NASHUA, N.H. — Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is thinking about running for president and is joining other potential Republican presidential contenders in New Hampshire Friday for the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit. Bolton spoke with The Daily Caller about why he may want to eventually decide to run and other issues that are important to the country.
TheDC: What made you have presidential aspirations, Ambassador Bolton?
BOLTON: What I’ve been doing and what I’ve been thinking about since 2011 is how to move the overall debate on national security to return it to the center of the political agenda, which is where it ought to be and, certainly, the presidential race is the place that’s most important. That’s why I’ve been thinking about whether I should get into it myself.
Overall at this point what I don’t want to do is a Standard & Poor rating agency of the different candidates. My objective is to get all of them on the Republican side, which is the only place where there is, to have a serious national security policy, and really to find the nominee whomever it might turn out to be who feels in their gut that the first duty of the president is the protection of the people.
Whether it’s politically advantageous or not, I want somebody who if they’re elected wakes up every morning and whose very first thought is, ‘What threats does the United States face today?’ It’s certainly not the first thought that Barack Obama had, and it needs to be for the president to fill their basic responsibility.
TheDC: What’s your timeframe?
BOLTON: I’m looking at it very actively. I’m in Boston right now, leaving very shortly to go up to Hampshire for what they called the First in the Nation conference that they have beginning tomorrow. A lot of the people who already declared and a lot who are expected to declare going to be there. I’ve been meeting with people and doing the town halls — one tonight, one tomorrow.
I’ve been out to Iowa. I’ve been it down to South Carolina, and I’ve talk to people about getting their advice, and so on. I think the Republican field is wide open. I don’t think there really is a front-runner. I think support for the people who have been mentioned is very fragmented, and so I think we likely know whom the Democrats are going to nominate. There’s a real chance for the Republicans to have a debate on the policy, and that’s what I want to try and evaluate.
TheDC: Are you comfortable with campaigning on social issues?
BOLTON: I’m happy to answer questions on what my views are on a whole range of issues. Obviously, you can’t run a single-issue candidate, although I don’t think national security is the equivalent of broccoli subsidies as a single issue. I think it’s far more important. But obviously if I decided to run, I would be a 360-degree candidate. I would address all the economic fiscal policy issues and the social policy issues when necessary, sure.
TheDC: What are your thoughts on the Obama administration’s move to take Cuba off the state sponsor terrorism list?
BOLTON: I would put them right back on the terrorism list. The president should not be recommending that they be taken off. I think they are still involved in terrorism. They have been associating with regimes like Venezuela, which are narco-terrorists. There is Iran. The activity that they are carrying out may not look like suicide bombers like the kind we see from radical Islamists, but their associations with terrorist regimes and activities continues, and it is simply not credible when the president, as he has to do to make his own decision, says that he believes the Cubans are convincing when they say they are not going to engage in terrorist activities in the future.
I don’t believe a word they say. He has given this away to them, and got nothing in return. It’s bad for our policy across the Western Hemisphere, and it’s bad worldwide. Another example much like the Iran nuclear deal of the president simply giving away American interests and getting nothing in exchange — even if you tend to agree with what he wants to do in Cuba and have a more open relationship — even people who believe that — I’m not one of them — but even people who believe that are concerned that he’s simply giving it away for nothing.
TheDC: What about the U.S. fugitives that Cuba is harboring? How would you handle the situation differently?
BOLTON: I think that’s the sort of thing that’s the prerequisite before you get into any loosening of the embargo or establishment of diplomatic relations. That’s where you start. I also want a lot of evidence that there’s no biological warfare search and development program just something that caused great controversy for me back 15 years ago but which the intelligence agencies were are all very clear about.
There is a whole host of things that you’d need to explore. Fundamentally, I wouldn’t change anything until Fidel Castro dies. I think he’s such an iconic figure, that when he finally succumbs to the actuarial tables like a pin popping a balloon I think that whole regime will crumble. That should be our objective. We should not be doing anything that gives that regime a lifeline or extends its duration once Castro finally passes.
TheDC: What’s the most urgent priority within the national security debate?
BOLTON: Well, I think there are urgent priorities, and there are strategic priorities. The urgent priorities remain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons. You’ve got Iran and North Korea and the risk of further proliferation if Iran gets nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The continuing war on terrorism. Obviously ISIS is establishing literally a new state in the Middle East as we speak and the administration is doing next to nothing about it.
I think it raises the terrorist threat worldwide. On a more strategic level you’ve got Russia changing international borders on the continent of Europe through the use of military force, which is something we said in 1945 we were never going to let it happen. You’ve got China making assertive, near belligerent, territorial claims in the East South China Sea. And you’ve got Castro being legitimized in Latin America … the narco-terrorists in Columbia. The disintegration of civil society in Mexico because of the drug cartels. It’s a very long list of things that need to be tended to that the president just isn’t doing.
TheDC: What do you think about the nuclear talks with Iran? How realistic are the sanctions and the idea that sanctions can be “snapped back” into place if Iran violates an agreed-upon deal.
BOLTON: That’s why the whole concept of “snap-back” to me remains unexplained. There are two levels of concern. First, you have to decide what is a violation, and I will guarantee you that there will be a report of an Iranian violation, and there’ll be an endless debate over whether it’s a violation or not. Russia and China will say it’s not. Look, even in the State Department when I was under secretary of arms control I used to have disagreements with the bureaucracy over whether you could call something a violation of an arms-control treaty or simply non-compliance, and that’s our bureaucracy.
Now you can imagine what it’s like with the Russians. But even if it’s a violation that doesn’t necessarily mean sanctions come back automatically because they could say, ‘Aw, material violation. We should work to correct it. We shouldn’t have the sanctions come back in full force.’ And the debate is how do you have them snap back without a new Security Council resolution? I don’t know how you do it.
That obviously gives them veto power. So the whole idea sounds interesting but they have yet to explain how it’s going to work or even how it’s going to work in the United States. Is it purely an executive decision?
TheDC: Is there really any way to enforce inspections through the IAEA?
BOLTON: The fact is the administration is wrong when it says that this is the tightest regime of sanctions ever — far, far, far from it. It was after the first Gulf War in Resolution 687. And even there they could never resolve what had happened to Saddam Hussein’s declared chemical weapons. Maybe he was lying when he made the declaration. Nobody knows that for sure one way or the other.
And that’s when we did have the threat of military force. So I think it’s ludicrous to think that we can have any confidence in the verification regime, at least as it’s been talked about. Verification at best is a form of insurance. It works when it works at all when you’ve got a regime that’s a really committed to complying. If this were Belgium committing not to build a nuclear weapons program, the IAEA could probably do a great job, but this is not Belgium we are talking about.
It’s not just what the inspectors can find in Iran. How about if Iran is enriching in North Korea? What do you think that reactor in Syria was that the North Koreans we’re building? Who’s financed that? I think there’s good reason to believe it was Iran, because it would benefit both Iran and North Korea.
What better place to do your illicit nuclear activities than in a country where you think nobody is looking? So this is extraordinarily complicated, and the administration’s blind assertions that the inspections will detect Iranian violations are just not credible.
TheDC: Back to an issue closer to home: how do you think our border and illegal immigration issues should be handled?
BOLTON: I don’t believe we should look for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I was in the Justice Department in 1986. I was assistant attorney general for legislative affairs and very involved in the ’86 Immigration Reform and Control Act. That was supposed to be comprehensive. That relied on employers’ sanctions and a path to citizenship and securing the borders. It obviously failed. So I’m not up for another comprehensive reform effort after watching that one.
After six years of trying to get it done and then turned out to be completely ineffective. I think a lot needs to be done to secure the border having nothing to do with illegal immigration — having to do with drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorist getting in — so that’s clearly a first priority. In terms of what to do with the people who are here now, I’m actually less concerned with giving them some kind of status than I am about a more fundamental problem that goes to the citizenship issue itself.
I’m less concerned with how people got here since a lot of our ancestors probably arrived in relatively shady circumstances, if you look at the immigration laws strictly, than I am about Americanization. I think that is what we should be insisting on.
The genius of America has been e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Not what Al Gore said, Out of one, many. Not only did he not understand Latin, he did not understand the point of Americanization. It means people who want to become Americans become Americans. We should insist on it.
I don’t think we’ve done the job we should on that over the past several decades. So if you want to have real Americanization — a real melting pot where people learn English as their first language and really read the citizenship oath and getting ready for the citizenship oath in a way that’s meaningful, that’s what I am in favor of.
I think that’s what most Americans really care about. It’s less how somebody got here than they become real Americans, not just to get a citizenship paper, but their attachment is not to the United States.
TheDC: What about the potential voter fraud that may come accompany this issue?
BOLTON: No way that they vote. The administration is pursuing a very cynical policy here. I just think a new administration ought to stop that in its tracks.
TheDC: What about Arizona’s SB 1070 law that the Obama administration fought? The one that mandate law enforcement to ask individuals they suspected of being in the country illegally what their status was?
BOLTON: I didn’t think there was any issue of preemption there. Preemption is a very big doctrine. I didn’t think there was a preemption issue. I don’t think that states should be prohibited where they have legitimate domestic security reason.
Arizona is one of those states where the drug trafficking is one of the biggest problems, and the cartels from Mexico come in, and they are engaged in drug trafficking in front of everybody, and there are areas of Arizona where citizens are afraid to go after dark.
It’s ridiculous. So I think we should be encouraging the states and working with them — not getting into conflict. But it takes a government that takes border security seriously, which is not true of the Obama administration.
TheDC: What should be done with sanctuary cities that are in conflict with federal law?
BOLTON: Somebody should ask the Obama administration how they feel about the confederacy and things like nullification and interposition. I bet the Obama administration would be a little upset by that. That’s what the sanctuary city does. This is nullification. It is an effort to say that a federal law does not apply.
TheDC: What about the latest controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? What do you think about the reaction to that legislation on a state and federal level?
BOLTON: I support same-sex marriage. I oppose “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military. But I think the purpose of the religious freedom laws — I analogize it as not just on gay issues, it’s across the board. It’s a kind of conscientious objection on religious grounds, as in the military draft. I think there ought to be space for that. People ought to have tolerance for legitimate conscientious objections. You have to prove that.
Just because you don’t want to be drafted you can’t say, ‘Oh I’ve decided I have a conscientious objection.’ But for God’s sakes, let’s have a little tolerance all the way around. I’d have to look at the specific statutes. I think there’s some question as to whether some of them were drafted consistently with the federal law that Clinton signed. So you have to look at the specifics. But I don’t see why allowing that sort of space really harms anybody. Tolerance works both ways.
TheDC: Where are you on the issue of abortion?
BOLTON: Since Reagan and Mexico City policy when I was back at the Agency for International Development I was against abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother being threatened. I haven’t changed in 35 years.
TheDC: Thanks, Ambassador Bolton, for taking time today.
BOLTON: You’re welcome.