The Richmond chapter of the Federalist Society (a wonderful group of conservative/libertarian attorneys) hosted a very special guest – Ambassador John R. Bolton, now a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Fox News contributor. I did not know Ambassador Bolton was trained as an attorney and he has served in the Reagan administration and both Bush 41 and 43. Here’s his bio from AEI:
- U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, United States Mission to the United Nations, 2005-2006
- Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, 2001-2005; Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, 1989-93, Department of State
- Senior Vice President, AEI, 1997-2001
- Attorney, Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus, 1993-99
- Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice, 1985-89
- Attorney, Covington & Burling, 1983-85, 1974-81
- Assistant Administrator for Program and Policy Coordination, 1982-83; General Counsel, 1981-82, U.S. Agency for International Development
He spoke at the SunTrust building in the Tidewater Room at noon. I may be a non-interventionist but I admire Ambassador Bolton very much. He is absolutely right on sovereignty and I have blogged on him before when he first flirted with a Presidential run. I was honored to ask him a question and meet him personally. His remarks were excellent and entertaining while informative.
Bolton started with the two strategic interests in Afghanistan: Prevent the Taliban or Al-Qaeda return to power in Afghanistan and ensuring that the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan never falls into the hands of terrorists or radicals. Bolton is concerned that both the administration and many Republicans want to unilaterally withdraw from Afghanistan (I am afraid I fall in the Republican part of that group) and the actions of Afghan President Karzai nor the arrest of the informants who served up OBL (how did the Pakistanis find out, the ambassador asked out loud) help that situation. Bolton would argue that aid to Pakistan is a lesser evil to losing its nuclear bombs to radicals. Bolton surprisingly agrees that nation-building is not in the best interest of the US but the two strategic reasons require our continued presence in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Bolton stated that the Arab Spring has not been friendly to the US. He used Egypt as an example. Mubarak was no “Jeffersonian democrat” but he uphold Camp David for 30 years and also was a reliable ally. The result after quick elections may be an unfriendly nation. Bolton cited the opening of the border between Gaza and the Sinai.
The Obama administration is engaged in a “spiral of declining American influence” and its Libya policy is a “source of continuing national embarrassment”, Bolton told the standing room only crowd of nearly 100. Bolton believes that Obama should have simply stated we are seeking to remove Gaddafi from power and sought Congressional approval for the incursion. Gaddafi has been implicated in terrorism against the US. Bolton argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But President Obama has done a service to the nation by making the Act ridiculous. His argument that he is not engaged in “hostilities” would seem laughable to the Libyan regime. Obama’s argument that he had to enforce a UN Security Council resolution would have been a “novel notion” to the Framers of the Constitution. But if he fails to force Gaddafi out of power, it would be a catastrophic defeat for American interests.
Ambassador Bolton says that the Obama administration has other challenges around the world: Resurgent China – will it be peaceful and a constructive player in the world stage, or will it be a belligerent in its sphere of influence – south and east Asia? Will PRC help contain North Korea or not? Its implication in cyberattacks against US corporate interests and piracy of intellectual property does not bode well. Russia also has become more resurgent. It has won every encounter with the Obama administration from the new START Treaty to missile defense to standing with the new independent states arising from the fall of the Soviet Union.
The problem is that President Obama’s focus is almost entirely domestic and he would prefer to simply not engage with the world. However, as Ambassador Bolton put it, “A President has to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.” There are stark differences between a year and a half in office and 5 1/2 years. It is imperative that Obama be defeated in 2012.
I asked the ambassador what he felt about the attempt by the Obama administration to arrest Gaddafi and try him before the ICC when Libya did not sign the Rome Treaty – isn’t this a precedent for the arrest and trial of US officials? Bolton agreed that the ICC is an inappropriate remedy; he cited his involvement in “un-signing” the ICC by the US as one of his proudest moments. (I agree!) The ambassador agreed the ICC will be used against us.
Another scary question concerned a nuclear Iran. Ambassador Bolton says that both negotiations and sanctions have failed. he suggested talks would be futile in that our position is no nukes for Iran and their position is nukes for Iran – is the compromise a tiny nuclear bomb for Iran? The likely scenario is a preemptive military strike and that is risky. No assurance of victory. We are trying to stop unilateral action from Israel but they are “in the soup” at the moment due to Iran’s already existent low-level uranium which can be converted into several bombs worth of material.
What’s my take on the ambassador’s remarks? They were thought-provoking. I may be more of a national-security conservative that I thought. It is healthy to revisit one’s opinions. Ambassador Bolton understands the UN better than almost anybody else in private life; he cited a 1989 attempt by the World Health Organization (Now a UN agency) to admit Palestine as a state. The US indicated that they would simply cut off funding to the WHO; the resolution was quietly tabled. Bolton thinks a similar position would be effective if the General Assembly “recognizes” Palestine, especially, he wryly suggested with budget cuts popular in our nation. He also criticized the Small Arms Treaty as potentially a Trojan horse for gun control.
However, even a non-interventionist like me recognizes there are reasons to fight. There are reasons to assert American power. While I still feel that feel-good wars like Kosovo are not in our interests, there are times to stand firm. I am confident a President Bolton would protect our sovereignty.
President Bolton may not be a hypothetical; these two recent articles suggest exactly that. He certainly shot across the bow (again) at one possible rival – Ambassador Jon Huntsman. Bolton suggested in response to another question that working for Obama is no patriotic duty; rather doing well in his service frees the President up to work on other things. (I am not sure I agree with that but admit it is an intriguing and combative answer!) Bolton’s meeting with McDonnell reported in WaPo might have been a courtesy visit – or something more:
The two spoke for about 30 minutes about McDonnell’s record in Virginia, national public policy and other issues, the governor’s spokesman Tucker Martin said. The two men have spoken before.
Did the two also speak about politics? McDonnell has been mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate and, apparently, Bolton is getting some buzz of his own as a possible presidential contender.
Here’s an excellent analysis in NRO:
“I would not run as a one-issue candidate,” Bolton says as we chat in his corner office, high above downtown Washington at the American Enterprise Institute. “Anybody who does that is declaring himself to be marginal.”
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, is no sideshow. His walls are dotted with presidential appointments: He served Ronald Reagan as an assistant attorney general. George H. W. Bush tapped him for a top post at the State Department. For Bush the younger, he returned to Foggy Bottom, overseeing arms control.
He has a vision for how to win. He would stress competence and he is knowledgeable for sure. The raising of funds would be his challenge. Bolton would likely skip Iowa and try for later primaries:
He will decide by Labor Day, a self-imposed deadline. Until then, Bolton is drafting a multifaceted strategy, one that would enable him to enter late. He recognizes that his tenure at the U.N., or perhaps his appearances on Fox News, may be how many know him. If he runs, he would need to show voters that he is more than that smart guy on cable television, more than an elder statesman.
To the viability question, Bolton says, game on. “I would focus first on New Hampshire, followed by South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada,” he says. “I think that is a very understandable path to the nomination.” Iowa, however, is probably out of the equation. He is against ethanol subsidies, for one, and it may be a bit too late to build a base there, “where the 99 counties are like the 99 names of God.”
A certain blogger once said he’d sleep better if Bolton were in the White House, at least as far as sovereignty issues were concerned. I am sure President Bolton would not tolerate ICLEI or Agenda 21. Maybe that is what we need. We could do worse. I am honored to have met Ambassador John R. Bolton today in Richmond.