Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton talked about North Korea, Russia, and Syria during his regular visit to Breitbart News Daily on Thursday.
Bolton said Trump was correct to see Syria’s use of chemical weapons as a threat to the United States.
“I think this has been a view that has developed in the United States for a hundred years,” he observed. “You know, we’re just past the hundredth anniversary of America’s entry into World War I. It was the use of poison gas in World War I that caused people to begin to think about what we now call weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t happen overnight, but today, we include in that category nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. It’s been a consistent, and I think correct, policy of the United States for decades to prevent the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction and to oppose their use, particularly against innocent civilians.”
“This attack by the Syrians was as much an act of terrorism as it was an act of military action,” he declared.
As for policing the use of WMD, Bolton pointed out that “nobody else is going to do it, anywhere in the world, let’s not kid ourselves.”
“Not the United Nations, not the European Union, certainly not Russia or China, who are, by the way, themselves likely violating the Chemical Weapons Convention. We did it, and we did it because we’re going to make it clear that you don’t use weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
“I think it was a precise and limited rationale and a very precise strike,” he judged. “I think it has almost no implications for the conflict in Syria, the civil war there.”
“Now, I know in the past four or five days since the attack, those who advocate more U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war have said there’s a dramatic change in policy, and they’re in favor of it. Many who oppose greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war have said it’s a dramatic change in policy, and they oppose it. They’re all wrong. I don’t think this is a change of policy with respect to Syria. I think it’s about weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
SiriusXM host Alex Marlow brought up the rumors that President Trump ordered the Syria strike as an “emotional response” by members of the Trump family to photos and videos of chemical attack victims, especially the children.
“I don’t think you should respond to strategic threats with an emotional response,” said Bolton. “I know that sounds cold-blooded to some people, but I think that’s the reality that the commander-in-chief has to face. I don’t know exactly what the role of the president’s family was in persuading him to do this.”
“I would say we would test that over the next several weeks,” he proposed. “For example, many who want greater U.S. involvement on the side of the opposition, the rebels in Syria, have said, ‘Well, what difference does it make if Assad uses chemical weapons to kill innocent men, women, and children one day and uses cluster bombs or barrel bombs the next day? The people are just as dead.’ That’s an argument that says once you see an atrocity – and Secretary of State Tillerson said that we’ll come to the protection of innocents all over the world.”
“I said before, strategic analysis can be cold-blooded. It’s certainly the case that the victims of these attacks are just as dead, no matter what the methods used. But I would say there is a strategic difference and a real difference for the United States whether the brutality is carried out by conventional means or by weapons of mass destruction,” said Bolton.
“We are not going to stop all brutality around the world. I think it’s inherent in human nature, among other reasons,” he acknowledged. “But we can say with this category of weapon – biological, chemical, and nuclear – they are different. They’re different because of their capacity to kill in large numbers and the nature of the regimes that use them.”
“This is a complex subject. I can’t prove this moment that the president’s going to stick to the line that he articulated or that maybe there will be an emotional response after another Syrian attack or an attack by somebody else. But I can say where we are right now on this retaliatory action against Syria’s use of chemical weapons, I think we’re right where we should be,” he contended.
Marlow noted that many of Trump’s voters disagree with traditional Republican foreign policy by failing to see even a heinous deployment of chemical weapons in distant lands as a direct threat to the United States.
“I think that the efforts we’ve made over the years to prevent the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction demonstrates why we think it is a threat to the United States,” Bolton countered. “We don’t want more countries to have nuclear weapons. We don’t want more countries to have chemical and biological weapons.”
“Some people say there’s a huge difference between chem and bio on one side and nuclear on the other. Never forget that analysts call chemical and biological weapons ‘the poor man’s atomic bomb’ because it takes an awful lot less to create those kinds of weapons than the nuclear side,” he pointed out.
“There have been technological reasons that it’s been hard to use chemical and biological weapons because when you deliver them via artillery shell, the explosive force of the shell destroys much of the weapon – which is why more sophisticated techniques are now being used, using ventilation systems at domed stadiums, for example, or large office buildings and that sort of thing. Put the chemical or biological weapon in the ventilation system and let it reach tens of thousands of people that way,” he said.
“Don’t underestimate the extent to which terrorists and others would love to perfect these weapons to use against us,” Bolton warned. “In the caves of Afghanistan, in al-Qaeda’s files, we found after the overthrow of the Taliban that al-Qaeda had been pursuing weapons of mass destruction almost from its inception. I think saying to everybody, ‘Don’t even think about using these weapons’ ultimately safeguards the United States more than anybody else because of our presence all around the world.”
Bolton said it was difficult to have complete confidence that Trump’s strike on Syria would be a “one-off” action with no implications for deeper involvement but added that “as of now, when you listen to the president, his rationale has been very limited and very precise.”
“It is true that some of his senior advisers have been much more expansive in what they’re saying and have given the indication that they would like nothing more than to get further military activity underway,” he acknowledged.
“I thought perhaps the most disturbing thing that I heard yesterday at the press conference in Moscow between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was an observation that Lavrov made. I just want to say, for all the obvious reasons that you and your listeners can understand, I don’t want to be in a public spitting contest with Rex Tillerson, but I would say this if Mother Teresa had made this comment,” Bolton said.
“Lavrov said that Rex Tillerson told him he didn’t care about history; he just wanted to solve the current problems that we have. I hate to say I agree with Lavrov, but he went on to say you can’t solve today’s problems unless you understand the history. This temptation to say, ‘Well, the new guys are here. We’re the pros from Dover. We know how to do it. We’ll take care of it’ is a risk, a risk of expanded activity without a strategic rationale behind it,” he cautioned.
“I think what we’ve got now is, we’re in the right place, and I think the president should hear from his supporters the positive reinforcement that we understand the rationale for the strike against Syria, that we support it, and we think it’s just fine to stop there,” he said.
Bolton sought to avoid hyperbole in describing the dismal state of relations between the United States and Russia.
“In the midst of the politics that we found ourselves the last eight months, where after forty years of finding it difficult to stand up to the Soviet threat, the Democrats pretended to be the only defenders of America against the Manchurian candidacy run by Moscow that would convey Donald Trump into the White House, where he would do their bidding,” he observed sarcastically.
Bolton speculated that Trump “feels that Russian complicity, quite possibly, in this chemical weapons attack, certainly Russian efforts to cover it up after the fact through disinformation, have made it impossible for him to do what he hoped to do, which is see if he could better relations.”
“Of course, he’s frustrated by that. I think anybody would be. I’m not so frustrated by it in the sense I fully expected it. Part of assuming the office is learning in a very personal sense some hard truths out there,” he said.
Bolton found more hard truths to be learned in North Korea, where he said there was no doubt that “because of eight years of the Obama administration doing nothing, under the guise of a policy they called ‘strategic patience,’ which was really a synonym for doing nothing, North Korea is perilously close to having the capability to put a nuclear device under the nose cone of an ICBM and land it on the United States.”
“There is interesting testimony, I think it was just last week, by the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, who said that of all the things you need to do to have a worldwide ballistic missile delivery capability for nuclear weapons that he doesn’t think the North Koreans have is the miniaturization issue – taking the nuclear device and putting it in a small enough package that it can actually be delivered via missile,” Bolton said.
“Since we know that Russia and China both obviously mastered that a long time ago, you have to worry that the North may be even closer than we thought,” he continued. “The estimates were they were close to that point, people said, within a few years. There are people at the Pentagon, serious people, who believe that it could be 2018. That’s why I think there’s real concern about what’s going on.”
“I think it’s coupled with the disarray in South Korea, where they’ve just had their president impeached – an election coming up next month that could return a left-wing administration, which would be a real problem for us. So I think there’s good reason to be concerned,” he added.
“You ask what the long-term solution is. I believe this: North Korea will never be talked out of its nuclear weapons – not by diplomacy, not be economic pressure. People in North Korea live a prison camp now. The regime doesn’t care about their economic well-being. They care about staying in power. A nuclear weapon is the regime’s ace in the hole to stay in power,” he contended.
“I think the only long-term way to deal with the North Korean nuclear weapons program is to end the regime in North Korea,” Bolton advised. “Reunite the Korean peninsula. It’s not enough to pressure China to impose sanctions on North Korea. They need to understand that this regime poses a threat to stability in the region that undermines their security as well. We need to bring them to the realization that reunification is going to happen one way or the other. We can either do it the sensible way, or it will happen in a much more threatening way. I don’t pretend that’s easy, but that’s the real solution.”
He said if reunification occurs, the “nation-building” necessary to repair communism-ravaged North Korea would be done by the Korean people themselves.
“To return to the German analogy, the country in the North Atlantic region that wanted German reunification most was the United States,” he noted. “The other European powers feared it, the West Germans thought it would cost too much, but ultimately, it was the United States that prevailed. I think the same thing is true here.”
“The South Koreans are worried about their pensions. In fact, the reunification of the two Koreas would produce an economic boom for South Korea,” he argued. “A huge labor force in the North that would become available to their capital investments – boy, I tell you, the Korean peninsula would just take off after reunification.”
“What China needs to be convinced of is that they wouldn’t see American troops on the Yalu River, the border with China, after reunification,” Bolton stressed. “They saw that movie in 1950. They didn’t like [it] then. They don’t like it now. Fortunately, we don’t want to be on the Yalu River either. We want to be at the southern tip of the peninsula so we can deploy elsewhere in East Asia if there’s a crisis. There’s a deal there.”
“As I say, it’s not easy. I don’t underestimate it. But there’s a way to do this if we start now and persist on it,” he said.
“I would be very wary of Chinese assurances that they’re going to help persuade North Korea to give up the nuclear weapons program,” Bolton cautioned. “They’ve said that for 25 years, and they haven’t done a single thing to materially impede North Korea’s nuclear program. I think further discussions with North Korea, further efforts to pressure North Korea, are basically a waste of time. The way to end the North’s nuclear program is to end the North – merge it, reunify it with South Korea.”
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