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Transcript: John Bolton, NIE. Dec 5th 2007
Thom interviewed former ambassador John Bolton about his views on the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).
Thom Hartmann interviews John Bolton, 05 December 2007
[Thom]: Former ambassador John Bolton is with us. His new book, "Surrender Is Not an Option". We had the ambassador on when his book came out some weeks back [transcript]. He's with the American Enterprise Institute, aei.org for more of his writings and goings on. Ambassador, welcome to the program.
[Bolton]: Thank you. Glad to be back.
[Thom]: And thank you for being with us. How are you guys who are in favor of attacking Iran, if I'm accurately characterizing your position, going to convince the American people that we actually need to attack Iran in the face of this National Intelligence Estimate?
[Bolton]: Well, I certainly don't hope that we come to the point of attacking Iran. I've always felt it was useful as a last resort, but you know, this intelligence estimate I think is the result of politicization within the intelligence community of supposed intelligence analysts really putting their own policy preferences forwards disguised as intelligence judgements. Because many of the people who were involved in writing this I knew when they were at the State Department. They're not intelligence community professionals; they are foreign service officers, and what they say in this NIE they could have said 5 or 6 years ago.
Here's the key point: even this NIE makes it plain that Iran did have a military program and has only moderate confidence that in fact that program remains suspended, but even more importantly says quite obviously, as we all know, that Iran continues to enrich uranium. And that is critical to either a civilian or a military program because if you're going to decide to go for nuclear weapons, at some point you have to have highly enriched uranium.
[Thom]: Or, if you're going to run a nuclear reactor and generate electricity, you have to have 3 percent enriched uranium, which is apparently what they are doing, according to the IAEA.
[Bolton]: Right, that's all that they're doing now. But, you know, even though you need enrichment to 90% of U-235 isotope, when you get to 3 to 5 percent, you've done two thirds of the work needed to get to highly enriched uranium. So they're building up an inventory that gives them the potential to break out at a time and a manner of their choosing. The irony of this report is that while it says that diplomatic pressure works, the effect of the report is to dissipate the Bush administration's own diplomatic efforts. This is a clear signal to Teheran, they can do what they want to do, in effect.
[Thom]: Are you suggesting that this is essentially a coup within the intelligence community, or within the state department, or both, by an unelected cabal in the intelligence community? And then, some time back of course we had, you know, the head of CENTCOM saying all this discussion about bombing Iran is not productive. The military seems to be pushing back. The intelligence, this was John Abizaid saying, you know, this is not a good thing. Are they, why are they pushing back? Is this a coup?
[Bolton]: No I think, as I say, in terms of the intelligence community, they're not supposed to be making policy prescriptions.
[Thom]: No, but they work for Bush. I mean, he's their employer. How...?
[Bolton]: They don't, well that's part of the problem, is, they don't think they do work for Bush, and this is something that has developed over time, over a number of administrations but particularly in this administration; the intelligence community is not an independent agency.
[Thom]: So you're suggesting that their alliance is to, or their allegiance, rather. is to a particular ideology rather than to the truth? What is that ideology?
[Bolton]: Well I think given the background of many of the people who wrote this, that they never favored a strong policy toward Iran's nuclear program from the get go. So I think they're trying to spin the intelligence in a way that makes it harder to take a tough line. But again, I want to emphasize; even if you took them at face value that diplomatic pressure would work, the impact of this report is to prevent Bush from assembling any diplomatic pressure.
[Thom]: So you're suggesting that these guys are doing something that's essentially treasonous; they're harming the ability of the United States to function in a dangerous world.
[Bolton]: Well, I think they've made it, if you look at press reaction, government reactions around the world, the Chinese have already said there is no need for a third security council sanctions resolution. Now I've never felt these sanctions resolutions were going to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons to begin with, but even such minimal steps, as in other security council resolutions, now looks to be essentially impossible.
[Thom]: So, to phrase the question in a positive: I said, what is the agenda of these guys if this is a cabal that's essentially, you know, executed a coup within the executive branch, apparently? And you said that their agenda is to not have what you described as a strong confrontation with Iran. How would you describe that in positive terms? And I don't mean positive in a moral sense, I mean in a behavioral sense. What is it that they are trying to accomplish, as opposed to what is it that they're trying to prevent?
[Bolton]: Well, you know, it's, I would say with a medium amount of confidence, to use intelligence jargon, that they're hoping this makes it much harder for the president to engage in either regime change or the use of force and, you know, that's a position that a person can legitimately take, reasonable people can argue about it, but what I'm concerned about is that under the guise of a supposedly objective intelligence estimate they have infected it with their own policy biases, and I think that's impermissible.
[Thom]: Isn't that a crime?
[Bolton]: It's not, I don't think it's a crime as, no, I don't think it's a crime, but I think it's a violation of their obligation.
[Thom]: Should Bush fire them?
[Bolton]: If he could. You know, part of the problem here is that the career system makes it very hard to fire people, and the president himself, I have to say, yesterday looked completely stunned at this news, and I don't think there's going to be much of a response.
[Thom]: Yeah, interesting. Ambassador John Bolton, American Enterprise Institute, aei.org the web site. His book, "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America At The United Nations And Abroad". Ambassador Bolton, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
[Bolton]: Well, thanks once again for having me. Appreciate it.
[Thom]: Good talking with you.