Saturday Six Pack: John Bolton
My interview this week is with John Bolton, former permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, and now a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. He came to New Hampshire to do two GOP fund-raisers on Saturday. I ask him about the Obama administration's handling of Syria, the administration's credibility in the world, and his mustache. If I could have gotten away with six mustache questions instead of one, I would have treated you to that.
1. What should the President have done about the chemical weapons use in Syria?
The main concern for the United States, from the outset, should have been and must remain preventing Syria's chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists who can transport them for use outside of Syria. The United States and its allies would likely be the targets of any such chemical weapons, which is why transfer outside of Syria should have been the red line.
Assad's use of his chemical weapons inside Syria caused the tragic result we have seen so graphically over the past month. But threatening to retaliate, and then failing to do so, as Obama did, transformed a humanitarian crisis into a display of American weakness and incompetence under Obama. A substantial retaliation would have tipped the internal military balance in Syria in favor of the rebels, which would not have been in U.S. interests. And an "incredibly small" attack, in Secretary of State Kerry's phrase, would likely have been worse than no response at all.
So, the key is to keep the U.S. interest front and center, namely preventing the chemical weapons from escaping Syria. That, President Obama has failed to do, given credible reports that Assad has been moving some of his stockpiles to Lebanon for Hezbollah and possibly to Iraq.
2. How do you think George W. Bush would have handled Syria?
I honestly don't know what his substantive policy would have been. There were significant differences between the Bush 43 administration's foreign policy in the President's first term and in his second term. One thing is certain: he would not have flip-flopped and vacillated like Obama;
Bush would have made his decision, and acted on it.
3. Is the United Nations more of a help or a hindrance in securing human rights around the world?
The UN's human right's bodies, like the Human Rights Council (HRC) are as broken as its political decision-making organs, like the Security Council. The HRC was supposed to be an improvement over its predecessor, which it replaced in 2006. One of my proudest votes at the U.N. was to vote against creating the HRC, precisely because we argued that it would be no different than what it replaced. Unfortunately, the U.S. prediction has been entirely correct. The HRC is a refugee for human-rights violators, and its main focus since its inception has been to criticize Israel and other U.S. friends. The real human-rights violators largely escape scrutiny. The Obama administration made a real mistake in having our country rejoin the HRC, which simply provides it legitimacy. We should withdraw from the HRC and cease funding its activities.
4. How is John Kerry doing as secretary of state?
Not well. The Geneva agreement with Russia over Syria's chemical weapons will prove to be a charade. The negotiations we are now entering into with Iran over its nuclear weapons program will likely produce a bad deal that allows Iran to continue uranium-enrichment despite multiple Security Council resolutions calling for it to halt all such activity. Such a deal will leave Iran free to weaponize at a time entirely of its choosing. And Kerry's obsession with forcing Israel to negotiate with the weak and feckless Palestinian Authority is at best a distraction from real national security issues and at worst could leave Israel in a perpetual position of vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
5. What do you think is the ratio of world leaders that respect President Obama to those who do not?
After this past week, the number who respect him dropped to its lowest level ever, that's for sure. Both our friends and our adversaries around the world see Obama as fundamentally uninterested in foreign policy issues, inattentive to the complexities and risks that the United States faces worldwide, and unable to make up his mind on hard decisions. And they see an Obama who, despite his assertions to the contrary, does not believe in American exceptionalism the way most Americans understand that concept and who does not believe that American strength in the world is a positive force for peace and stability. That is a formula for disdain, not respect.
6. What would it take for the American people to convince you to shave the mustache?
Inventing a time machine to reverse the 2008 and/or 2012 elections.
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