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John Bolton Explains

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Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations

A few excerpts from my interview with him yesterday: (Transcript here.  Order his brilliant new memoir, Surrender Is Not An Option here.)

About Pakistan:

HH: 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. 


About North Korea:

JB: 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.[# More #] 

HH: What about these inspectors and these technical experts who are going to Pyongyang to…not Pyongyang, but the… 

JB: To the Yongbyon reactor. 

HH: Yeah. 

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.

About Iran:

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.

About Secretary of State Rice:

HH: 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.

About President Bush and Iran:

HH: 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–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.

About Deputy Secretary of State Nick Burns:

HH: 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.

Those are just a few of the exchanges.  Read the whole thing.  But the book and send it around.


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