Ambassador John Bolton addressed Missouri Boys State on Tuesday, June 15th. After his speech he took questions from the audience for almost an hour. This is the first part of that question and answer session.
Ambassador John Bolton: …Yes, sir.
Question: …My question for you, sir, tonight is about global isolationism. And since the end of the Monroe Doctrine at the end of World War Two the U.S. has become increasingly involved in foreign affairs. Now, when the U.S. does not get involved in some crisis going on in the world, such as Darfur, we’re criticized for violating human rights, not doing anything about it. But if we are involved in something, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, we’re criticized for getting involved in other countries’ affairs. How and when should the U.S. get involved in foreign affairs and how can we do it correctly?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, it’s a, it’s a complex question but I think what has to guide American foreign policy fundamentally, fundamentally is the perception of American interest. And, uh, you can obviously disagree about, uh, what a national security interest of the United States is. But, I think it means fundamentally protecting, uh, Americans, protecting friends and allies, protecting, uh, our ability to deal in the international, uh, economy of the world without interference. The United States really has, uh, uh, surprisingly limited foreign policy goals, except when it’s threatened. We don’t have territorial ambitions, uh, we don’t have religious or political ideological ambitions, uh, all we really want to do is, uh, engage in our own business and, and trade with others and have them, uh, uh, keep to their own affairs as well. It has been our lot for the last century though to have to respond to threats, one after the other, uh, that we have faced, uh, because, uh, be, because of the, uh, threats that we saw to our interests and values and, and, uh, to those of our friends. So, I think fundamentally, uh, you have to look on a very practical case by case basis, uh, as to what’s in America’s interest and what’s not in America’s interest. And it is almost inevitably the case that whatever we do, uh, we’re gonna be criticized, as you say. Uh, that, that’s why, uh, I think, I think we have to be, uh, a kind of inner directed country. I don’t think we can listen to the criticisms of, uh, people in other countries. I think we have to look at what’s in our interest, uh, and make a decision how we’re gonna protect those interests which can include the interests of allies, uh, around the world. Uh, otherwise you, you, you’re engaged in a very abstract foreign policy that ultimately doesn’t protect, uh, America’s interests. And I think that’s a, a very real risk, this is not a partisan comment, this is a purely objective comment, that’s a very real risk about the current administration. I don’t think it appreciates, uh, some of the threats we face, uh, internationally. I don’t think it’s prepared to take the steps that need to be taken to protect our interests, uh, and at the same time it has a very hazy view, uh, of America’s exceptional role, uh, in the world at large. And I think as long as, uh, that view persists that our adversaries will draw the appropriate conclusions, uh, and challenges to our interests around the world will grow. [applause]…
Ambassador John Bolton on stage in Hendricks Hall for Boys State at the University of Central Missouri.
…Question: Thank you, sir.
Ambassador Bolton: Over here.
Question: …What is the best way to get disagreeing nations to compromise with each other? Uh, for example, uh, the Israel Palestine conflict.
Ambassador Bolton: Well, uh, uh, I guess I would say a couple of things. One, it, it’s not, uh, you know, you can always reach agreement with somebody on the other side of the negotiating table simply by giving up your position. I mean, that’s, it’s not easy to reach agreement, and if you’re prepared to do that. And on the other hand you’re, uh, pursuing interests that you think are, uh, extremely valuable to you as a country, uh, obviously the costs of, uh, giving up, uh, those positions have to be answered in any negotiation that’s gonna succeed over the long term with, uh, equal compromises from the other side. And there are some issues that at any given point are simply not susceptible to diplomatic resolution. Diplomacy can only, uh, act as a bridge when there’s a sufficient convergence of interest, uh, to, to allow, uh, negotiations to succeed. And there are any number of cases, uh, where that’s just not possible. Let. Let’s take Iran, uh, as an example, uh, and it was true in both the bush and Obama administrations that the United States sought to, uh, solve the Iranian nuclear weapons program through diplomacy. Uh, but that was fundamentally doomed to failure. Uh, and I think it was obvious from the outset. If the United States objective is to use diplomacy to give up, to, for, have Iran give up its nuclear weapons and if Iran is determined to achieve nuclear weapons capability there isn’t any compromise. So that engaging in diplomacy doesn’t move you toward the solution to a problem, it obscures, in this case, uh, the fact that there isn’t going to be any solution to the problem, at least not from our perspective, one that’s satisfactory, if Iran gets nuclear weapons.
Now, let’s take the case of Israel and the Palestinians. Uh, uh, at least, uh, uh, as of now, uh, they have irreconcilable claims to the same piece of real estate. Uh, and, uh, although there have been adjustments in negotiations, fundamentally I think the situation is getting harder to resolve and not easier to resolve, in large part, uh, because, uh, on the Palestinian side there’s no responsible leader who can make commitments, uh, with any assurance of being able to carry through on those commitments in the years ahead. Uh, what was once, uh, a functioning Palestinian Authority, uh, has been split into two pieces, one piece of which, the Gaza Strip, is run by Hamas, a terrorist organization, uh, with which I don’t think there can be any responsible negotiation. So that’s why my own conclusion for some time has been that the objective, uh, that’s been pursued by American administrations, Europeans and others for many years, the so called two state solution, isn’t gonna work. Two state solution is two states, one Israeli, one Palestinian, living side by side in peace. But we’ve been at that now for about thirty years, uh, and we’re not any closer to it really than we were when we started. So what I’ve recommended is what I call a three state solution. That is, the Gaza Strip goes back to Egypt, the West Bank in some configuration which has to be negotiated, and that won’t be easy, but the West Bank in some form goes back to Jordan, uh, and Israel, uh, remains, uh, as it is, with border adjustments. I think that’s the best solution for the Palestinian people, to, to integrate them into functioning economies, uh, and not to try and create, uh, an artificial state, uh, where one really never existed before. Now I don’t underestimate the difficulties of, of the three state solution, but we’ve seen first hand the difficulties achieving the two state solution, and that isn’t working. And I don’t think it’s gonna work. So, unless we’re prepared to continue to butt our heads into a wall, uh, and particularly if we’re, if, if we’re content to have the Palestinians live in very difficult conditions, uh, you have to have some othe
r alternative and that, that’s what I would propose.
Question: Thank you very much, sir. [applause]
Ambassador Bolton: Over here.
Question: …I would like to know if you feel you were successful, uh, during the Bush administration when basically all the U.S. citizens were critical of everything that administration was doing?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I don’t think, I don’t think all, I don’t think all Americans citizens were critical of it. I mean, I, I think that, uh, uh, the Bush administration had a very difficult task after nine eleven, uh, in trying to respond to the terrorist attacks. And the, uh, I think anybody who, uh, criticizes the steps that were taken need to go back and remember, uh, what our reaction was after the, the terrorist attacks. Uh, and, and why we’re so concerned about making sure that another terrorist attack doesn’t occur on American soil. Um, uh, if you, and, but if you look recently you can see that the terrorist threat, uh, has, not really, uh, diminished. We had the Christmas Day bomber, where the terrorist, very close to destroying an aircraft landing in Detroit. We had the Times Square bomber who came very close to, uh, to a detonation that could have caused hundreds of deaths in Times Square. Uh, and what I worry about is the risk that, uh, on one of these occasions we’re gonna have a terrorist, uh, not with a improvised explosive device, but with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon. Uh, the, the attacks of nine eleven would pale into insignificance compared to a terrorist attack, uh, with a, with, with, with a nuclear, chemical, or biological device. So, I think that the threat, uh, remains and I think that the, uh, to back to, to what the very first questioner asked, uh, if you’re not prepared to defend yourself, despite criticism from, uh, from around the world then inevitably you’re doomed to defeat. And I think the American people overwhelmingly feel that they ought to be defended against the threat of terrorist attack. I think that comes through again and again. And I think they support strong measures to do that, uh, and that’s why I think ultimately, uh, our failure to follow through on that, uh, actually leaves us, uh, more vulnerable to attack, more vulnerable to challenge around the world. Because it’s not American strength that’s provocative, it’s American weakness that’s provocative. [applause]
Question: …Why does the United Nations allow Iranian President Ahmadinejad to address the U.N. Assembly and then recognize his government when he frequently denies the Holocaust and says it was an elaborate falsehood circulated by Jews and Jewish friendly nations such as the U.S.?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, this, that, that’s because that’s the U.N. is. I mean, this is a, uh, this, this is, it’s not, it’s not, I think most Americans look at Ahmadinejad and the fact he is a Holocaust denier, uh, and say we shouldn’t even let him into the country. But, uh, we have agreed, uh, as a member of the United Nations through what’s called the Headquarters Agreement, obviously it’s headquartered in New York, that, uh, heads of state, foreign ministers, diplomats from any U.N. member who come to the United States to come to New York to do U.N. business will be admitted to the country. We can restrict their other activities, uh, but that’s what it, that’s what it means to, uh, have the U.N. functioning. Uh, and it’s also part of one of the basic premises of the U.N. that I think, uh, it’s, it’s very hard for us to understand, and that’s the so called principle of sovereign equality. Is that every member of the U.N. in the General Assembly is equal to every other member of the U.N. So the United States has one vote in the General Assembly and so does Palau. Uh, and, and you can go on down the list of the hundred and ninety-two member states of the U.N. The way the U.N. functions, uh, is a, is the product of decades of cultural development. Uh, and it is the way that it is and it is extraordinarily difficult to change. What that means to me is that, uh, the U.N. has very limited, uh, functionality. It can do some limited number of things well. Some of the specialized agencies of the U.N. do important humanitarian work, uh, they do important scientific work, they do, uh, work in areas that nobody even thinks about the, like the Universal Postal Union that helps handle the transfer of mail between countries, uh, and which functions with, us, essentially no attention at all. Where the U.N. doesn’t work is in the political decision making area, the field of human rights, the field of international security which should have been, uh, one of its, uh, principal responsibilities, in large part because of this culture that has developed, uh, and that, uh, basically requires treating every country just like it’s every other country. So, Fidel Castro, when he was able, would come and speak at the U.N. During the cold war you’d have dictators from all over the world. Uh, today you have, uh, uh, countries like Iran and North Korea, uh, that use the U.N. and, and, and it’s, uh, and the opportunities that presents just like any other country. Uh, we, we may find this very difficult to accept. We do find it very difficult to accept, but that’s the way the U.N. is. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing it just means that’s the way the U.N. is and to me it indicates how limited, uh, are the benefits we’re gonna get from a system that is developed that holds those kinds of cultures. [applause]
Question: …When dealing with countries that can operate largely outside the global economy what solutions, long term feasible ones, can be implemented by either the U.N. or the U.S. in dealing with issues of human rights violations while at the same time respecting national sovereignty?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I don’t, I don’t think the U.N. is capable of dealing with human rights violations in a coherent fashion. Uh, you know, the, uh, years ago, uh, the, uh, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, uh, had become thoroughly discredited, uh, because it spent its time in, uh, uh, issuing resolutions and sending out people to do reports, primarily negative on, uh, the United States and Israel. Uh, and it was used by countries that, that are the, were the worst abusers of human rights, essentially to protect themselves against international scrutiny. So, everybody said, all right, look, this has gotten to the point where it’s an embarrassment to the United Nations, we need to reform it. So, in two thousand five, two thousand six, uh, when I was up there we went into this big effort to, uh, to eliminate the U.N. Human Rights Commission and come up with something new that actually would be capable of, uh, of protecting human rights around the world. And the, the way we approached it was to say we’re gonna have a whole bunch of individual, uh, provisions. Uh, no one, which in itself could make the new, what we were gona call the Human Rights Council, no one of which in and of itself could make the new council, uh, immune from being abused by the human rights, uh, by the countries that, that were gross violators of human rights. But which taken together, uh, would, uh, would help protect the new council from being, uh, from falling prey to the same problems that its predecessor had succumbed to. Uh, and so we took, we wrote all these things down, we went into negotiation and the third world countries essentially objected, one after the other, to each of these provisions. And our friends in Europe, one after the other, conceded them. I knew that we were, uh, in pretty desperate shape, uh, when we came down to one of the last protections we had, which was to say that no country under U.N. Security Council sanctions for terrorism or human rights abuses could serve on the new Human Rights Council. Now, that doesn’t strike me as a terribly onerous provision, that if you’re a terrorist or an abuser of human rights you shouldn’t sit on the Human Rights Council. But the third world objected to that, too. Uh, and our E
uropean friends gave it away. So, finally, uh, we said, uh, that if the General Assembly creates this new Human Rights Council, the Bush administration will vote against it and we will not seek to have the U.S. join it. And that’s eventually what we did. Uh, and we did so on the basis that without real reform the new Human Rights Council would turn out looking like, uh, exactly what its predecessor looked like. And that is precisely what has happened. Uh, in, uh, in barely, uh, three years of operation the, uh, new Human Rights Council has passed, as of couple weeks ago, uh, thirty-three country specific resolutions, thirty-one of which are critical of Israel. Uh, as if there aren’t, uh, aren’t governments around the world that are, that are, that are, uh, violating human rights, uh, on a daily basis in the grossest and, and most abusive way. So, uh, th, this is what happens to reform in the United Nations. And this is not just my opinion, uh, the New York Times and the Washington Post have both written on their editorial pages that, in fact, the new Human Rights Council has turned out as bad or even worse, uh, than its predecessor. So, I see very little prospect that there’s a serious way to address human rights violations in, uh, the United Nations. The place where they’re gonna be addressed, if at all, uh, is in the United States where, uh, we have the opportunity for debate on it. But nobody should have any illusions that, uh, that our concern about human rights around the world is mirrored to the extent where even the other democracies are prepared to do much about it. [applause]….