Ambassador John Bolton: Exclusive Interview

Word came last week that a Middle East Conference will be held this fall attended by the United States, Israel, representatives of the Palestinian Authority and unspecified Arab neighbors of Israel. HUMAN EVENTS sat down with Ambassador John Bolton to see whether this conference holds any prospect for increased security and peace in the Middle East and to get his assessment as to whether American policy is on the right track.

Ambassador Bolton has spent many years in public service.  From 2001 to 2005, he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations. When Democratic Senators blocked confirmation of his permanent appointment he left the Bush Administration and is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

True to his reputation Ambassador Bolton’s analysis was unflinching and unsparing. His views on key Middle East issues are sharply at odds with the Bush Administration. Clearly in Ambassador Bolton’s eyes U.S. Middle East is seriously off track.

What does he think of the Middle East conference?

He says, “It is not likely to produce anything productive.” He explains that the civil war between Fatah and Hamas factions of the Palestinian Authority should “lead us to be rethinking the two state solution.” He opposes supporting the “rump” Fatah state through diplomatic and financial support, criticizing the State Department’s continuing approach to a two state solution as “fundamentally delusional.” Contending that Fatah remains corrupt and incapable of living up to diplomatic obligations he disputes that “pouring resources” into the West Bank will improve prospects for peace.

What does he suggest as an alternative approach?

He asks rhetorically whether Jordan and Egypt should not be “taking responsibility” for Gaza and the West Bank. He concedes that “sure they don’t” want this task but maintains that it would be in these countries’ interests to promote stability and provide increased economic well being for the Palestinians.

How does he assess the situation in Lebanon?

“Hezbollah is rearmed and restocked” he says and “within a short time will be capable of putting one million people into the streets of Beirut” to bring the Lebanese government down. He notes that Lebanese in the U.S. speculate that Hezbollah may simply be hoping that the Lebanese government falls on its own, thereby avoiding international scrutiny. He reiterates that the key problem is Iran which continues to support, finance and supply Hezbollah through Syria. As for the U.N.’s Brammertz investigation probing the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Bolton stresses that the U.S. should support the ongoing investigation which intends to probe this and other similar assassinations as part of an effort to “find linkage and build a bigger picture” of  what Syria is up to.

What about the threat of a nuclearized Iran?

Bolton says that the biggest threat in the region is the threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons. He says that “we’ve acquiesced in four, going on five years” of a European approach to diplomatic talks with Iran but this has only allowed Iran to approach the point where they have the option to go to nuclear weapon capability. He contends that “sanctions are largely useless” at this stage and that regime change is the only real solution. It concedes that this is a “difficult and time consuming” endeavor but that “our options are limited because we have pursued a failed diplomatic initiative.” When asked if we should discontinue these discussions he agrees, saying that talks only provide Iran with “legitimacy.” He stresses that Iran’s conduct in pursuing nuclear weapons and seizing foreign hostages requires that we “push back” either by pursuing regime change, or “as a last resort” through a military action.

In short, Bolton suggests that dangers abound in the Middle East and if current policies continue are only to worsen. Whether anyone in the Bush Administration is listening to his advice, remains uncertain.