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 the 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 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.”
Bolton worries, too, about the Israeli-Palestinian talks soon to be convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Annapolis. 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.
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 U.N. 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.”