Since assuming office, President Obama has garnered his fair share of high-profile critics. But few have been as omnipresent and implacable as John Bolton. From his near constant appearances on Fox News and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” to his steady stream of op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News, the 61-year-old former Ambassador to the United Nations and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control under President George W. Bush has been relentless in his critiques of President Obama’s agenda, especially in the realm of foreign policy.
In his office at the American Enterprise Institute, which is situated directly next to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, Bolton was far from reserved while talking to The Daily Caller about what he finds so alarming in President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies, how history will view the last Bush administration, and the possibility of a 2012 run for president.
“I’d call him the first post-American president and by that I mean – certainly in contemporary times – his view of America and its role in the world is different from the line of presidents since Franklin Roosevelt,” Bolton explained, when asked exactly why he finds the president’s foreign policy so offensive. “He doesn’t see himself effectively as a real advocate for America’s interest. He doesn’t see the world as a particularly challenging place. And, frankly, I just don’t think he cares that much about foreign policy.”
Asked if he gives any credit at all to the president for increasing drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere, and tripling troop levels in Afghanistan – both moves that have upset his left flank – Bolton said they were moves the president was forced to take.
“Well, certainly he has done things that have been unexpected in Afghanistan and certain aspects of the War on Terrorism. I think those are steps he has taken because it has been impossible – even for him – to avoid taking them,” Bolton proffered. “For example, much of what he has done in terms of interrogation or Guantanamo Bay or aspects of the War on Terrorism are things that are driven either by the imperative of defending executive branch prerogatives under the Constitution or because he has come to realize that the Bush administration looked at a lot of alternatives and couldn’t find any. So it is not that he has done these things happily or willingly.”
Bolton has been unabashed in his view that military action will be necessary to stop Iranian nuclear proliferation. When asked whether he thinks that the president would ever order such strikes, Bolton said he couldn’t imagine it.
“I don’t see it. I just kind of think it is contrary to his ideological DNA. I’d love to be proven wrong and the future will tell. But I don’t see it,” he said.
One area Bolton has been particularly critical of the president’s foreign policy is in the president’s handling of the U.S-Israel relationship. He told TheDC that he thinks the president’s push for a peace process will not only not lead to peace, but will ultimately make an unstable region even more so.
“I think the risk of this obsession with the ‘peace process’ is that the inevitable failure of these talks coming up leave the United States in a worse position in the region and around the world than if we had never undertaken it to begin with,” he said. “[G]iven there is no interlocutor on the Palestinian side that can make difficult commitments and then carry through on them, given the extent of the gaps in the positions of the two parties, failure seems to me to be inevitable. And when you combine that with many other things going on in the region – our failure to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons plan, our withdrawal from Iraq, our commitment to withdrawal from Afghanistan – it just gives a broad impression of American weakness that our adversaries will take advantage of and our friends will be concerned about.”
While Bolton has been most focused on criticizing the president’s foreign policy, he says he is also very concerned about the president’s domestic agenda.
“I think this is the most radical president we have ever had,” he said, before naming the health care bill, the auto industry bailout, and financial regulation as examples of this radicalism. “I think this is the dream of leftwing America come true and the only good news is I really think this is their high water mark. Anything they don’t get now they are never going to get. If we do this right, we can roll a lot of it back and begin the task of reducing the scope of federal government activities in our economy.”
Given his criticism of government overreach in the economy, does this mean Bolton considers himself a Tea Partier?
“I’ve never attended any Tea Party functions,” he said. But, he added, if the movement is, as he understands it, “a true grassroots movement of people who are absolutely outraged at the extent that the Obama administration has bungled its economic policy, overspent dramatically, risked creating a deficit that will burden us for generations” than he thinks “it is pointed in exactly the right direction” and he is “all in favor of” it.
Asked about the president’s plan to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Bolton said he is generally in favor of allowing anyone who wants to serve their country in the military to do so.
“I don’t have any trouble with that [repealing ‘Don’t Ask, ‘Don’t Tell] assuming it is done in a way that is respectful of the people in the military who have great difficulty with it,” he said. “I don’t think there is any good answer to the question why shouldn’t gays and lesbians who want to serve their country be allowed to do it.”
While he told TheDC social issues “aren’t where I spend a lot of my time,” Bolton said he opposes abortion and has no problem with gay marriage – indeed, he said that gay marriage is “going to happen.” But, he added, “they are fundamentally issues to be resolved politically, primarily at the state level. And I think the notion of creating a constitutional right to abortion or a constitutional right to gay marriage is a mistake.”
Not shy about his position on a wide range of issues, would this critic-in-chief consider a run for commander-in-chief in 2012? Bolton didn’t reject the idea out of hand.
“[I]t is a very great honor that anybody would even think of asking. I’m obviously not a politician. I’ve never run for any federal elective office at all and, you know, it is something that would obviously require a great deal of effort,” he said. “What I do think, though, and what concerns me, is the lack of focus generally in the national debate about national security issues. Now, I understand the economy is in a ditch and people are concerned about it, but our adversaries overseas are not going to wait for us to get our economic house in order.”
When pressed as to whether that means he would consider a run, Bolton seemed to suggest that he might do it, at the very least to help put national security issues at the top of the debate agenda.
“In the sense that I want to make sure that not only in the Republican Party, but in the body politic as a whole, people are aware of threats that remain to the United States. You know, as somebody who writes op-eds and appears on the television, I appreciate as well as anybody that…there is a limit to what that accomplishes,” he said. “Whereas, some governor from some state in the middle of the country announces for president they get enormous coverage even if their views are utterly uninformed on major issues.”
When pressed a third time about running, he said that while “he is not going to do anything foolish,” he added, “you know, I see how the media works…you have to take that into account.”
Again, not a no.
Philosophically, the Yale College and Yale Law School grad says thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Adam Smith helped shape his worldview as well as more modern writers like the late William F. Buckley, Jr. and former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.
When asked as the interview came to a close about how history will view the last Bush administration — an administration he served in and was later critical of — Bolton said that scholars will have to assess what he sees as two different administrations separately.
“I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say there were almost two different Bush administrations,” he said. “One, the administration of the first four years. Then the second, the administration of the second term. I think if you look at the first term he would be judged a great success. A lot of the problems that came, particularly in foreign policy, are more the result of what he did in the second term.”