The Optimistic Mr. Bolton


I just got out of a roundtable with former UN Ambassador John Bolton sponsored by The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform. A few things that came up…

– I asked Bolton to assess our response to Pakistan's crisis and whether supporting Musharaff was at odds with our stated goal of promoting democracy. "You've got a situation where America's interests and values are not congruent," Bolton said. "What's our strategic priority? It's ensuring that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan's arsenal don't fall into the wrong hands. Unhappily, in the near term, we have to rely on Musharraf." And he rejected the idea that we were necessarily undermining "democracy" by backing Musharraf, because Benazir Bhutto has a bit of the thug in her: "You know what her title is? Chairperson for life. This is not a conflict between democracy, on the one hand, with a bunch of people in white hats, and martial law, on the other hand, with a bunch of people in black hats."

– Grover Norquist asked (twice) to find "a diamond in the coal": the greatest legacy of the Bush administration. Bolton, answered, twice, that this was the Proliferation Security Initiative. Paul Mirengoff of Powerline pointed out that he didn't mention Iraq. Bolton said removing Saddam Hussein was a "strategic victory" but "where we went wrong was in the phase after… we would have been better off to turn affairs over to Iraqis much more quickly, not to have become an occupying power, not to become part of the problem. You don't enhance people's political maturation by making their decisions for them."

Bolton expanded on that thought: "The evidence is now clear that Republican administrations are no better at nation-building than Democratic administrations, which tells me that we're no good at nation-building. We should focus on building our own nation." I think he's said this before, but it was striking in a roundtable where he was arguing that we could bomb Iran's nuclear sites and eventually overthrow the regime. So I asked him on the way out: What did we learn from our nation-building adventure in Iraq that could inform what we do in Iran? If we attack, "we need to make it clear that is not aimed at the people in Iran, but aimed at the Mullahs." I pointed out that this is what we said we were doing when we took out Saddam: "Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country." It didn't make the occupation any easier. "The problem with Iraq is that we stayed and we stayed too long."