National Security Vital in 2008 Race, Says John Bolton

By Matt Purple | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the upcoming presidential election will have enormous consequences for America's national security, and he warned against electing anyone who would not take an aggressive stance towards America's foreign enemies.

"If we make the wrong decision in 2008, just as if we had made the wrong decision in 2001, it's our security and our safety that will suffer and our future that will be in jeopardy," he said.

He made the remarks last Tuesday in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where Bolton is a senior fellow. Bolton was promoting his new book, "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations," which was released Nov. 6.

The former UN ambassador stopped short of endorsing a candidate. But he admitted that he had published his book to help spur discussion during the presidential race.

"I felt that it was important, in advance of the 2008 presidential election season, to talk about the story of how American foreign policy has been made during the Bush administration both at the State Department and the United Nations," he said.

"Surrender Is Not an Option" is a critique of the operating policies of the United Nations and U.S. diplomatic apparatus. Bolton served under six secretaries of state before receiving an interim appointment to the position of UN ambassador by President Bush after contentious Senate hearings.

Bolton harshly criticized the U.N. and said a number of reforms were necessary before the organization could operate effectively, particularly in terms of funding.

"[T]he single most important reform we need at the U.N. is to change the way that the U.N. is financed, to get a system of purely voluntary contributions so that the United States can put its money where it's going to be most effective," he said.

He blasted former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "simply not up to the job," and said that in choosing Annan's replacement, a crucial consideration had been "to find somebody who didn't wake up every morning and think he was God's gift to humanity."

"And I would say in that task we succeeded," he added, referring to current U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is more highly regarded in conservative diplomatic circles than Annan.

Bolton also critiqued the State Department, contending that it had become ineffective and overly politicized, intent on pursuing failed policies.

"We need a State Department that's not embarrassed by the United States," he said.

A 'most disturbing event'

Bolton also criticized the Bush administration. In particular, he noted its silence about Israel's discovery of an apparent nuclear facility near the Euphrates River in Syria -- a find that Bolton called "the most disturbing event of recent American history."

On Sept. 6, the Israelis attacked the complex in an air raid.

"From what we can piece together, there is very substantial reason to believe that there were North Koreans present at this facility and that indeed this facility had been under construction for some number of years with substantial North Korean assistance," Bolton said.

Overhead aerial photographs of the site before it was bombed indicated that the facility's dimensions were consistent with North Korea's nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and that the shape of the buildings was also similar. North Korea recently announced that it plans to freeze activity at its Yongbyon site.

"The notion that there could be a joint venture between Syria and North Korea in the nuclear field is about as chilling as I can imagine," said Bolton.

But not everyone agrees that clear conclusions can be drawn from the photo images.

"You can look at North Korea's [reactor] buildings, and they look like nothing," John E. Pike, director of, told The Washington Post. "They're just metal-skinned industrial buildings."

Legions of critics

Bolton's aggressive foreign policy ideas and inflammatory rhetoric have made him a favorite in neo-conservative circles. But many liberal Democrats and doves have criticized him.

So controversial was Bolton, Democrats stalled his nomination for UN ambassador for four months until President Bush gave him an interim appointment to the position. Bolton served as ambassador for a year before retiring.

Particularly controversial was a statement Bolton made in 1994 about the allegedly overbearing bureaucracy of the UN, a comment that many interpreted as disrespectful.

Bolton had said: "If the UN Secretary Building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

During the nomination scuffle, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) called Bolton a "seriously flawed and weakened candidate." Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said Bolton was "the poster child of what somewhat in the diplomatic corps should not be."

Bolton also stepped on toes during his years at the State Department. Some have contended that he was unduly harsh and aggressive in his behavior with other diplomats. Carl Ford, former director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, called Bolton a "quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."

Bolton dismissed such attacks, saying that he has always acted realistically and is hardly a warmonger.

"This debate is between two separate camps," he said. "One camp holds that in the resolution of international disputes, negotiations should be used 99 and 44/100ths percent of the time -- that's the group I belong to -- versus the group who says that negotiations should be used 100 percent of the time."

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