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Talking Egypt With Ambassador John Bolton

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HH: Morning glory and evening grace, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt on a day where most of our attention is focused on Egypt. I’ve already spoken today with John Burns of the New York Times and Michael Rubin. I’ll be talking with Fred Kagen a little later, Dennis Prager, I’m pleased to welcome back now to The Hugh Hewitt Show Ambassador John Bolton, formerly Ambassador to the United Nations, of course, he’s now Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you.


JB: Well, thanks very much for having me, glad to be with you.


HH: Well, this is a nightmare. Some estimates are 2,500 people are dead, others are only 150, about 40 of those are policemen, the violence is underway, you’re assessment of what’s happening in Egypt and, more importantly, most importantly, what ought the President and the Secretary of State say and do about it?


JB: Well, I think this was almost inevitable. I know a lot of people including the President and Secretary of State have put the blame on the military fort, but the fact is, that the Muslim Brotherhood has acted as if it is a power unto itself and Egypt. It is not a normal political party as we understand that term in the United States. It’s more like an armed militia and even though Mohammed Morsi the ousted President won narrowly an election last year, in office he acted in ways that would have entrenched the brotherhood in power and the saying is that as the wags have it one person one time,–one person, one vote, one time, so I don’t have any doubt here that the brotherhood wanted this confrontation. They were not going to acknowledge the interim government. And, although it’s bloody and it’s undoubtedly going to get worse, this reflects a fundamental divide in Egyptian society. You could paper it over with negotiations day after day but the divide wasn’t going to go away. It’s much to be regretted, but the idea that this is all one sides fault or the others is a bad way to look it at. So, what should the United States do? The United States should look to its fundamental national interests which are in this situation, I think two. Interest number one, we want an Egyptian government that will abide by its commitments under the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel. That is the foundation stone of American foreign policy in the region since 1979. It’s perfectly clear the Muslim brotherhood would abrogate that treaty as soon as it could. Let’s not forget, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that killed Anwar Sadat in 1981 for negotiating the treaty in the first place, so there’s no doubt that our interests seems to me lie with the forces that control the interim government here. And, number two, we have a clear interest in keeping the Suez Canal open and that requires a government that has the ability to restore order and to recognize its international obligations with respect to the Canal, and that doesn’t seem to me to be the Brotherhood either. Is this a happy choice? Of course not, but that’s what America ought to focus on. We’re not going to effect politics inside Egypt. They are obviously already out of the control even of the Egyptian people, but we can focus on our interests and that’s what we should do.


HH: Now, Mr. Ambassador Bolton, I am always amazed that some people, for example, Nasrallah, the terrorist leader of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, are at least understood by most American political elites to be bad people, but that the Muslim Brotherhood is not understood despite award winning work like The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, these are a man of the left wrote that book. That’ not a man of the right writing that, but why is it that our press and our political elites don’t seem to understand that the brotherhood is, in fact, a terrorist organization?


JB: Well, you know, I’m not a shrink. I can’t answer that question, but I am a firm believer in the P.T. Barnum doctrine in foreign policy which is there’s a sucker born every minute. And the brotherhood has convinced people that there sort of like participants in a vigorous New England town meeting. It’s fundamentally not true. I have written that I think the brotherhood should be outlawed, that it’s adherence, it’s members, should be allowed to participate in Egyptian politics but not the brotherhood because it is like the communist party in this country in the 1940s and 1950s. Obviously, they are different in many respects, but they are similar in one critical respect, that is Mr. Justice Jackson once wrote about the communist party, it was a state within a state, and that’s what the Muslim Brotherhood is. It does not acknowledge that the secular authorities in Egypt are its superiors. And, when it got control of the government through a democratic election, it was determined never to let go. That’s why so many people in Egypt support the military crackdown. Everybody regrets the bloodshed, but make no mistake about it, the Brotherhood wanted this confrontation. They see the Brotherhood members who have died as martyrs for their cause and they’re getting the  reaction they want. European governments, the American government has condemned. Who? Condemned the military. It’s a big victory for the brotherhood.


HH: Now General Sisi who seems to be about the best one could hope for in either an autocrat or a power behind the throne given all his long education in American War College and other places, his long and sophisticated association with the West, I know Mubarak was not a gentleman’s gentleman, but it seems to me crazy at this point to cut off armed shipments to the Egyptian military and to—Sisi gave an interview which was quite alarming in which he was, I think, telegraphing hey, America, there are other places in the world to do business and one of those, of course, would be Putin’s Russia.


JB: Well, you have put your finger right on something that I’ve been worrying about for quite some time. Sisi is now being compared to the former military dictator Gamal Nasser, and let’s not forget, when Nasser in the 1950s was snubbed by the United States when he requested funding for the Aswan High Dam, he went immediately to the Soviet Union. He got that funding, he shifted into the Soviet orbit and we paid the price for decades to come. Now, I’m not saying we were necessarily wrong, but let’s not kid ourselves here with respect either to Sisi or to Putin. We have enormous leverage over the military now because of our ongoing aid to the military since Camp David and we ought to exercise that leverage, but I’m already worried given Sisi’s rejection of Obama Administration criticisms even last week and the week before that the Russians are already moving to try to take advantage of it. I think we can avoid that, but nobody should be under any illusions here. We’re not functioning in Egypt according to high school debating rule. This is a flat out struggle for power, that’s what the brotherhood wanted, that’s what a lot a people in the military wanted, that’s what we’ve got.


HH: Now, last night on this program, Representative Peter King all but confirmed, there are obvious rules that apply to his work on the House Intelligence Committee and access to classified information, that there are hundreds of loose anti-aircraft missiles in Libya, Syria and who knows where there going to go next, and the brotherhood is connected to Al-Qaeda, it birthed Al-Qaeda, not many people know that Zawahiri is a member of the brotherhood originally. How concerned are you Mr. Ambassador that we’re going to end up with on the one hand the Shia, Iranian, Syrian dictator access up against the Al-Qaeda access running into a Egyptian military that’s estranged from the West and Israel surrounded on all sides?


JB: I think it’s a very bad situation. I think it’s bad for Israel. I think it’s bad for our Arab friends on the Arabian Peninsula; the oil producing monarchy is there. There’s an utter absence of American leadership when the United States does get involved under President Obama. It’s weak, it’s irresolute and inattentive and contradictory and we’re displaying all that in Egypt. Now, the Secretary of State condemns the military today. Last week he was saying that they were moving in support of democracy. They can’t make up their minds. So, I would be very worried that the crisis we see state by state across the region in Syria, in Libya, in Egypt today, in Yemen, in Iraq, could end up swirling together and seeing the whole region spin completely out of control, and I think that possibility is increased by the absence of effective American presence.


HH: Last question, Ambassador John Bolton, Chuck Hagel the Secretary of Defense gave a speech last week in which he said our carrier groups might have to go back down to 9 given the sequester. I think we’ve only got one in the Mediterranean right now. I don’t know what they, where they are, what they’re doing. Is this insane at this period in time to be cutting back the, the force projecting ability of the United States which is its aircraft carriers?


JB: It is absolutely and this series of events really from the time of the assassination of Ambassador Chris Steven in Benghazi last September the 11th right up until today, shows that our weakening ability to project force has an adverse effect for us all around the world. It’s not enough to say well, we’ve got more carrier battle groups than everybody else. You’ve got to deploy them region by region and you can’t let the rest of the world go unattended, and our capacity is decreasing. I think that’s why the President can really live with the sequester. He managed to get the domestic spending base lines up so high during his first couple of years in office, while defense spending was held constant, or in fact reduced very substantially, cuts away from the high domestic base line he may not like but he can live with. He’s getting bigger cuts in the defense budget than he would have dared to advocate in the 2008 election.


HH: Ambassador John Bolton from the American Enterprise Institute thanks for that overview of very, very grim events in the Middle East, especially in Egypt. I’ll be right back, America, go nowhere.


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