Bolton Says Obama ‘Basically Doesn’t Care About’ Foreign Policy, Compares Him to Dukakis

By Christopher Neefus | January 31, 2011 | 4:01am EST

John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is a favorite of foreign policy conservatives. (AP File Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

(  - Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Friday that President Barack Obama “basically doesn’t care about” foreign affairs, considering them ancillary to his domestic agenda. He said he thinks Obama’s view of the United States’ role in the world is comparable to that of failed presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

“I think the most significant aspect of the president’s approach to foreign and national security policy is that he basically doesn’t care about it,” Bolton said in a Capitol Hill speech organized by the Defense Forum Foundation.

He later added that he thought Obama could be compared to Gov. Michael Dukakis, in that both see the U.S. as “one of 192, nothing particularly special.”

Bolton was assessing the Obama administration’s foreign policy performance over the past two years and outlining challenges for the remaining two years of the president’s term. The former ambassador under President George W. Bush said his estimation of Obama’s disinterest in foreign and national security policy sets him apart from most other presidents in the modern era.

“I think this marks him as different from the long line of American presidents since Franklin Roosevelt beginning on December the 7th (of) 1941, virtually all of whom got up every morning worrying about threats to American national security policy,” Bolton told the group, including several U.S. ambassadors who had gathered to hear him speak.

“It motivated them. It was the top of their agenda. I just don’t think that’s the priority that President Obama has,” he said.

“Not that he doesn’t ever deal with foreign and national security policy—of course, he does, but typically only when he has to and when it can’t be avoided. And you get the sense it’s almost an interference—a nuisance—in the way of his pursuit of his domestic agenda.

Bolton gave low marks to Obama’s handling of virtually every major foreign policy concern on the United States’ radar.

He said the administration’s visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao was “remarkably substance free” and that they lack a “grand strategy” for handling relations with China.

“What I just said about China I could also say about a resurgent Russia,” Bolton added, criticizing Obama’s focus on a nuclear arms treaty with them instead of confronting them on their aggressive posture toward the U.S.

President Barack Obama gestures during his joint news conference with China's President Hu Jintao, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“As the Russians behave in a nearly belligerent fashion, our response is to limit our offensive nuclear weapons capabilities in a way that constrains us that does not equally constrain Russia,” he said of the new START treaty that the Senate ratified in December 2010.

He also called North Korea a “prison camp inhabited by 23 million people” and said the U.S. stance toward them, which was initially a willingness to negotiate with dictator Kim Jong-Il, is “a policy of complete naiveté in my view, and it’s been treated as such by the intended recipients on the other side.”

Turning to the Middle East, where unrest has spread across the region in the past several days, Bolton said the Obama administration’s initial response to the uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been “confused.”

The White House seemed to be taking a wait-and-see approach before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a statement on Friday critical of Mubarak’s efforts to tamp down on demonstrators, without endorsing regime change.

Finally, Bolton characterized the Obama administration as having “spent two years wandering the world looking for some Iranian official to shake hands with,” again slamming their attempts at outreach with a belligerent dictatorship.

Bolton linked many of the problems he sees to what he thinks is Obama’s hesitance to take decisive action, instead being content to have the United States’ position “subsumed” into a larger group stance.

Obama “is a very strong believer in multilateralism—both through the United Nations, the G20, other multilateral groups that – he’s very comfortable subsuming American leadership into larger collective action” Bolton told his audience.

“It reminds me very much of what George H.W. Bush said back in 1988 when he accepted the Republican nomination for president and talked about his opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis,” Bolton said.

“Bush 41 said back then, referring to Dukakis, said, ‘He sees America as another pleasant country on the United Nations roll call somewhere out there between Albania and Zimbabwe,’ and I think what Bush said about Dukakis you could say about Obama. We’re one of 192, nothing particularly special, and that that’s really what motivates him,” he added.

Bolton, who said he “hopes” the Obama presidency will end after a single term, has been hinting that he could make a presidential run in 2012, if only to force other candidates to address foreign affairs, which he believes have been pushed out of focus by major domestic initiatives.

“I wanted to just take the opportunity here of being halfway – at least I hope we are half way—through the Obama presidency to review what has happened internationally in the first two years,” he said. “Because I think while the media and the president himself have tried to focus on domestic affairs, the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us to get our economic house in order.”

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