Jewish World Review
Feb. 10, 2011
/ 6 Adar I, 5771
Why Bolton has an eye on 2012
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration, was in town recently to accept the Philadelphia Freedom Center's Patrick Henry Award. Before his speech, he discussed national-security threats facing the United States, his assessment of the Obama administration, and why he's considering a run for president in 2012.
Afghanistan: "The surge was the right thing to do in Afghanistan. … The difficulty is when (President Obama) gave the famous West Point speech announcing the surge at the same time he said we'll begin withdrawing forces in the summer of 2011. … I'll guarantee you that for domestic political reasons, as much as anything else, in the summer of this year we will see withdrawals. I think they're trying to create the impression that everything's going fine. …
"But I think Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are simply going to bide their time. … When we withdraw, as I am very much afraid is going to happen in Iraq, then people who have simply been waiting for us to leave will make their move, and we could find really grave situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan sometime in 2012. …"
Iraq: "If we were pressing (Iraq to extend the presence of U.S. forces) … they would probably agree to it, but the government of Iraq is not going to be more Catholic than the pope. If we're saying, 'Hey, we're getting out of here,' then they're going to say the same thing, and it allows Iran to extend its influence. …
"There's a very real risk that you could see the gains in representative government that we've had in Iraq in the past 10 years disappear because of the influence of Iran if it's not countered by another external presence like us."
Iran: "The administration estimated that, in a kind of push, Iran could have nuclear weapons in a year. That was April of last year, and that's just based on what we know about the Iranian program. I think that estimate is still true. …
"But what about what we don't know? For example, what's the level of Iranian cooperation with North Korea? My guess is it's pretty high. … If the Iranians and the North Koreans are enriching uranium in North Korea, we don't have a clue where it is or how much it is. We know that they were trying to build a nuclear reactor in Syria that the Israelis destroyed in September of '07. … That's an example of the depth of cooperation on the nuclear front. …
"So there's a lot of possibility there for activity that's going on we simply are utterly unaware of. And that can't possibly make you feel better about your estimate of their capabilities. …
"If you guess wrong on their nuclear capability, and they've got it before you think they're ready for it, everything changes."
China: "This is going to be a huge issue for the next two years. (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates has announced substantial cuts in the Pentagon … all while China is dramatically building up its military capability, admittedly from a low base other than manpower. 1/8They are3/8 increasing their strategic nuclear capability, their delivery capabilities, beginning to acquire a blue-water navy and submarines, 1/8and3/8 what they call anti-access and area-denial weapons … designed to keep us from being able to approach the Chinese coast or defend Taiwan. … They clearly have a game plan that they're following.
"People say, 'Oh, their budget is so much smaller than ours.' Well, their budget that they declare. People act like the Chinese budget process is (open) like … in this country. Good luck with that, is all I can say. We know from Gates' visit, when they flew that J-20, the stealth fighter … Gates himself said, 'Gee, they were farther along on that than we thought.' Well, how about reconsidering your decision to cancel the F-22?"
President Obama: "The president is so focused on his domestic agenda that his lack of interest in international affairs, his belief that the United States doesn't face major threats around the world, and his disinclination to assert America's interests and those of our friends and allies means that the challenges are growing internationally while we're not paying attention to them. …
"Obviously, we've got a significant economic problem we're trying to resolve, but a president should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. He's not doing that."
Europe's view of United States: Obama "remains very popular personally in Europe, no doubt about it. He remains popular personally in the United States, but that doesn't mean we're working in tandem. … Ironically, the best demonstration of this … is in the economic area, where, particularly in Britain and Germany, you've got governments clamping down on deficit spending, reducing commitments the public sector has made in the past, 1/8and3/8 trying to bring government spending under control. … Obama is still doing the exact opposite over here."
Will 2012 GOP candidates focus on foreign policy?: "I don't know, and that's one of the reasons I'm thinking of running myself, because I don't know any other way to raise this back up to the priority that I think it should be. …
"A president necessarily gets delegated a lot of discretion in foreign policy. Most people don't view that as central to their daily lives, for understandable reasons, so they want somebody that they trust and believe in his judgment and discretion and ability. If you don't have a debate on which voters can even make that very broad judgment, you risk getting somebody like Obama, who I think lacks the competence to make judgments and who is now widely perceived around the world as a very weak president."
The 2012 campaign: "I've never run for office before. … It would be an unusual campaign, but I think we're in an unusual circumstance. … The Republican nomination is wide open. …
"I'm not at all sure the 2012 campaign is going to be about the economy. … The best thing that happened to Obama was the election of a Republican House. … There's a confidence level now for business that didn't exist for two years, (and businesses are ready to invest the) $2 trillion in assets sitting on the sidelines. …
"So if people think that they can get elected president just by criticizing Obama's economic performance, if the economy is roaring uphill, that's going to be a hard argument to make. And there better be other reasons people should be concerned about an Obama presidency, and I think that threats to the national security obviously should qualify."
2012 debates: At some point "there's going to be a foreign-policy debate between the Republican nominee and Obama. And Obama gives a pretty good speech when he has to, and he's got a good stage presence, and he'll be good at pretending to be commander-in-chief after four years in office. …
"Individual citizens may not be into the intricacies of what our policy in Lebanon ought to be, but I really think it's true, going back to at least the Reagan-Carter debates, they look at the candidates debating foreign policy, and they say, 'Which of these two do we trust more with these critical decisions about our national security? Who has the judgment and the character and perspicacity to make the right decisions?' And if we're not able to go toe to toe with Obama on that, whoever the nominee is is going to be in real trouble."
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Kevin Ferris is commentary page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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