Tuesday, March 31, 2020 -
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Exclusive interview: John Bolton speaks

John BoltonJOHN Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, was in Denver in conjunction with the Romney campaign, for which he is a foreign policy adviser.

He sat with the Intermountain Jewish News for an exclusive interview.

Although Bolton sometimes distinguished between his own thinking and that of the Romney campaign, most of his positions are at odds with the Obama administration.

Even so, Bolton did not match the image by which his critics describe him: hawkish, ultra-conservative, against diplomacy, ideologically rigid.

It would be wrong to call Bolton soft-spoken, but he is dapper, friendly, polite, and lets his views — only rarely predictable — speak for themselves. He is no firebrand, and offered neither easy nor hawkish solutions to vexing foreign policy issues, especially on Syria.

Question: “Should the US provide military assistance to the rebels in Syria?”

Answer: I must preface my answer by saying that there is nothing good to be said about the Assad regime.

Should we provide humanitarian assistance, on a non-political basis, to Syrian refugees who’ve crossed the Syrian border? Yes.

But lethal assistance to the opposition? Not at this point.

The problem with supporting the opposition is — here it is, after 18 months of rebellion, and we still don’t have confidence that there are Syrian leaders who wouldn’t make a bloodbath against the Alawites, or among themselves. We can’t identify leaders who can be trusted.

The opposition is very disorganized, fragmented.

The most immediate threat in Syria is its weapons of mass destruction — chemical and biological weapons. Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007, but the feeling is that this was not the only nuclear effort within Syria.

If Assad falls, we need to make sure that no WMD fall into the hands of al-Qaida or Hezbollah.

If we provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, the precondition must be that it give up all WMD to a neutral body.

Even if we trust [Syrian opposition leader] Mr. X, we don’t know whether he has the staying power to be there the next month or the next year. Therefore, lethal assistance would be very problematic right now.

Cambodia [in the early 1970s]: We went through the hoops to make sure that lethal assistance would not get into the hands of the Khmer Rouge, but it did, and that was when the opposition was physically separated in its own refugee camps, which is not the case in Syria.

Syria is a tragedy. The killing will continue as long as Syria can rely on Russian and Iranian support, and on less visible Chinese support.

Until that changes, there will be no change in Syria.

Question: “What is the critical issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict?”

Answer: The only way for the dispute to be resolved is direct negotiations without preconditions, without third-party intervention.

I am less concerned about where the line between Israel and a future Palestinian state is drawn than about what kind of state is on the other side of the line.

Will it be a terrorist state? Hamas is in control of Gaza and is influential in the West Bank. Israel can’t live with a terrorist state.

This wouldn’t bring peace.

Now is a period of great risk. Interference from outside parties has retarded the chance for peace.

The US in effect tells the Palestinians not to negotiate directly with Israel because the US line on settlements is harder than the Palestinian line, so why would the Palestinians negotiate with Israel?

Question: “Absent interference by the Obama administration, would there be direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? Is the obstacle really the Obama administration?”

Answer: There really is no responsible leadership on the Palestinian side — someone who can make commitments and honor them. The burden is on the Palestinians to come up with leadership with a legitimate basis, a leadership that understands that peace goes back to UN Resolution 242 and the acceptance of Israel.

In 1947, the original UN plan would have created a state of Israel about 40% of the size of Israel within the 1967 lines — and the Palestinians rejected that!

It is tragic for the Palestinian people that their leaders are so focused on abstract political objectives.

A couple of years ago, my opinion was that Egypt should take responsibility for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank should be reincorporated into Jordan. That won’t work today.

Some Palestinians are abandoning the two-state solultion. But the one-state “solution” is an ill disguised plan to eliminate Israel.

Unless Israel and the Palestinians develop trust between themselves, on both sides of the table, with leaders who can make commitments, there will be no peace.

Question: “And Iran?”

Answer: I have said for four years that neither sanctions nor diplomacy will work [i.e., stop Iran’s nuclear progam].

This makes it more likely for military intervention to take place.

It’s a race between sanctions and between Iran getting a nuclear option.

If the military option [is to be used], it’s a very undesirable option. But the others are worse.

The US has much greater [military] capabilities [than Israel]. That’s why Israel wants the US to do it. I believe the US should do it because we’ll get blamed anyway. Therefore, we might as well make sure it gets done right.

I blame not only Obama, but the [G. W.] Bush administration.

Sanctions are only good if they are comprehensive, swiftly applied and rigorously enforced. Obama has met none of those conditions.

[To those who say that Obama’s sanctions have hurt Iran’s oil industry:] I don’t believe Iran’s oil statistics. For the first time, Iraq’s oil exports are above Iran’s, but this is likely because Iranian oil is counted as part of Iraqi oil. Iraq imports Iranian oil and then Iraq exports its own oil — so its own oil statistics go up.

And, Iran has money-laundering capabilities that would make the drug cartels envious.

Question: “Is Iraq better off for the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein?”

Answer: Yes, in the sense that Saddam Hussein was a very brutal dictator and a threat to us and our allies.

But, the influence of Iran in Iraq has grown under Malaki. Therefore, the withdrawal of US troops puts at risk everything we fought and died for.

Regime change in Iran: That should be our goal.

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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