Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton discussed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s summit with President Donald Trump and the chemical weapons crisis in Syria with SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam on Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily.
“A lot of people believe that some grand communique is going to come out of this meeting, signaling a new relationship between the United States and China,” Bolton observed. “I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t even think it’s desirable. In fact, if anything, some have argued that meeting this early in the administration is to China’s advantage because they’ve been ready for a long time. The Trump administration obviously is still in its first hundred days.”
“I don’t think that’s right, but I think what President Trump should focus on is sending a very clear message to the Chinese side that his administration has a very different worldview than Barack Obama,” he advised.
“Laid back ‘no-drama Obama,’ who cares what China does in the South China Sea, with respect to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, with respect to cyber-warfare, with respect to cheating on its international trade obligations – no problem for Obama,” Bolton recalled sarcastically. “I think Trump needs to say it’s a different day, and I think by coincidence, unintentionally, what President Trump said yesterday about the Assad regime in Syria actually is a step in the right direction to saying there’s a very different view here.”
Bolton said the Syrian chemical weapons crisis raised questions of “interventionism versus non-interventionism.”
“Neither one is a policy,” he said. “They are simply tools. They are instruments. Saying, ‘Well, I favor intervention over non-intervention’ is like saying ‘I favor a fork over a spoon.’ For what? What’s your purpose? In the case of Syria, what we see now is, I am afraid, at least in part, that Assad’s use of chemical weapons followed statements by senior American officials in the past few days that they didn’t really care if Assad stayed in power.”
“That regime is only in power today because of the support of Moscow and Tehran,” he noted. “Not friends of ours. As we focus on the destruction of ISIS, which is the most immediate, the most urgent priority in the region, we have to have in mind what comes after ISIS’s defeat. If anybody thinks the Sunnis of eastern and southern Syria and western Iraq will happily go back under the thumb of Assad in Syria and the Tehran-dominated government in Baghdad, that’s just not realistic. That’s just laying the groundwork for another conflict.”
“So when you see Assad up there taking these kinds of actions, this requires a strategic response by the United States,” said Bolton. “I think the president, by saying Assad ‘crossed many, many lines,’ he had to be remembering Barack Obama’s famous ‘red line’ on the chemical weapons. Why did Obama not act when Syria crossed that red line? Because he had cut a deal with the Russians to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons capability. Well, that really worked out well, didn’t it?”
“I think that’s a lesson for the new administration on what it’s like to deal with Russia and what their word is worth and what it’s like to deal with the Assad regime. So I wouldn’t be surprised in the next days if there’s a U.S. military strike against Syria’s air force, which carried out this latest chemical attack, but it should be coupled with a demand that Russia dismantle the airbase at Latakia that the Obama administration negligently allowed Russia to construct. Say to Russia, ‘The best place to protect your forces is deep within the Russian heartland,’” he recommended.
Bolton believed “all the evidence from people on the ground” points to Syrian culpability for the chemical weapons attack.
“I think additional intelligence is being gathered, and I think we need to have as much evidence as we can,” he added. “But look at what the Russian answer was: that somehow Syria had bombed, purely by coincidence, a chemical weapons factory in the hands of the opposition.” “Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m one of those who’s not very sympathetic with many of the opposition factions, which are themselves radicals and no friends of the United States,” he hastened to add. “This is a very complex multi-sided conflict.”
“What we need to recognize is that as the Trump administration pursues a more vigorous effort to destroy ISIS, which I think is entirely justified and more and more urgent to prevent ISIS terrorists from attacking us in the West, you have to do it in a way that minimizes the upside for Iran, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah, the other main competitors in the region – because that simply keys them up for the next conflict against our friends and allies like Jordan, Israel, and the oil-producing monarchies of the Arabian peninsula,” he warned.
“That’s why I think a strategic response here, not just a knee-response against the Assad regime, but fitting it into a bigger picture, could be very important,” Bolton said.
Kassam noted there was some confusion about Assad’s use of forbidden chemical weapons at this stage in the Syrian civil war, “knowing full well that the international response, and certainly the American response, would probably be pretty robust.”
“I don’t think he believes that,” Bolton countered. “The response to his use of chemical weapons in the past has been nonexistent. The Cameron government in Great Britain couldn’t even get a majority in Parliament to authorize the use of force. Barack Obama made his famous red line comment and then walked away from it. And then the Russians came and saved his bacon even beyond that. Again, and followed by statements from senior American officials within the past week that Assad’s reality, we’re just going to have to deal with it.”
He recalled Dean Acheson “drawing the American defense perimeter in the Western Pacific in the late 1940s and inconveniently leaving out South Korea – followed on June 25, 1950, by the North Korean invasion.”
“You’ve got to be very careful what you say in international affairs,” he advised. “I’m not saying it was an automatic causal factor, but I think Assad’s view was he could do it and get away with it, based on the past five years of American inaction.”
He said it was “entirely possible” the Syrian regime thought it was hitting military targets with the attack, but “that does not excuse the use of chemical weapons.”
“This is something we have been saying since the Nixon administration, that these weapons of mass destruction are unacceptable. Syria itself signed the chemical weapons convention, although it’s been in violation of it, right from the start,” Bolton observed.
“This is something that affects all of our friends in the region – possibly Jordan, possibly Israel. Terrorists could get hold of these chemical weapons,” he warned.
“Chemical and biological weapons are often called the ‘poor man’s nuclear weapon’ because by definition they’re easier and less costly to produce,” Bolton elaborated. “We focus primarily on nuclear weapons as the main proliferation threat – I’ll certainly plead guilty to that – but we should never forget the danger to innocent civilians in America, in Europe, from terrorists who get their hands on chemical and biological weapons. This is something al-Qaeda, we know from documents recovered from their caves in Afghanistan, has as a priority.”
“The Assad regime has long been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and now they’ve proven they’re terrorists themselves,” he declared.
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