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 final part of the transcript of that question and answer session.
Question: …Now, I notice you’ve been putting down the current administration quite a bit. [crosstalk] I recall…
Ambassador Bolton: Not really, I haven’t even gotten started yet.
Question: Oh, okay, well,[applause, cheers]…
Now, now going back to two thousand three when we went into the Iraq war, if I recall, you and the Bush administration supported the Iraq war quite substantially. Now, what is your justification for going into the war since they had no nuclear weapons and then themselves had no threat to the United States as a whole? [applause, cheers]…
…Ambassador Bolton: Well, I, I view, I view the regime of Saddam Hussein as a threat to international peace and security. And I felt that, uh, after the first gulf war, uh, there was unfinished business in leaving him in power. Uh, now don’t get me wrong, when President Bush forty-one, uh, stopped the, uh, military action and, uh, when he did and essentially took the steps that allowed Saddam to remain in power, at the time I thought that was the right course of action. Uh, and it was only with the passage of time that I realized that, uh, that had been a mistake. Uh, so I view the decision, uh, in two thousand three to overthrow Saddam, eh, effectively as a continuation of the first Persian Gulf War. Uh, and this is not unusual in history, in Europe they had the Thirty-Years War, uh, things go on for a long period of time. But essentially, removing Saddam Hussein was important to remove a threat, uh, that he posed, he and his regime posed in the region and around the world.
Now, the question of whether the regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, uh, I think is one that has been badly misunderstood. There is simply no question that had Saddam accomplished his objectives of eliminating the, uh, U.N. sanctions, uh, and getting U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq, which would have happened as soon as the sanctions regime was lifted entirely, uh, he would have gone back to the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. During the entire period of time after, uh, the nineteen ninety nineteen ninety-one, uh, war he kept, on his payroll, uh, thousands of nuclear scientists and technicians. He called them his nuclear mujahedeen. And there’s no doubt that once the inspectors were gone he would have gone back to his efforts to, uh, achieve nuclear weapons.
Uh, now some people have said that the, uh, failure to find, uh, nuclear weapons or chemical weapons, uh, in Iraq was, was either because the administration distorted what his capabilities were, or that it was an intelligence failure and that, uh, what we know today proves that we shouldn’t have gone to war against Iraq. Well, I can tell you it was not an exaggeration, uh, because you can’t do that in Washington and not read about it in the paper the next day. Nor was it an intelligence failure. The fear that we had about Iraq’s, particularly its chemical weapons, came not from intelligence but came from Iraq’s own declarations in nineteen ninety-one as a condition of the ceasefire after the first Persian Gulf War. Iraq claimed that it had enormous quantities of chemical weapons and under, uh, uh, Resolution Six Eighty-Seven, the so called Security Council Ceasefire Resolution, Iraq was required, uh, to, uh, destroy the weapons that it declared, uh, or to prove to the U.N. weapons inspectors that it had destroyed the weapons. So when the weapons inspectors went in and they began to destroy, uh, various aspects of, of Saddam’s nuclear program and his ballistic missile program, uh, the U.N. weapons inspectors said to the Iraqi’s, show us the chemical weapons that you declared so that we can begin destroying them. Uh, and the Iraqi’s said in response, well, that’s okay we’ve already destroyed them all. And the U.N. weapons inspectors said, okay fine, show us the places where you destroyed the chemical weapons, show us the records how the destruction took place, introduce us to the scientists and technicians who carried out the destruction so that we can interview them and verify that in fact you have destroyed these weapons that you declared. That you declared. And the Iraqi’s said, we’re not gonna show you the locations, we’re not gonna show you the documents, we’re not gonna introduce you to the people who accomplished it. Now, I will tell you there was not anybody involved in dealing with Iraq who didn’t believe that, uh, the Iraqis were flat out lying about having destroyed all those weapons. Uh, they, they had declared that they had the weapons and they produced no proof, uh, to support their assertions that they had destroyed the weapons. So, everybody believed, everybody believed that the weapons still existed. Uh, and in fact, that’s why when American and other coalition forces went in to Iraq they took with them chemical weapons protective gear which is incredibly bulky, cumbersome, and in the middle of, uh, the, uh, Iraqi summer, extremely hot. No responsible American general would burden his troops with that chemical weapons protective gear unless they thought that there was a real risk that Saddam would use chemical weapons. Uh, and in fact, many people around the world argued against the American attack precisely on the grounds that it would provoke Saddam to use the chemical weapons that he had declared.
Uh, now, in fact, uh no chemical weapons were used during the second Persian Gulf War and we have not located, uh, anything but little bits and traces of the chemical weapons capability. Now that means one of several things. First, that somehow or another Saddam had destroyed the chemical weapons. But there is simply no, uh, uh, no evidence anywhere that that’s happened. It’s not something that you just kind of dump into the Tigris and Euphrates River, uh, unless you want to kill everything in it for hundreds of miles. Uh, the, if you look at the way the United States is destroying its own chemical weapons supplies it’s in very tightly controlled circumstances. This is an extraordinarily hazardous, uh, thing to do, uh, with great risk of, uh, uh, of people getting killed if the process goes wrong. So, to have destroyed the, uh, supplies that Iraq claimed would have, there would have been evidence of it and we’ve found no such evidence. Second possibility is he shipped it out of the country. We just don’t know whether he did or not. Third possibility is that he buried it in the desert somewhere. Now, hard as that is to believe, you ought to go on, uh, the Internet and find the pictures that American troops took of big fighter planes wrapped in burlap buried in the desert sands being uncovered by American bulldozers. It’s like scenes out of Planet of the Apes with wings and tail fins of Migs peering out of the desert sand. Anybody who’s crazy enough to bury Mig fighters in the desert is probably crazy enough to bury chemical weapons. [applause] But we haven’t, we haven’t found that. So, so that, please, don’t go away, I’m not done yet. [laughter] That leaves the possibility that Saddam was lying about his chemical weapons capabilities in nineteen ninety-one when he made t
he declarations to the United Nations. That, that may be the most likely outcome. That shows how profoundly, uh, deceptive and threatening this regime was. But, but let’s be clear, the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a plus for the United States and the world, it has, it has removed one of the most dangerous regimes, uh, in the Middle East, it has given the Israeli [sic] people the chance for self government, which they hadn’t had in their entire history, uh, and I think that it will lead, uh, to, to greater peace and security for the United States. [applause, cheers]
Let’s just take, let’s just take one or two more here. Anybody else over here? Go ahead.
Question: …I am curious about your assessment of the geopolitical and international advantages and disadvantages of the American government’s often uncritical support for the nation of Israel, a nation which has often been condemned by the U.N. Security Council and a great part of the world community, specifically, with regards to the recent flotilla raid and the perpetuation of the Palestinian blockade.
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I don’t think our support for Israel has ever been, uh, uncritical. I think that, uh, uh, nonetheless that, that Israel is a very important ally of the United States. I think that it helps, uh, the United States strategically, uh, in the Middle East, uh, and I think that as a, uh, as a, as an indication of, uh, uh, American commitments to, uh, to important values to us that, uh, that Israel remains the only functioning democracy, uh, in the Middle East. Now, what it, what it’s dealing with in the Gaza Strip is a terrorist camp. Uh, if the United States had a terrorist camp, uh, on its border we would do exactly the same thing. Uh, the idea that somehow, uh, you can allow, uh, free commerce in to Gaza, uh, without increasing the threat to Israel, I think is disproven simply by looking at what, uh, Hezbollah is able to do in Lebanon where it is supplied by Syria and Iran with long range rockets and the potential for at least chemical and biological weapons to threaten Israel. If, uh, if the Gaza Strip were open, uh, Hamas would get the same capability in very short order. Uh, and let’s not forget, it’s not just an Israeli blockade of Gaza, it’s an Israeli Egyptian blockade of Gaza, uh, except every once in a while when the Egyptians open the border as they are now, uh, slightly, uh, for propaganda purposes. Now why does Egypt blockade the Gaza Strip? And the reason is that Hamas, uh, is a, in effect, a chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, uh, which is a terrorist organization that threatens the government of Egypt. So the idea that somehow this is all, uh, Israel’s fault, uh, is disproven, uh, by Egypt’s position. Uh, a few moments ago I talked about what I call the three state solution, part of which involved giving the Gaza Strip back to Egypt. Uh, one of the difficulties with the three state solution is Egypt doesn’t want the Gaza Strip because it’s filled with terrorists, uh, terrorists who threaten not only Israel, but threaten the government of Egypt. So, uh, this is a, a graphic demonstration of how the Palestinian people have been exploited, not by Israel, but by extremists, uh, in their own ranks and from other Arab countries that have determined to make them the tip of the spear, uh, against Israel without regard to the true well being of the Palestinian people. And I think if that were a real major concern of ours we’d see a very different approach to the whole problem. [applause]
[inaudible] take the last one over [inaudible].
Question: …Do you believe the United States will commence military operations, uh, Pakistan and North Korea in the near future?
Ambassador Bolton: well, I don’t see any, any prospect of, uh, of doing that in North Korea. I think that’s a, that, that is one of the consequences, uh, of allowing a state to get nuclear weapons because, uh, it does make it much harder, uh, to deal with North Korea. I think the ultimate solution in North Korea is the reunification of the Korean peninsula. That’s been our policy since, uh, the original partition at the end of World War Two. I think that’s the only, uh, way to deal with the regime in North Korea. Uh, I think it’d be a huge benefit to the people of North Korea and stability in the region as a whole. I think that’s why we need to do more to convince China that they need to get on the right side of history on this question. Just as the two Germanys have reunited, one day the two Koreas will reunite. Far better to do it in an orderly and peaceful way, uh, than, than in the kind of chaos that can follow, um, uh, developments in the north.
In terms of Pakistan, you know, one of the reasons why it’s important that we prevail against Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is not simply to prevent Afghanistan, uh, from again becoming a platform for international terrorism as it was before nine eleven, but to prevent instability in Pakistan from growing to the point where that government could fall. And a small group of radicals, Pakistani Taliban or others, could seize control of the Pakistani government and with it, that government’s, uh, arsenal of nuclear weapons. Then you would have, in effect, Iran on steroids. You’d have terrorists in control of what have publicly been identified as between sixty and two hundred Pakistani nuclear weapons. It would pose an enormous threat to peace on the Indian subcontinent, but it would also pose an enormous threat that a Taliban led government in Pakistan would supply those nuclear weapons to terrorists around the world. So, that’s, that’s why we need to work harder on the government of Pakistan, uh, to bear down, uh, along the border with Afghanistan, It’s why we have to defeat the Taliban, uh, in Afghanistan, and why we need to persist and why time lines about, uh, American and NATO withdrawal before we accomplish our strategic objectives, uh, is inherently a bad idea. [applause]
Thank you very much.