TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: John Bolton on birtherism, Trump, the limits of democracy promotion and his presidential aspirations

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
Font Size:

“I don’t much believe in bumper sticker characterizations of foreign policy,” John Bolton said in an extensive interview with The Daily Caller at his office at the American Enterprise Institute in downtown Washington. “But if I had to turn my own foreign policy into a bumper sticker, it would be ‘pro-American.’”

Bolton, a former American Ambassador to the United Nations who you can see near-incessantly on Fox News and read regularly in various publications around the country, has spent much of his career being an implacable advocate for America. During his time as an assistant secretary in George W. Bush’s State Department, it was said that Bolton represented the “American desk” due to his propensity to unapologetically stand up for American interests in a department which many conservatives perceive as being filled with people who too readily defend the interests of the region or country they are assigned to cover.

So “pro-American” seems to define Bolton’s ideology pretty well. And despite often being lumped in with conservative foreign policy advocates who believe that spreading democracy should be among America’s top goals, Bolton is clear that his top goal is to “pursue our interests,” which to him do not always mean supporting democracy abroad.

“We are a free society based on representative government. That’s in our DNA, we’re never going to change. We’re not going to recommend to somebody else that their preferred way of governance is an authoritarian regime. That’s just not who we are,” Bolton explained. “But at the same time, I think we have to recognize that simply saying, ‘We want a democratic government in country X,’ doesn’t mean there’s going to be one.”

To those conservatives and liberals who would suggest that establishing democracies around the world is in America’s long-term interests, Bolton says, “That’s great, we don’t live in the long-term, we live today.”

So would Bolton be ok if America’s interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya didn’t conclude with establishing democracies in those countries?

“I think our main interest has to be to defeat our enemies, and I have very little faith in our ability to create out of whole cloth democratic institutions,” he said.

Asked specifically if he would be fine with leaving a dictatorship behind in Afghanistan so long as it is pro-American, Bolton replied, “Well, I’d favor a pro-American government with Taliban and al-Qaeda eliminated and not subverting the government of Pakistan. If it were a democratic government in Afghanistan, I’d say ‘great.’ And if it were a non-democratic government, I’d say ‘great.’”

As for the revolutions currently taking place throughout the Arab world, Bolton pithily comments, referring to his fear that Islamists could take over or at least hold much more sway in post-revolutionary countries like Egypt, “I think some of this fascination with the ‘Arab Spring’ is just a grand experiment with Israel’s survival.”

Bolton for president?

Last August, TheDC was the first to report that Bolton was considering a run for the White House in 2012. Bolton says he still hasn’t made a decision on that matter.

“I told them I’m not going to participate in that one because I haven’t made up my mind,” Bolton said, referring to the first Republican presidential debate on May 5 in South Carolina. “I’m still thinking about it. I would have to say I don’t see any coalescence towards any of the Republican candidates.”

Bolton contends that this election cycle is different than other presidential cycles and that the ultimate Republican nominee could jump in late in the process and be someone no one is yet talking about – even a newly elected governor who has yet to reach the one-year mark in office.

“The ultimate nominee might be somebody whose name is not being talked about at all, like [recently elected Gov.] John Kasich of Ohio. You know, he is doing in Ohio what [Wisconsin Republican Gov.] Scott Walker ultimately did in Wisconsin, he’s just doing it with a lot less publicity. He’s somebody with Washington experience,” Bolton said, sounding more like the founder and so far sole member of the Draft Kasich for President movement than a potential candidate himself. “There are a lot of other governors and whatnot out there, but my point there is a hunger to beat Obama but no movement toward one or a few people that are going to emerge as favorites.”

Asked if there is a time by which he would have to decide if he was serious about running, Bolton replied, I’m not at all sure that there really is an endpoint…It is entirely possible you can go well into the season and no frontrunner emerges and people at that point, say, ‘we’ve got to get somebody else in.’”

Buttressing his contention that this election cycle is different from previous cycles, Bolton cited Donald Trump as Exhibit A.

“Donald Trump has gone up but he’s not going to stay up and he’s not going to get the nomination,” Bolton explained. “So it’s a reflection, I think, of people who have very high determination to defeat Obama but are far from settled on where they want to go. So a name comes up and they say, ‘ok, let’s try that one.’ And to me that’s just a further piece of evidence that this cycle is going to go very differently than the past several.”

One issue The Donald has thrust into the public spotlight through the sheer force of his personality is the birther conspiracy, which suggests that President Obama may not have been born in the United States and therefore may not be eligible to be president. Bolton, who does not “have any doubt” that President Obama was born in Hawaii, said that promoting the birther conspiracy is almost a disqualifying issue for a candidate.

I think it’s close to a disqualifying issue,” he said. “Why the president doesn’t show his birth certificate is beyond me. I’ve got my birth certificate. Do you want to see it? I’d be happy to show it to you. But the notion that it’s an issue worth talking about I think is at a minimum overtaken by events and, B, not entirely rational.”

Last month, another 2012 presidential contender, businessman Herman Cain, caused a stir when he stated that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet, in the very unlikely event the American people decide to entrust him with the keys to the White House, because he fears that Muslims are trying to implement Sharia, or Islamic, law in America. Bolton rejected Cain’s “policy” completely.

I wouldn’t agree with that any more than I would say that I’m determined to have a Muslim in my cabinet. There’s no religious test under the constitution. That’s what it says. Period. Close quote. You pick the best people who are philosophically consistent with the president. That’s the only test,” he said.

On the broader question of whether there really is a serious threat that Sharia law will  somehow sweep America, Bolton said that while he understands the concern, especially considering what’s happening in Europe, “I don’t see how it can spread or be accepted or be tolerated as constitutional as long as people are aware of it…I don’t think it is coming tomorrow.”

Bolton on political assassinations, Libya and Iran

If Bolton runs, his strength will obviously be as a foreign policy guru. Though he says he would campaign to win if he enters the race, it is also certainly true that the main thrust of the a Bolton campaign would be to insert a serious foreign policy debate in an election that many believe will be almost entirely focused on the economy.

In March, Bolton made news on the foreign policy front when he said American policy should be to assassinate Libyan dictator and self-appointed “King of Kings of Africa” Muammar Gaddafi. Though the suggestion may not be so out-of-bounds since America is currently engaged in military conflict in Libya, TheDC asked Bolton whether he thinks the executive order preventing America from engaging in political assassinations put in place by President Gerald Ford should be rescinded or modified to allow America more room to take out threatening dictators?

It’s not an absolute prohibition,” Bolton explained. “It was very carefully worded by Ford to resist legislation in Congress that would have gone much further and in a perfect world I wouldn’t have that executive order. But I’m satisfied that it doesn’t act as a constraint on the ability of the United States to protect its interests.”

Would he support, for instance, an American attempt “eliminate” North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il?

I think the actuarial tables are going to that care of Kim Jong-il but I would say it more in the abstract that I think that part of the argument about preemptive use of military force is that it is intended to avoid situations where the human cost of inaction turns out to be much greater,” he said. “To give you a historical example, who can doubt that assassinating Adolf Hitler in 1935 would have saved the world from enormous tragedy or assassinating Stalin in 1930? People say you favor assassination, what do you think war is? Except that it’s assassination on a much larger scale, a much more horrific scale.”

However, “that doesn’t mean that we should be trigger happy,” he cautioned.

While Bolton is hawkish now on Libya, he says the “the problem was that the West reacted rhetorically without thinking about the implications, saying, ‘Gaddafi has got to go.’ Had we said nothing, there might be a case for allowing the military situation to play out.”

But since America has now put its prestige on the line by saying Gaddafi must leave and since leaving Gaddafi in power now may spur him to sponsor terrorist attacks against the West, Bolton believes it would be a “strategic debacle for the United States if he doesn’t go.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that he agrees with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who recently on a visit to Libya called the anti-Gaddafi rebels “heroes.”

“I have a lot of respect for McCain, even when we disagree, but he’s just wrong on that,” he said.

Bolton said that despite the turmoil in Arab world, Iran remains a pressing threat to American interests. He also contested the notion, put forward by none other than recently departed Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, that the computer virus Stuxnet set back the Iranian nuclear program significantly.

“Stuxnet was not that successful,” Bolton said, pointing to a recent report on Iran’s nuclear program by the Federation of American Scientists.

This is the type of irreverence to conventional wisdom that one should expect more of if Bolton ultimately decides to throw his mustache in the presidential ring. And all Americans should hope he does, if only because it would be highly entertaining to see Bolton and Texas Rep. Ron Paul go toe-to-toe over foreign policy on a debate stage sometime in the near future.