Transcript: John Bolton: Surrender Is Not an Option. Nov 6th 2007

Thom interviews the former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, about his new book: "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America At The United Nations And Abroad".

[Thom]: Well at what point is something surrender and at what point is it realpolitik and at what point is it pragmatic, and what point does it actually work? How do we define these things? Welcome to the program. Thom Hartmann here with you. John Bolton on the line with us. He's with the American Enterprise these days. Former ambassador to the United Nations, former guy down there in 2000 in Florida helping the Bush campaign, and many other things in between. His new book "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America At The United Nations And Abroad". Ambassador Bolton, welcome to the program.

[Bolton]: Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

[Thom]: This book is a frankly fascinating insight into your life, or at least this dimension of it, this piece of it, and your thoughts on politics and your political perspective. When Colin Powell and Condi Rice were, in your book you talk about how they were talking about shifting US policy in Iran and offering more carrots, and as I recall, after the meeting you ordered carrot soup as a way of protest. You want to tell us that story very briefly?

[Bolton]: Well, this was a dinner that Secretary Rice had at the Aquarelle restaurant at the Watergate Hotel to celebrate, I suppose, the announcement she was going to make the next day that the United States was actually prepared to sit down and negotiate with Iran if it would give up its uranium enrichment activities. This even though Iran remains the world's central banker of terrorism and we've said we won't negotiate with terrorists. So their people were all in a very celebratory mood. I didn't feel so good about it. I ate the carrot soup. Only Bob Joseph got the joke, but, you know, really, it reflected a policy that had failed for years before that and has failed for years since then. Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons, and because of these years of failed diplomacy, our options for dealing with that problem are now quite limited.

[Thom]: Now, during the Cold War we had the Soviet Union which actually had nuclear weapons, which actually had declared possible intent towards us, which had actually backed proxy wars against us in a number of countries including Vietnam, and yet we talked with them. We negotiated with them. We even signed treaties with them. Why should we be so different in our negotiations with basically a third rate, third world country, you know, as opposed to how we dealt with the Soviet Union?

[Bolton]: Well, the difference in power between Iran and the Soviet Union of course is important, but even the possibility that Iran could get nuclear weapons leaves them with the decision when and under what circumstances they would use those weapons, and in a very ironic way this asymmetric relationship actually gives them proportionately a lot more leverage, and leverage over our friends and allies in the region.

[Thom]: But the Soviets were doing the same thing by backing these proxy wars and frankly, I mean, you know, you go back to the McCarthy hearings; they were convinced the Soviets were, you know, had cells, and infiltrated the United States, and perhaps to some extent had actually, I mean.

[Bolton]: Yeah, Well, the difference, I think in cold war terms, looking at the perspective nuclear arsenals was that we did have a kind of parallel calculus in Moscow and Washington over the consequences of an unconstrained nuclear...

[Thom]: Mutually Assured destruction.

[Bolton]: ...between the two if us and it would have been civilizational destruction. In the case of Iran you have a theocracy that believes that life in the hereafter is more desirable than life today and in the most extreme case, the 9/11 suicide attackers, obviously these are not people capable of being deterred by the prospect of retaliation.

[Thom]: They are also people who have nothing to do with Iran.

[Bolton]: Well, the fact is, there are a variety of different kinds of Islamic extremism, and that much of what impels the activity against coalition forces in Iraq today is being financed, equipped and trained by the Iranians. The disparity...

[Thom]: It's also, though, being equipped and financed by the Saudis. I mean, they're doing fundraisers. In fact, according to the Department of Defense, more than half of the foreign fighters who have been caught inside Iraq are from Saudi Arabia; fewer than 5 percent are from Iran. Most of the funding that they've been able to identify as coming from Saudi Arabia. Well, I think if you threaten first and negotiate later, why don't we start threatening Saudi Arabia?

[Bolton]: You know, if you listen to our military commanders who face the threat on the ground every day, for several months now they have been saying that the shaped explosive devices, the various military threats they actually face are coming predominantly from Iran. And General Petraeus, our commander in Iraq, has just said a few weeks ago that the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad is a member of Iran's al-Quds Force, the overseas element, the foreign element of their revolutionary guard. So you can imagine if the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad is a member of the al-Quds Force, you can imagine what's going on inside that so-called embassy there.

[Thom]: But isn't that like condemning Colin Powell for having been a member of the US military?

[Bolton]: I think you're, you know, really, I must say, the notion that you would put an active member of the al-Quds Force in charge of your mission in Baghdad tells you a lot about what Iran's real objectives in Iraq are, and that's why the threat that Iran poses is one that grows far more acute as they get closer to operational nuclear weapons. The Iranians are not going to be talked out of these weapons. They see this as a trump card, and that's why four years of, more than four years of failed European diplomacy has left us with precious few options to prevent them from acquiring the weaponization capability.

[Thom]: Well, we're talking with former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. His new book "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America At The United Nations And Abroad". The McClatchey News Service yesterday: "Despite President Bush's claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons... experts in and out of government say there's no conclusive evidence" of this. "Even his own administration appears divided... Bush's point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, has attempted to ratchet down the rhetoric". He says, "Iran is seeking a nuclear capability ... that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability, but I don't think that anyone right now thinks they're working on a bomb."

[Bolton]: Well, you know, one of the reasons I left the administration was the mistaken policy we were pursuing with respect to Iran, led by Nick Burns. They, Secretary Powell in December of 2004 held a press conference in Brazil where he talked about the steps that Iran was taking to weaponize the possible nuclear capability that they were seeking. This isn't dreaming. It is a view that people in places like the Russian Atomic Energy Agency, who know what a nuclear weapons program looks like, are very, very concerned about. There's simply no explanation for what Iran is doing other than the pursuit of nuclear weapons. I'll give you one example from documents that they inadvertently produced showing they have plans as to how to fabricate uranium metal or plutonium metal into hollow hemispheres. The only known use for that is to put two such hollow hemispheres together to form the core of a nuclear weapon.

[Thom]: Right, as we all learned in high school.

[Bolton]: Wait, wait, let me just finish here. The plans that they turned over showed how to fabricate this and these kinds of plans have nothing whatever to do with civil nuclear power. That's what Iran's strategic objective is.

[Thom]: And you think they're the only country in the world that's looking how to make a nuclear bomb?

[Bolton]: No, I don't think so at all.

[Thom]: Let me just take you to the larger issue here.

[Bolton]: Can I just finish the answer?

[Thom]: Certainly.

[Bolton]: You know, the point is, that many other countries are watching how we deal with Iran. And if the Iranians succeed in getting a nuclear weapons capability, other nations will conclude that they can and should do so themselves.

[Thom]: But we already did this with Pakistan and with India.

[Bolton]: The stakes are very high here and we are now, today, seeing the consequences of the proliferation that Russia and India and China and Pakistan engaged in years ago.

[Thom]: John, I'm sorry, we have just about a minute and a half left. I just want to, John, we're talking with John Bolton, his new book "Surrender Is Not an Option". John Kennedy spoke, he basically said, you know, "we're not afraid". His famous...

The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough -- more than enough -- of war and hate and oppression.

And yet it seems that, throughout your book, and Franklin Roosevelt made similar comments and Eisenhower made similar comments for that matter, it seems that throughout your book everything is being driven by fear and threat. Why that instead of diplomacy and standing tall as we have historically done throughout the world?

[Bolton]: Well, you know, I think the Israeli ambassador to the United nations, Dan Gillerman, summed up this question of Iran about as well as anybody had, and did it in a very level-headed fashion. He said, "in president Ahmadinejad, you have somebody who denies the existence of the original holocaust while preparing for the second one".

[Thom]: But see, that's also true of the leadership of Saudi Arabia, that's true probably true of the leadership of three quarters of the all the countries in the Middle East.

[Bolton]: And as I said, other countries are watching how we deal with Iran. Just in the last year approximately a dozen middle eastern countries have said they too want civil nuclear power programs. This is why the entire...

[Thom]: That could be because of peak oil.

[Bolton]: It could be because the risk of the proliferation, Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty breaking down as people see what happens when countries like Iran violate it, get away with it, and nobody does anything effective to stop them.

[Thom]: Well, it's an interesting conversation. John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, "Surrender Is Not an Option" is his book, "Defending America At The United Nations And Abroad". Ambassador Bolton, thank you so much for being here today.

[Bolton]: Glad to be here.

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