As America’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was the White House’s most effective defender. Now, as an ex-diplomat, he has become among the administration’s toughest critics. But he critiques from the right, not the left, which probably explains why the elite media are not eager to focus on what he has to say.
The son of a Baltimore firefighter who attended Yale Law School on scholarship, Bolton combines a combative nature with a keen intellect. He is a conservative without the prefix — neither neo-con (he’s skeptical about nation-building and democracy promotion) nor paleo-con (he’s no isolationist). He is most zealous about protecting America’s sovereignty and national interests. All of this comes through clearly in his new book, “Surrender Is Not an Option.” His perspectives were persuasively articulated, too, at a recent discussion hosted by American Spectator magazine.
The administration, he believes, is failing to achieve its most important goals. For example, President Bush pledged that the world’s most dangerous weapons would not be allowed to fall into the hands of the world’s worst dictators and terrorists. But for almost five years the United States has let the Europeans take the lead in a diplomatic dance to convince Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons development. That effort has been so heavy on incentives and so light on threats that Bolton calls it “speaking softly and carrying a big carrot.”
“Engaging in diplomacy is not cost-free,” Bolton notes. The drawn-out talks have given Tehran time to master the intricacies of nuclear technology. Now, he believes, the only options left to prevent America-hating mullahs from acquiring nukes are encouraging a revolution — “it is a fragile regime” — or “targeted military force, a last resort.”
Bolton also doubts that genuine progress is being made in negotiations with North Korea. He sees “remarkable similarities” between where the Bush administration is heading and the “agreed framework” President Bill Clinton negotiated with Pyongyang in 1994. That deal trusted but did not verify that North Korea, in return for generous rewards, would end its nuclear-weapons programs. North Korea is now promising to disable — but not dismantle — nuclear reactors. Bolton says that’s “like taking the keys out of your car and putting them on the night stand.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan, already a nuclear power, could come under worse management in the months ahead. Among other things, proliferation in an age of global terrorism leads to this nightmare scenario: The “no-name” nuke that destroys an American, European or Middle Eastern city — with no way to know for certain who is responsible. (I can recall just after 9/11 being asked by an indignant BBC interviewer to substantiate my charge that al Qaeda was behind the atrocity. And we’ve never established who was responsible for the anthrax attacks that took place not long after.)
Bolton worries, too, about the Israeli-Palestinian talks soon to be convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Annapolis, Md. Israel’s current government “can’t do much. It’s weak. It doesn’t have much public support.” As for the Palestinian side, Bolton asks: “What Palestinian side? The Palestinian Authority is broken.” Hamas, a terrorist organization backed by Iran, rules Gaza and appears to be contemplating civil war in the West Bank, which is only loosely controlled by Fatah, a “former terrorist organization.”
“The secretary has only 24 hours in her day,” Bolton observes. A better use of her time would be to “support democracy in Lebanon which is under direct threat” from Hezbollah, a terrorist group and proxy of Syria and Iran.
The United Nations will be helpful in regard to none of these situations. On the contrary, even though Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon is an improvement over Kofi Annan — who called himself a “secular pope” — the organization is now structurally hostile to the United States and bent on becoming a world government with the power to impose laws and taxes on Americans. In response, Bolton says, we should stop letting the United Nations “assess” us for contributions and fund only those projects we regard as useful.
He supports also the suggestion of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to transform NATO into a “league of democratic nations” and a competitor to the United Nations. He is disappointed that Bush has done no more to advance such ideas than did Clinton.
One reason may be opposition from the State Department, which, Bolton laments, has become a “self-perpetuating bureaucracy” that undercuts the president it is meant to serve, and shortchanges America’s interests to curry favor with the so-called international community. What will it take to bring about reform of Foggy Bottom? In Bolton’s view, nothing less than a “cultural revolution.”
(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)