John Bolton Looks Ahead to 2012

by Robert Costa

Washington — John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, continues to seriously consider a 2012 presidential run. “National-security issues have to be brought back to center stage,” he tells National Review Online. “In the 2012 campaign, the president has to be confronted with these failings. Citizens will need to make a clear choice.”

Whoever wins the GOP nomination, Bolton says they will need to “stand up” to Obama on foreign policy. The fall 2012 debates, he predicts, will be the “real test . . . that’s what it comes down to. 

“There will be at least one debate entirely on foreign and national-security policy,” Bolton says. “Let’s face it, Obama gives a good speech. After four years of practicing, he’ll almost look like a commander-in-chief. So if the Republican nominee isn’t capable of going toe-to-toe with him, we’re going to come away second-best on an issue where we should absolutely have people’s attention.”

Does Bolton see Sarah Palin as a strong potential nominee? “I don’t know enough about her views on foreign policy to comment, but the Republican field is filled with people who would be better than Obama on foreign policy,” he says.

“We have to acknowledge that Obama goes into the 2012 campaign with a huge advantage, having been commander-in-chief,” Bolton says. “He will have the pictures from, for example, his most recent visit to Afghanistan. He will be able to talk the talk. What we need is a candidate who can show that despite the glitz and the glamour, he has not walked the walk. That is the key.”

Bolton says the issue of China should be an important one come 2012. “This administration, and the Bush administration in its later years, badly handled China — handled it badly on North Korea’s nuclear program and its trade manipulation, including its ongoing discrimination against foreign business and investors. Both administrations have been too deferential to China in dealings across the full spectrum of issues. China’s assertiveness — its build-up of its strategic weapons and ballistic-missile forces, its near belligerence in making extravagant territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, trying to keep us out of military exercises in international waters in the Yellow Sea — all of these things demonstrate a China that does not think, as of now, that it faces much pushback from the United States. We need to show that that’s wrong and have a broader strategy in dealing with China beyond just worrying about how much of our national debt they hold.”

How would a Bolton administration handle the defense budget? “There is no excuse for waste, fraud, and abuse in the Defense Department budget,” he says. “The next Republican administration ought to make waste, fraud, and abuse there just as much a priority as elsewhere in the federal government. But it is fundamentally wrong to say that a dollar well spent on defense is no different than a dollar well spent in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, or something else. [Defense] is absolutely critical to holding the ring, to protecting America from external threats so that we can do what we need to do in terms of the domestic economy. Calls for across-the-board budget cuts, including the defense department, are badly misguided.”

On the congressional front, Bolton is taking a wait-and-see approach to the freshman class of Tea Party–influenced Republicans. “I don’t think we know enough about the [foreign-policy] opinions of all the new members, since they focused in their campaigns on budget, fiscal, and tax-and-spend issues. So we’ll have to see how it unfolds.” he says. “But my guess is that the overwhelming majority of them believe that there is a constitutionally mandated role for the government to protect us against foreign threats. I think that the most likely outcome is that they will continue to support a robust American international presence — not to benefit others, but to benefit us.”

Turning to the New START treaty debate, Bolton has praise for how Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) has handled the negotiations. “I think Jon Kyl has done the best job that he could under relentless pressure from an ideologically motivated administration,” he says. “At a time when we face the risk of nuclear-weapons threats from North Korea, perhaps from Iran, and a rising China, to focus on a bilateral agreement with Russia is such old thinking that it’s hard to believe that anybody has fallen for it, but a lot of people have. So I think Kyl has done the best he can with a very difficult hand.” Pointing out that the treaty will bind the U.S. to the policy for years to come, Bolton believes that there is “simply no question that we should put this off until next year and press the administration for answers on the many, many questions to which they have not responded.”

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