say on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, bad idea that it is, that it’s a subject of international, legitimate international discussion. Whether the United States has the death penalty or not has no legitimacy for discussion in the international arena. That’s what we decide democratically in this country, if we want it or we don’t, as other countries make their decisions as well. And part of what’s happening here is that the international left, and abetted in many cases by American non-governmental organizations, seeing that they can’t win on gun control or abortion or this issue or that issue, they can’t win in domestic American politics, and they’re trying to internationalize it, and that is, I think, a phenomenon that we’re going to see more of in the future, especially if we get a Democratic administration after next year.
HH: Let’s pause on that for a moment, because one of the revelations of Surrender Is Not An Option, your memoir, again for people listening, the European Union is not a neutral in this. They’re attempting to norm European Union standards of domestic politics through these international agreements. And our left wing is abetting them in that. Is there hope in your view for the EU’s reform, either through Britain’s refusal to participate, or the new Europe coming in and saying to the old Europe no, this far and no farther? Or is the EU lost?
JB: I don’t think it’s lost, but I think a lot will depend on what happens with this new mini-constitution as they call it, an effort to take European integration one step further, and basically, to reduce European parliaments to subsidiary bodies of European commission and other institutions in Brussels. I think this is a critical moment for Europe, and I don’t know what the outcome is, but I do know that the discontent in Europe over the increase in what they call the democratic deficit is growing. But make no mistake, if that persuasion loses, we do face a more difficult situation, that the U.S., I like to describe the U.S. as the most libertarian country in the world. We’re not completely libertarian by any stretch of the imagination, but we love liberty and our form of democracy very intently. There aren’t a lot of Republicans or conservatives as you find in the U.S. in very many other countries. So this strategy of leftist NGO’s to internationalize our domestic questions inherently puts them in a more favorable political terrain than trying to debate them in this country. And that’s why although it seems counterintuitive to go global on these things, it’s really a very shrewd political strategy from their perspective.
HH: In the 15 minutes we have left, Ambassador Bolton, I want to cover some of the people and the portraits you’ve got here. Let’s start with the President, George W. Bush. There are two Bushes in this book like there are in so many people’s understanding. There’s the not so eloquent Bush, and then there’s this very firm, very focused colloquial Bush of the private meeting, funny but also as pointed as pointed can be. And again and again, he’ll use you as a foil, he’ll make you the guy who’s delivering the message, but he knows what he wants. Why is there this divergence between the Bush we see in the Rose Garden or the Oval Office, and the Bush who sits down with Kofi and starts giving him a hard time, and uses you do advance that?
JB: Well, it’s…frankly, it’s a matter that just makes me heartsick, because I think the President’s instincts have been and remain largely correct. I think he is being talked out of pursuing his instincts perhaps by Secretary Rice, perhaps by others, in a way that I think will leave him very damaged in history. He’s got one year left, and I think he would be far better continuing to pursue the policy he is in Iraq, but reverting to many of the policies that he pursued in the first term very successfully for our country. We’re going to have a debate about many of these issues in the upcoming presidential election, and I think a stronger more consistent President Bush would go a long way to shaping that debate in a better fashion than we’re otherwise likely to see.
HH: Do you think the moment of decision, vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear weapons and military force will be reached over the next year prior to the election, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: I think it’s possible…if you would have asked me a year ago what I thought President Bush would do, I would have told you that he would not leave office with Iran on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. I have to say today, I don’t know where he would come out on the question, unfortunately, and I just don’t know what he’s going to do on it.
HH: Secretary of State Rice is the subject of a lot of commentary in Surrender Is Not An Option. Page 318, Rice started off her tenure as Secretary of State following a tough line on Iran. By late February, 2005, however, she began to wobble, largely because of Nick Burns. Why the because of Nick Burns?
JB: Well, this is an example of the culture of the State Department taking over the policy. And although I deal with individuals in the book, you have to, because policy is not make by vast, impersonal forces in the sky. It’s made by individuals. What I’m really talking about is the State Department’s culture. And the culture is defer to the Europeans, if the Europeans want to negotiate, defer to them. We want to keep close ties with the Europeans. We don’t want to break with them. This is, in effect, the same thing as Senator John Kerry’s global test, so that here’s another case where process triumphs substance. It’s better to keep the Europeans together with us than to achieve anything and stopping Iran from achieving nuclear weapons. And for whatever reason, I think Secretary Rice bought that perspective.
HH: But this goes to a much more deeper point. I’ve been running around these circles, although I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you, for 25 years, since the beginning of the Reagan administration. And Nick Burns has never been a part of any of this. What is he doing in the number two position at the Department of State?
JB: Well, I tell the story in the book that it may be apocryphal, but I’ve heard it a lot of times, that before the 2004 election, Richard Holbrook, one of my predecessors at the U.N., introduced Nick Burns as the person who would be his undersecretary of state if Kerry won, and if Holbrook became secretary of state. And of course, Kerry didn’t win and Holbrook didn’t become secretary of state. But Nick is still the undersecretary for political affairs. And I think it’s a reflection of the astuteness of the building and the culture of the foreign service that even in a Republican administration, this is able to happen.
HH: Does Nicholas Burns understand the Iranian threat, John Bolton?
JB: I don’t think he does. I don’t think Nick really appreciates what proliferation is all about. He’s a perfectly pleasant individual. I had, I think, pleasant dealings with him, and I don’t want to turn this into a personality issue, because I think he is simply what the culture at State throws up. This is the consequence of decades of the problems that I identify and discuss in the book.
HH: You know, I do want to pause and note the tone here is never personal when you’re talking about people who you have a policy opposition to. But on Page 455, you write that it is personal, vis-à-vis the left versus Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, you, and that they’ve adopted sort of the politics of personal destruction. Are we going to have to go that way, Ambassador Bolton, in order to prevail?
JB: Well, I hope not, because I think one of the consequences of the battles that are going on in Washington now over, for example, the confirmation of Judge Mukasey as the new Attorney General, which I think is now likely to go through, is that people will say I’m not going to serve in the government. I’m not going to put myself and my family through this kind of torture, which is designed to pick people apart and not disagree with them on policy, but just find ways of preventing their nomination from being confirmed. And that will leave as a class of governors people who have never done anything except work in the government. And I think that’s destructive for the United States, it’s destructive when people spend their whole career in politics. They ought to have a life other than politics. And I think senior officials ought to have a life other than government.
HH: You know, Rumsfeld’s gone, Wolfowitz’ gone, Feith’s gone, Libby convicted and commuted, you’re gone. Only Cheney’s left. Have they dented Cheney?
JB: Well, I don’t…he is a very determined individual, and one thing that we really don’t know, and may never know, is exactly what his conversations with the President are, because he has, I think properly, refused to comment on what he says to the President and when he says it. But if you look at the scorecard, it’s a vastly different array of policies in the national security area in the second term than it was in the first term. Now I still have the hope, as I mentioned a moment ago, that the President may turn around again and come back to his original posture. And if in fact that happens, that will be because Dick Cheney never relented.
HH: Let’s go and talk for a moment about your confirmation fiasco. I was there for the Agresto one which launched all these, and then through the Bork one as well. I’d like to apologize for Voinovich, since I’m a son of Ohio. But I’d also like to take…
JB: But he came around at the end, so…
HH: He did. But I’d like to take credit for helping to beat Lincoln Chafee like a drum. I’m wondering about the people who opposed you. Did you get the sense that they ever had an idea of the details of these policies, that they really…did Lincoln Chafee for a moment understand the Iranian threat, the North Korean proliferation, the counter-proliferation initiative, did they get it?
JB: I don’t think so, In his case, I think he was just scared of what was going to happen in the election, and as I quote him in the book several times, assuring the White House that he would vote for my confirmation, he had before, he said he would do it again, and then he faced a very tough primary fight in the Republican primary, and then lost in the general election. And I think that’s what it…it was a question of political fear more than anything else.
HH: What about Republicans running things? Bill Frist is a friend of the program, been on a number of times, but throughout the whole tenure as majority leader, I thought they operated at 33rpm when they needed to operate at 78. And Surrender Is Not An Option proves that they were postponing votes all the time, they never pushed, they never acted like it mattered.
JB: Well, I think my experience, going back when I was at Justice and worked on Bob Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, is that neither in the legislative branch, nor frankly in the executive branch, do people appreciate the difference between a confirmation struggle and a struggle over enacting legislation.
JB: Confirmation is up or down. It’s one vote. You can’t amend a confirmation, you can’t trade something for something else. And what we have in Washington today is that important or controversial confirmation fights are political campaigns. They’re not even legislative efforts anymore. They’re political campaigns. I think the Democrats and the left understand that. I think they’ve become expert on it. I don’t think we understand it enough. We’ll get a chance here to see if Democrats elected in ’08, whether we’ve developed the political skills to handle that. But right now, conservatives and Republicans are far behind in that struggle.
HH: Let’s turn to the most complete portrait in the book other than your own, and that is of Secretary Powell. I am slow, but I always get there, he says, and you call it his finest hour of state when he dumps the verification of the biological weapons draft protocol. Is that true that he was slow but he always got there?
JB: Well, you know, I tried to write this book objectively. I know some people will think that’s self-serving, but I didn’t set out to portray anybody in a particularly unfavorable light. I tried to write this as it happened, as I recalled it at the time, as in fact it played out, without trying to fit each episode into a preconceived pattern. And I have to say a number of people who have read the book say how surprised they were that in the contrast between Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice, Secretary Powell actually came out looking better.
JB: Now he may not feel that way, but quite honestly, I wrote it as I saw it, and in many respects, although I disagreed with Secretary Powell on various issues, he did come out the right way in surprising areas that we have not seen in the second term.
HH: On Page 316, you write about his press conference in the jungle when he speaks at length about Iran’s attempt to weaponize their nuclear capacity. That’s a star. That’s a good day. But then you write, and would you explain to the audience, what the Marshall Legacy Project was?
JB: Well, another…I think this is another Washington problem. Everybody, at some point in their tenure in their jobs, starts thinking about their legacy. I think this is a pernicious practice that we’ve got to stop generally. But in Secretary Powell’s case, he wanted to go out on a high note, and to leave behind certain achievements that he could point to. I think he was obviously disappointed in the Security Council speech on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but the way he went about building the George C. Marshall Legacy, picking as his model another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who became secretary of state, the way he was building it was in opposition to the President, and in a number of respects, on Iran in particular, at the end of the first term, that I found very unfortunate, very disturbing.
HH: Now I have spent almost no time, none, actually, on the Secretary-General of the U.N., because Kofi Annan’s such a sad sack. But my question is, can anyone not be a sad sack in that job, given what that job means? Can there ever be a great, historically significant secretary-general, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: I don’t think so anymore. I think what we need is a secretary-general who doesn’t fall prey to what Kofi Annan fell prey to. You know, in the last years of his tenure, he had his aides go out and say to the press that he, and indeed the position of secretary-general, was a lot like being a secular Pope. Now many people will hear that and just break out laughing. But I can assure you, they were serious when they said this to people. And I was determined to make sure he didn’t perform as a secular Pope when I got to New York, but also to make sure his successor didn’t view his role in life that way. And one of the criteria we looked for was for a person who wouldn’t get up one morning and conclude he was God’s gift to humanity. And I’m very hopeful that the new secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, is immune to that way of thinking. I don’t think he’s succumbed to it in his first ten months in office. I hope the last four years and two months will be the same.
HH: What about this insufferable anti-American Canadian whose name I can’t put my hand on right now, who would pop off in public speeches, and lecture the United States? Is he still there?
JB: Well, this is…I think you’re thinking of Mark Malloch Brown…
JB: …who’s actually a Brit.
HH: Oh, I’m sorry.
JB: …and has been made a member of the House of Lords, and put in Gordon Brown’s sub-cabinet.
HH: Oh, no.
JB: You know, this is another phenomenon that pervades the U.N. secretariat, unfortunately, of people who think they are apart from or superior to the member governments. They’ve forgotten they’re international civil servants who work for the member governments. They’re not their bosses. It goes the other way around. We have examples of that for…in the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, with Mohamed El-Baradei, who has for the past several years been an apologist for Iran. The Security Council has passed resolutions mandatorially requiring Iran to give up uranium enrichment. And El-Baradei’s out there saying he doesn’t think it’s a bad thing if they continue. This is what drives Americans crazy about the U.N. system, that these bureaucrats think that they’re actually more powerful than the countries that pay their bills.
HH: Ambassador Bolton, I want to finish with some politics here. Obviously, you got an education in tough politics many times, but certainly in Florida, 2000. Who are you supporting for president in 2008?
JB: Well, you know, I haven’t picked anybody yet, in part because I wanted to write the book, and I didn’t want to be a burden to a campaign. I didn’t want to inhibit myself in writing and telling this story. I do think, though, that on the Republican side, we’ve got a much stronger field in the national security area than perhaps people have considered. I am not so pessimistic about our chances next year. I think this is going to be a very consequential election for America in the foreign policy field. I think it’s important to have this debate have a higher priority in the election campaign. And I think our top tier candidates are all capable of carrying that debate.
HH: Some people think you’ve signed on with Giuliani. Is that simply wrong?
JB: I have not. No, I’ve had the privilege of talking to most of the candidates, I guess, and I’m happy to talk to them and their advisors and what not, and I’m glad to do it. But I’ve not signed on with anybody in particular.
HH: I think it’s a two person race between Romney and Giuliani. Would either of them represent the United States well, in your opinion, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: I think they both would, and I think Senator Thompson and Senator McCain would as well. I really am quite pleased with the top level in the national security point of view. I know there are a lot of areas of important domestic policy where they disagree. That’s what the primary will resolve. But looking forward to the general election, you can see from the Democratic debates that they’ve got a very different worldview than our candidates do, and that’s why it’s so important that that worldview not carry itself into the White House.
HH: Do those Democratic debates encourage Iran in their proliferation and their ambitions, in your opinion, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: I think they do. There’s little doubt in my mind that both in North Korea and Iran, they’ve seen the polls, they’ve heard the commentary about the dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, and I think they’re looking for that happy day when the Democrats return to power, Madeleine Albright clinking glasses with Kim Jung Il in Pyongyang, apologizing for CIA-directed coup in the 1950’s in Iran. They can’t wait for that crowd to get back in.
HH: Ambassador Bolton, last question, it’s not covered in Surrender Is Not An Option, your memoir. Looking ahead, if the Republicans retain the White House, give me four or five, six names of people you would want to see in senior positions in the Department of State, Department of Defense, NSC, to be confident that the team going forward would build on the successes, and avoid the pratfalls of the Bush administration.
JB: Well, you know, there are a lot of great people. J.D. Crouch and Bob Joseph, two people I worked with very closely, talk a lot about in the book. I think there’s a younger generation of people out there who got bloodied in the Bush administration and ought to come back, Steve Rademaker, Mark Gesper, Marshall Billingsley, just a…Jackie Sanders, Mark Wallace. I mean, these are people, and many others that I can’t name, we’ve got a very good bench. And with the right leadership in the White House, we could have a very strong and effective foreign policy after next year’s election.
HH: Well, I hope during the transition, if it’s a good one, they pass out Surrender Is Not An Option as sort of a Bible for going forward. Ambassador John Bolton, a pleasure making your acquaintance, and a pleasure for having this conversation. I appreciate it.
JB: Well, thank you very much for having me on. I do appreciate it.
End of interview.