Earlier today John Bolton was interviewed on the National Journal Radio show on XM radio. The focus was on Senator Obama’s foreign policy feud with Senator McCain and President Bush. As you would suspect the former UN Ambassador did not agree with the Junior Senator from Illinios. In the direct Bolton style that we have grown to appreciate, he went a lot further than disagreeing, especially when he talked about Obama’s “backtrack” about preparatory meetings before engaging Iran:
I must say that is a silly, indeed, embarrassing statement for a candidate for president of the United States to make. Obviously, you make preparations before you engage in any meeting. You made preparations before this interview. Of course there are preparations. The notion that you meet without precondition, however, is not a process point. It’s a substantive point, and for him to try to align the distinction that way — I just think that’s embarrassing. I think the American people are a lot smarter than that.
Bolton felt that Obama has to learn to weigh the positives and negatives of any meeting BEFORE promising one and lays out the case against any meeting without pre-conditions:
Well, I think the question you always have to ask yourself in a situation like this is what are the cost and benefits of negotiation. I think it is far too facile, as Senator Obama has said, to simply sit down without precondition with leaders like the leaders of Iran and North Korea. I’ll just name a couple of costs you have to weigh in the balance. First, the legitimacy you confer on leaders like that — legitimacy from meeting as equals with the United States that they can use both in their own internal political situation and externally in the broader world. And secondly — and this is particularly important in the case of states that are seeking or already have weapons of mass destruction — time works on the side of the proliferators. They use negotiations — and the Iranians and North Koreans have both proven this — to perfect the complex science and technology they need to master having these weapons. So simply sitting down with them gives them an asset — time — that they couldn’t otherwise obtain. So when you look at this and say, it’s not a question of do you talk with adversaries or not — the question is, what’s the cost-benefits analysis? And in these cases, I think Senator McCain clearly has the better of the argument.
He then went to talk about WHEN America SHOULD negotiate with a country like Iran or North Korea and pointed to the fact that an Isolated Libya gave up its Nukes:
I’m not sure that, really, the question of the president meeting should even enter into the picture. That is something that you do when everything is arranged for success, and we are far from that circumstance with respect to Iran, North Korea and a lot of others. The better question, I think — when do you negotiate, under what circumstances, with a rogue state, for example, to see if they might give up their nuclear weapons? The case of Libya is instructive here. Libya, reacting to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, reacting to the seizure of a critical shipment of their nuclear weapons program, and ultimately reacting to the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, gave up their weapons program. Not because we negotiated with them, not because it was the negotiations that persuaded them, but because external reality had changed in a way that convinced Muammar Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons. On a cost-benefit scale, I think it clearly made sense to enter into the negotiations, and they proved successful. We have seen no sign from either Iran or North Korea that they have truly made a strategic decision to give up their nuclear weapons program, which is basically what Libya did.
Bolton is NOT against negotiation, it just has to be part of an overall tactical strategy:
Senator Obama is trying to make this into a debate between his reasonable willingness to talk with adversaries on the one hand, and the approach of Senator McCain or the Bush administration on the other being a bunch of unilateralist cowboys who never talk to anybody. That’s not the dispute at all. Every negotiation is an individual decision, whether it’s in our interest to talk or not to talk. And, I think, here’s the key point: Negotiation is not a policy. It’s a technique. It’s something you use when it’s to your advantage, and something that you don’t use when it’s not to your advantage.
Today Obama said that Iran is supporting terrorists because we aren’t talking to them, John Bolton said that Obama is naive and suggested that he doesn’t understand history
Senator Obama made today, that Iran is supporting Hamas and Hezbollah — two terrorist groups — is pursuing nuclear weapons, because we are not talking to them. That reflects a breathtaking naïveté, and lack of appreciation as to what the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been up to since 1979.
And that an Iran/US President meeting at this point would be damaging to Israel
I think it will make Israel’s security situation more difficult. I think an effort to negotiate with Iran will be seen by the mullahs as a sign of weakness on the part of the United States. I think that was their clear reaction when former Secretary of State [Madeline] Albright apologized to Iran for the 1953 coup that the CIA sponsored there against Prime Minister [Mohammad] Mosaddeq. She thought it was a way to show that we were trying to move away from our past policies, and they took it as a sign of weakness and reacted accordingly. And I think an effort to negotiate with them would be treated the same way. I suspect, as they look at our public opinion polls — and you can bet they are watching our election very carefully – their reaction to this is to say, we’re just going to sit tight until the American election and see what happens.
To paraphrase Chris Matthews, Man that guy is good, he makes me feel “Weak in the knees”