BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, why did you call your book ”Surrender Is Not an Option?”
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N., AUTHOR, ”SURRENDER IS NOT AN OPTION”: That was actually the choice of the editor. In the opening scene, I talk about how I spent election night in 1964 at the Goldwater for President headquarters in Catonsville, Maryland.
And Goldwater’s loss was a big shock to me, showing I didn’t have a career as a political prognosticator, I suppose. And I wondered how to react to the loss of the Goldwater campaign, given the way he was treated, and the like.
And I concluded that section by saying, ”Surrender was not an option.” So, 33-odd years ago, I guess that was an attitude the publisher thought might make sense for a title.
LAMB: What impact did it have on you that your father was a fireman and that your mom was a housewife?
BOLTON: Well, I think I grew up with the values of working class America. And I think - although they never considered themselves at the time - they were people that would be characterized later as Reagan Democrats. And so, I think I learned a lot from that kind of background.
LAMB: What does it mean to be a Reagan Democrat?
BOLTON: Well, I think people who - demographically, the economic determinists of history would say that working class people ought to be leftist in their economic views and progressive in their social views.
And that certainly didn’t characterize my parents, or a lot of other blue collar Americans who believed in a strong national defense, a strong American role in the world. I think I certainly picked up a lot of that from them.
LAMB: Explain, though. Your father was a member of a union.
LAMB: And how did that track with his views?
BOLTON: Well, I think - he was a public employee for most of his career, a firefighter for the City of Baltimore. And he felt very strongly that firefighters ought to have better economic circumstances, and that’s what the union worked for.
But he also felt very strongly that unions shouldn’t strike - public employee unions shouldn’t strike.
So, when he saw the example in the 1960s of teachers’ unions striking, he was very put off by that. The teachers were college educated. Compared to a firefighter, they had a pretty cushy job. And he didn’t like the idea that they violated what he considered to be his public trust. And they were rewarded for it.
So, as I say in the book, he may not have heard of Calvin Coolidge’s famous remark when he was governor of Massachusetts, that there’s no right to strike against the public safety, but he certainly believed it.
LAMB: You say your father was relatively quiet, but your mother wasn’t.
LAMB: What was she like?
BOLTON: Well, she was a woman of strong opinions, and she was fairly vocal about them. And I suppose that had an influence on me, as well.
LAMB: Do you think you’re a man of strong opinions and fairly vocal?
BOLTON: Well, I think it’s - when you’re in the pubic discourse, which is what I’ve spent a lot of my career doing - I think it’s important to be able to articulate your views clearly.
I think I was trained that way as a litigator. You have to be able to persuade judges and juries. And if you get lost in the complexities of your client’s position, it’s hard to persuade other people.
So, clarity of thinking and clarity of expression, I think are important.
LAMB: Your mom and dad didn’t go to - or did they do to high school, or they didn’t graduate?
BOLTON: They had some. They didn’t graduate, right.
LAMB: And you say that it’s not - the gene that you got came from your parents, but it’s not because they were educated.
BOLTON: Well, I think, if to explain how I was able to go to college and law school, you can’t rely on connections or family background, or any of that.
The genetic point, I think, is that they were very intelligent people, and it’s reflected in me, because they gave me the opportunity, in a sense, they didn’t have.
LAMB: So, you have that whole scenario in there where you were in public school and then you went to private school. And you talk also about going to libraries all the time.
Where did all that start?
BOLTON: Well, I think that was, you know, my mother and father encouraging me - pushing me, if you will - to do it. And I certainly enjoyed reading and learning. It didn’t take much persuasion after a while, I suppose.
LAMB: What about school, the change from public to private?
BOLTON: I think the education in the school where I got a scholarship to - McDonogh, outside of Baltimore - was very intense. It was a very highly regarded school, and still is in the state of Maryland. And there was a lot of competition, which I think I - fortunately for me - thrived on.
LAMB: When did you - you worked for Goldwater. You were how old at the time?
LAMB: When did you have the early views that you had? And do you still hold them to today? And what are they?
BOLTON: Well, I think, obviously, it was a process of learning. But they certainly weren’t fixed at a particular point and never changed.
But as part of one of the courses I took in the ninth grade, I read political philosophy, and recall reading the ”Communist Manifesto” and other works by Marx and Engels, and being appalled by them.
So, unlike a lot of people who read the ”Communist Manifesto” and think it’s wonderful, I had exactly the opposite reaction. And I think it drove me in the direction of what today we call libertarian thinking - reliance on individual achievement and individualism, as opposed to its opposite - collectivism, reliance on the state. And the philosophy evolved over a period of time in that direction.
LAMB: Why were you reading the ”Communist Manifesto?” Who put it in your hands?
BOLTON: Well, that was one of the things, I think, in this course, looking at a variety of different political philosophies - just one of the things that the teacher or the curriculum put in front of me. And so, I read it and had a very negative reaction.
LAMB: Another name that pops up early in the book is James Buckley. Why?
BOLTON: Buckley was the first successful Conservative Party of New York, statewide candidate - at least at the national level - when he ran for the Senate in 1970.
And I had been a longtime admirer of his brother, William F. Buckley, Jr. I had read National Review, had been a distant supporter of Buckley’s when he ran for mayor of New York, unsuccessfully, in 1965.
And James Buckley, as it turned out, was one of my first important clients, when he and Eugene McCarthy and a very disparate coalition of liberal and conservative politicians joined to challenge the post-Watergate campaign finance reform law in a case that became known as Buckley v. Valeo, decided by the Supreme Court in 1976.
LAMB: What was the genesis of that case?
BOLTON: Basically, Buckley, McCarthy and all of our plaintiffs, felt that the post-Watergate campaign law was a way of locking in incumbents by putting limits on contributions, expenditures by candidates, independent expenditures by having public financing for presidential elections. It was a way of protecting incumbents, of strengthening their already very strong position.
And they felt that the best way for politics to be fought out was in free and open competition, including in the raising and spending of money.
Ralph Winter, who was one of my professors at Yale Law School, basically had been articulating the First Amendment argument that money is speech, and that restrictions on the flow of money in campaigns are analogous to restrictions on speech itself. And that was the argument that we took to the Supreme Court.
It had a mixed result, in that the Court struck down expenditure limits and limits on individual contributions to a person’s own campaign and limits on independent expenditures, but upheld contribution limits. And that dichotomy and the result we’re still living with today.
I think the only clear constitutional result is to strike all the limits down.
LAMB: Go back to the - you’re in high school, and you end up in Yale - or at Yale - for your college and then your law school.
How did you get into Yale?
BOLTON: The same way everybody else did. I applied and took the SATs. And Yale’s decision-making did whatever Yale’s decision-making did. And I ended up with the offer, so I accepted it.
LAMB: But when you paint the scenario of who was there at the time - George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Bork was teaching, and others - what was the atmosphere like? And you got involved in a conservative newspaper.
BOLTON: Well, the atmosphere at Yale in the late ’60s among the faculty was very, very liberal. That was true of both Yale College and then Yale Law School in the early ’70s when I went there, so it was a challenge for somebody of my views. But it was also very stimulating, and I think was productive in terms of my intellectual development.
So, while it was difficult in some respects, I think it was positive in others.
LAMB: Did you know George Bush?
BOLTON: I did not at the time. I did not.
LAMB: But you did know Clarence Thomas.
BOLTON: I did. We were law school classmates and, in fact, lived in the same apartment complex for married student housing at Yale.
LAMB: In his book he talks about you. In your book you talk about him.
You both started back there in law school together. You’re both somewhat controversial. Do you ever talk about this?
BOLTON: Well, I think we joke about it from time to time. He traveled, I think, a farther philosophical journey in his time at the law school than I did, but because we were living in the same place and took many of the same classes together, we used to talk all the time about whatever issue was in the newspapers or whatever cases we were studying in our classes.
LAMB: Give me a quick scenario of what jobs you’ve had. Let’s go through the law firms - very quickly, so people can know how you got to be ambassador to the U.N.
BOLTON: Well, after I graduated from law school, I was an associate at Covington and Burling, which is a large, prominent Washington firm. And I eventually went back to Covington as a partner during the mid-1970s.
But when Reagan was elected in 1980, I thought this was a great opportunity to work in the government, so I had various jobs at the Agency for International Development, which is our bilateral foreign aid program. I then went to the Justice Department to work for Ed Meese and Dick Thornburg. When Bush 41 was elected in 1988, I went to work for Jim Baker at the State Department.
During the long period of the Clinton administration, I was out during other things at the American Enterprise Institute and other activities.
And then I came back into the government in the Bush 43 administration, first as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and then, after about four years in that job, went up to the U.N.
LAMB: You write a lot about your U.N. experience, but when you think back on it, what’s lasting in your memory, right away?
BOLTON: I think the resolution that imposed sanctions on North Korea after its nuclear weapons test in October of 2006, is probably the principal memory. I think that was a significant achievement. And I think it had some bite, as demonstrated by the fact that North Korea’s U.N. ambassador walked out of the Security Council chamber after the council adopted the sanctions unanimously.
LAMB: Go back to the whole business of trying to get confirmed. You were first nominated by President Bush to be U.N. ambassador when?
BOLTON: That was in the early part of 2005. There were a series of hearings. And the struggle continued through the summer of 2005, and I was given the recess appointment on August the 1st.
LAMB: Did you want that job?
BOLTON: I thought it would be an interesting job. I thought there were other positions I would have liked, as well. But there’s no doubt that that was a job that was attractive.
LAMB: What changed - from the time you were nominated and then eventually got the job by recess appointment, and then left - about your attitude about the U.N.?
BOLTON: Very little, really. I think during my career, going back to 1981, I’ve been involved with the U.N. in one way or another - studying it, dealing with it in the Bush 41 administration.
Everybody comes to the job of U.N. ambassador with a certain background, a certain familiarity with some things and lack of familiarity with the other. For reasons largely coincidental, I think, to getting the job, I had spent a lot of my career studying in or working on U.N. matters.
So, while there are certainly many, many things in foreign policy that I’ve not dealt with extensively, I had with the U.N. So, in a way, I knew where the skeletons were. I knew where the bodies were buried. And much of what I had thought previously was confirmed during my 16 months in New York.
LAMB: You say that we paid 27 percent of the U.N. dues?
BOLTON: For peacekeeping. Twenty-two percent for most of the rest of the assessed budgets.
BOLTON: That is because of a complex historical formula that has been derived over the years. Our share has actually come down since 1945, but it’s still far and away the largest share of the assessed contributions.
It’s one of the problems, I think, for the United States at the U.N., because our payment of this large percentage has become treated by many other countries as an entitlement. And I think it actually reduces our influence in the organization, rather than enhancing it.
LAMB: I was looking around on the Web for U.N. stuff. And I found the U.N. Web site, and then, the political department of political affairs. Do you know what that is?
BOLTON: Right. That’s one of the major departments at the U.N. It, together with the Department of Peacekeeping Affairs, or DPKA, are the two that really handle international dispute resolution. They were once one department. They were split some years ago. There’s a lot of overlap between the two.
But that’s an important element of the U.N. Secretariat.
LAMB: As I was reading it, there were some questions I wanted to ask you. Here’s one that’s - let’s see if I - it says, as new or restored democracies. As part of its multifaceted support for building democracy around the world, the United Nations has been supporting and participating in the process of holding international conferences - new or restored democracies.
Is it a mission of the U.N. to create democracies? And if it is, what’s China doing on the permanent council?
BOLTON: Well, I think this is part of the problem with the structures of the U.N. as they’ve developed over the years. They tend to get involved in a lot of different issues in a very broad, disparate set of fields, without having much impact in any of them.
So, it’s a big deal at the U.N. to hold a conference, and encouraging people to attend and discuss different subjects. Whether that actually accomplishes anything in the real world, of course, is a very different question.
LAMB: You say in your book that an awful lot of attention is played - an inordinate amount of attention is played or focused on Africa.
LAMB: Why is it too much?
BOLTON: The Security Council, by looking at the resolutions they pass, presidential statements they make, in the past couple of years, 60 percent of the Security Council’s output has been on African matters.
That’s not to say that African issues are not important. But the Security Council’s role in the U.N. Charter is to protect international peace and security. And while there are many, many challenges in Africa, I don’t think it’s fair to say that 60 percent of the threats to international peace and security come from Africa.
I think they come more broadly from international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, where the Security Council has been singularly ineffective in dealing with those issues.
And even in Africa - and I go through this in some detail in the chapter on Africa - even with all of that involvement in African peacekeeping matters, most of the disputes - the overwhelming number that the U.N. has become involved in - do not get resolved. So that even from the perspective of Africa, the concentration of attention that the Security Council has given has not led to a solution of the underlying problems. In many respects, the U.N.’s involvement simply perpetuates and extends those problems.
LAMB: Why, do you think?
BOLTON: I think because the decision-making mechanisms of the U.N., at best - at best - reflect the international geopolitical reality. And in many cases, they don’t function even that well, because within the U.N. there are other agendas at stake - by the member governments and by the Secretariat - that are not conducive to problem-solving.
This is not a can-do organization. People are satisfied with the status quo. In part it goes back to that 22 percent that the U.S. taxpayer pays, and because there’s no metric for success.
LAMB: Is the U.N. corrupt?
BOLTON: The U.N. has a lot of corruption. I think the best answer to that question was given by Paul Volcker, who was brought in by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to look at the Oil for Food Program, and did a very extensive report on the corruption and mismanagement that he and his commission saw in the Oil for Food Program.
At a Senate hearing in the fall of 2005, Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota asked Volcker, ”Do you think there’s a culture of corruption at the U.N.?” And Volcker said, ”No, I don’t think there’s a culture of corruption, although there is corruption. I think there’s a culture of inaction.”
A culture of inaction. And that’s a very, very astute observation.
So, when you come to the question of corruption, and you look at what the U.N. itself has done to uncover it, to expose it, to prevent it in the future, the answer is very, very depressingly little.
LAMB: How many people do you have working when you’re there for the U.S. delegation?
BOLTON: Well, the number varies at different times. At the beginning of September, when the General Assembly convenes, a lot of people come to New York. But there are about 150, 160 people who are at the U.S. mission, more or less on a full-time basis, including - a little known fact - a total of five American ambassadors.
LAMB: How about what they’re paid compared to what people make in the U.S. government?
BOLTON: Well, this is actually a problem for the U.S. government in staffing the mission in New York. You know, when the Foreign Service goes overseas, they receive kind of compensating salaries for housing and allowances. But because the mission to the U.N. is in an American city and not overseas, they don’t receive, by and large, the same kind of job enhancement that they do in other positions.
So, young Foreign Service officers, by and large, don’t - particularly with families - don’t find New York attractive, because of the high cost of living without, basically, the compensation to make it more bearable.
LAMB: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it. What’s the secretary-general get?
BOLTON: That is - it’s a substantial amount. To tell you the truth, I don’t know the number offhand.
LAMB: Is it public?
BOLTON: Oh, I’m sure it is. But it’s not something that I could give you off the top of my head.
LAMB: What goes on at the U.N. that is not public?
BOLTON: Too much, frankly.
I used to think that there was a real advantage in not having Security Council meetings in public, that we’d have a lot of the discussion in private, and then we’d go out and do the formal session.
The longer I stayed, the more I became convinced that we ought to have more of our discussions in public, because so much of what happened, even in the closed sessions, was highly stylized. And what that means is, there’s a breakdown of the decision-making capability of the Security Council.
If all that happens in meetings is - whether they’re open to the press or not open to the press - is that people go in and read statements, you’re not going accomplish anything in the meetings. So that the pictures you see of the Security Council on television, the public sessions are more scripted than most evenings at the New York theater.
And even what are called informal meetings, which are the non-public meetings, are scripted, to the point where the Security Council now sometimes have what they call ”informal informal meetings,” where you don’t even meet in the Security Council’s private chamber.
I think what that shows is that it’s harder and harder to deal with real-world situations. I can give you one particular example.
Before the North Koreans exploded their nuclear weapon in October of last year, they actually gave public notice. We knew three or four days in advance that a nuclear detonation was coming.
And one of the things that U.N. supporters have said for years is that the U.N. is very good at preventive diplomacy, of engaging in diplomacy before there’s a conflict, that can prevent hostilities or other things like that from breaking out.
So, in this meeting of the Security Council, which I asked for and the Japanese ambassador asked for, I said, ”Look. Here’s our chance to engage in preventative diplomacy. What are we going to do to persuade North Korea not to conduct this nuclear test?”
There was literally silence in the room. No other ambassador signed up to speak.
And in the three or four days between that meeting and the actual test, we had no preventative diplomacy. I thought that was significant.
LAMB: Why should we try to prevent other countries from having what we have?
BOLTON: Because not all countries are equal. And some countries are real threats, particularly countries run by governments like Kim Jong Il’s in North Korea, or the autocratic theocracy in Tehran. Their possession of nuclear weapons poses a threat to us, to our friends and neighbors, and international peace and security.
That’s why it’s important to try to prevent these governments from getting nuclear weapons in the first place, because once they have them, the calculus changes dramatically.
LAMB: But don’t we have a different attitude toward India and Pakistan and Israel when it comes to nuclear weapons, compared to what we think of Korea and Tehran?
BOLTON: Well, I think North Korea is different from Israel. And I think that the idea that nuclear weapons in the hands of - all states are fundamentally the same is just wrong.
I trust Israel with nuclear weapons the same way I trust Great Britain with nuclear weapons.
There are problem states that - like the situation between India and Pakistan, because of the circumstances of those two countries - the wars they’ve fought since independence and the risk that a nuclear-capable Pakistan and India might have another military conflict that could escalate to nuclear weapons.
I don’t think you handle each country that aspires to nuclear weapons the same way. Although I think that as a general proposition, the United States is better off with fewer and fewer countries having nuclear weapons.
LAMB: Somebody said somewhere - it may have been in your book - that you might be the most controversial U.N. ambassador that’s ever been representing of the United States?
BOLTON: Well, I think there are partisans of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan that might take exception to that. But I suppose that’s for others to judge.
LAMB: If you had two people sitting in a room - say yourself and somebody who thinks the U.N. is the greatest - where do the two different people come from? What’s the basis of what they think?
If you really like the U.N., what do you think it does?
BOLTON: I suspect that the difference there is between a comparison of the aspirational view of the U.N. and the concrete reality - the comparison, the contrast between the two.
And I say in the book, a lot of people have a notion of the U.N. that derived when they were children - at least for the baby boom generation - of Halloween and going out and trick-or-treating for UNICEF. And a very commendable thing to do - especially when you’re not getting the candy that you might otherwise get, although I suppose that’s one reason parents encouraged it so much - but the idea that UNICEF and the humanitarian agencies at the U.N. are doing positive things for people around the world.
And there’s no doubt, I think, that the U.N.’s humanitarian side - its protection of refugees, things like the World Food Program, the HIV/AIDS program - all do very good work.
I think a lot of people take that attitude and apply it to the U.N. as a whole, rather than looking at the concrete results, particularly of the political decision-making bodies in New York.
If you look, for example, at the Security Council over its life since 1945, it was largely frozen out of the Cold War, because of the gridlock occasioned by the competing vetoes. So in that most critical conflict in my lifetime, in the lifetime of the U.N., the Cold War between the West and communism, the U.N. was essentially irrelevant.
The greatest threat we face today - the threat of terrorism, the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - the Security Council is coming close to the point of proving itself irrelevant in those struggles, as well.
So, if you simply talk about the aspirational possibilities of the Security Council versus its concrete record, I think that could account for much of the difference between the two attitudes you’ve mentioned.
LAMB: Did Kofi Annan have to pay any price for the Oil for Food Program?
BOLTON: I don’t think he paid much of a price. Frankly, I think history is going to have to judge that. But that’s why the Volcker report is, I think, so critical.
When Volcker came in - he said this publicly - he thought it would be a relatively minor matter to look at the problems of the Oil for Food Program, to recommend some corrections and then move on.
But what he found, the more he looked into Oil for Food, was that the corruption and the mismanagement that he saw reflected larger problems in the U.N. itself. The Oil for Food Program used U.N. personnel. It relied on U.N. practices and regulations. It reflected, in many respects, the culture of the U.N. itself.
So, the problems that Volcker identified in Oil for Food were problems that went directly to the way the U.N. was being run. And his report is scathing about the lack of attention to the largest program the U.N. has ever undertaking, the lack of attention it got from Kofi Annan and from other high U.N. officials.
But I don’t think people drew - many people drew - the logical conclusion from that, which was that the buck ought to stop on the secretary-general’s desk, and that if that program was rife with corruption and mismanagement, as it was, that it was ultimately the secretary-general’s responsibility.
LAMB: Were you a supporter of President Bush’s move into Iraq?
BOLTON: I was. I felt that eliminating Saddam Hussein’s regime was correct. And I think that was a reflection of congressional legislation and resolutions from the late 1990s, where bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress declared it was U.S. national policy to change the regime in Baghdad.
LAMB: What grade would you give the exercise now?
BOLTON: I think you have to look at this through the prism of two separate analytical questions. First, was it right to overthrow Saddam Hussein? And second, how have we done in the four-plus years since the overthrow?
The answer to the first analytical question, knowing everything we know today, is still unquestionably, in my mind, that it was the right thing to do.
It was the regime itself in Baghdad that posed the threat to international peace and security. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. He had used chemical weapons against his own citizens, the Kurds, in repressing their rebellions.
He had a demonstrated capability and an inclination to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And there’s no doubt that, once freed of U.N. inspectors and sanctions, he would have returned to that.
He kept together his nuclear scientists and technicians. He called them his nuclear mujahedeen. These were the people - 1,000, roughly, in number - who had the intellectual capability to recreate the nuclear weapons program.
So, the elimination of that regime, I think was critical for our peace and security and that of our friends and allies. And I have no doubts that making sure that the regime was changed was the right thing to do.
Now, coming to the second question, how have we done since then, the answer is, not all that well. I don’t think it’s any point in debating that we’re not in a happy position in Iraq today.
I think we’ve learned from that four-year period, though, that in hindsight, we would have been a lot better off to turn responsibility for managing Iraq back over to Iraqis much more quickly.
I think today we have a strategic interest in Iraq, in making sure that no part of the country is used as a base for international terrorism.
I do not think we have a strategic interest in what kind of government ultimately rules in Baghdad, so long as our strategic interest in preventing the country from being used as a base for terrorism is carried through.
LAMB: If you were of draft age, or if you were of military age, would you go there to fight?
BOLTON: I think at this point, it’s - the American interest is very limited. And I don’t - I can’t really answer that question directly.
I wish we had been in a position, that after the overthrow of Saddam, we could have reduced our forces, reduced our presence in the country much more substantially than we’ve been able to do.
As I said, I think we’ve all learned a lot in hindsight. But I think this is a lesson in keeping your strategic objective in mind. And the objective was the overthrow of the regime, not a project of nation-building.
I have always been skeptical of nation-building. People during the Clinton administration used to say that they were engaged in international nanny-ism, which I think is a pretty good insight.
I think we lapsed into that in Iraq. I don’t think Republican administrations are any better at it than Democratic administrations. I think every nation builds itself, basically.
And I think that - again, I confess, with the benefit of hindsight - it would have been better to let the Iraqis run their own traps, rather than our trying to do it for them.
LAMB: The reason I ask you is because you have a couple of quotes in your own book - and I found one in the ”Yale Daily News” in April of 2005 - about how you felt about Vietnam.
You say, ”I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the Vietnam War already lost.”
What about people today? This country is divided over this issue. And if you had a family - you’ve got a daughter - but if you had a - if there was a draft and your daughter had to go or your son had to go, what would you think now?
BOLTON: Well, the Vietnam point I think is important, because we did face a draft at that point. And it was a very different circumstance than I think we face with a volunteer army today.
I believe the current policy, the surge policy, is the right policy to pursue. But I also think it’s clear there’s a limit to how long Americans can be asked to do the work that should be done fundamentally by a government in Iraq, to provide security for the Iraqi people and law enforcement and the normal functions of government.
I think that’s one reason why American opinion about our military presence in Iraq is as negative as it is, because they look around and they say, why aren’t’ the Iraqis doing this? And that’s a very good question.
LAMB: Who wanted you - in the administration - to be the U.N. ambassador?
BOLTON: Well, I think, actually, Secretary Rice was the one who made that decision. I know there’s a lot of speculation about the role of Vice President Cheney.
But the fact is that - as I described in the book - I had had a conversation with Secretary Rice when she was still national security adviser, and had suggested a couple of positions to her that she had other people in mind for. But she said, ”We’d like to keep you in the administration. I’ll think about it some more and get back to you.”
And she was the one who came back and asked me about the U.N. job.
LAMB: And what was the moment - and you write about it here - the moment that you said, ”I don’t want another appointment. I don’t want to have to go through a recess again. I don’t want to have to go through the nomination process again”?
BOLTON: Well, I think, during 2005 and 2006 - basically the time that I was at the U.N. - there was an increasing range of policies that I was having trouble supporting with respect to North Korea, with respect to Iran, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And so, while I would have liked to have been confirmed in 2006 - and we came very close to achieving that - ultimately, I think, I decided that it was better to let the recess appointment run out and leave the government, rather than have another recess appointment and use the Vacancies Act to keep me in New York.
The lawyers had worked this all through. There was no doubt there was a way to do it. I think the White House was prepared to go ahead with it.
But I had to ask myself, what if I stay in New York and the policies continue to move in the wrong direction? How am I going to be able to advocate them effectively, when I don’t agree with them?
And so, I hope I made clear in the book, when I was in New York, I followed my instructions, whether I agreed with them or not. That’s what the ambassador is supposed to do. I was able to participate in the policymaking in most areas, and I appreciated that opportunity.
But fundamentally, when you’re in the administration, your job is to carry out the administration’s policy, and not to be differing from it publicly or privately with the press.
And when you get to the point where, in good conscience you can’t do that anymore, then it’s your responsibility to leave. And that’s basically the decision I came to in late 2006.
LAMB: Did you say in your book that American foreign policy is in freefall?
BOLTON: To tell you the truth, I can’t remember whether I said it in the book or I’ve said it subsequently, but that’s certainly my view.
LAMB: Why? What does that mean?
BOLTON: I think that, in the last years of any two-term presidency, you have a certain problem in the incumbent maintaining momentum and direction.
I think that problem is much worse in the Bush administration today, unfortunately, because I think in too many cases, the president has been diverted from his own instincts and beliefs. And particularly in the proliferation area, I’m quite concerned about the direction that we’re going in.
BOLTON: Because I think the president has diverged from his articulated views in his campaigns and his first term, that you don’t reward bad behavior by proliferators. You don’t encourage them by thinking that - by allowing them to think that if they persist long enough, other governments will try and find a way to buy them off.
I think there are cases - and I think Iran and North Korea are the clearest examples - of governments that are simply not going to give up their nuclear weapons capability voluntarily. And that means that chatting them out of that capability is not something that is going to happen. You need a different approach in order to deal with the problem, the ongoing security problem that these weapons of mass destruction pose.
LAMB: In your book and, for instance, in your op-ed piece that I’m looking at here from the ”Wall Street Journal,” Wednesday of this week, it appears that you’ve got a lot of things you don’t agree with in the administration.
I want to ask you a philosophical question.
When you don’t agree with an administration and you’re working for it, how do you deal with that?
BOLTON: Well, I think, as I said a moment ago, when you’re in the administration, you’re entitled to articulate your views and to take your best shot at influencing policy.
And I’d have to say, both with respect to Secretary Rice and Secretary Powell, nobody ever put me under any inhibitions about making my views known in the internal debates in the administration. I think I had every chance to do that - sometimes successfully and, in more recent years, less successfully.
As you go through the development of a particular policy, you have to make a judgment whether you’re sufficiently - you’re making a sufficient impact that you can, in your own mind and in your own conscience, justify continuing to stay in the administration, even if the policy is not the one that you would articulate.
That’s part of being in a senior position in any administration. There’s only one president. As Jim Baker liked to say, ”He’s the guy who got elected.”
And the tradeoff you make is the benefit of being able to try and influence policy inside the administration, versus the constraint of not giving voice to your opinion in public. You have to follow the administration line.
And when you can no longer square those two obligations, then I think it’s your - it’s incumbent on you to leave. And that’s what I did.
LAMB: What are the chances, in your opinion, that at least through the Bush administration, there will be an attack on Iran?
BOLTON: I don’t know the answer to that question. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said the chances are quite high.
I think the president’s now being told that he’s over-stretched, he can’t do it, he shouldn’t do it before the 2008 election, because that would influence the election. He’ll be told after the 2008 election he’s a lame duck, and he should leave it to the next president.
I don’t know what he will do. I do know what he has said for his entire incumbency. And that is, it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. And I believe that, as well.
I used to say in public, the president is a man of his word. When he says it’s unacceptable, I think what he means by that is, it’s unacceptable.
And if you follow through on that, that would mean the use of military force as a last resort - not because it’s a happy choice, but because the alternative is an Iran with nuclear weapons. And that is a very frightening prospect.
LAMB: What do you think would happen if we attacked Iran?
BOLTON: I think the consequences would be negative. I think the risks are high.
But again, the alternative is not between the world as it is now versus the use of military force against Iran. It’s the use of military force against Iran versus a world where Iran has nuclear weapons.
It would not look at all like Iraq. That’s not the kind of operation that would be required. I wish we weren’t at this point.
I think we made a mistake in following four-plus years of European diplomacy. We should have been working much harder, much longer ago to help support the dissident elements inside Iran, which are very substantial. This regime is more fragile than people think it is.
And I think that’s actually the preferred result in Iran, is regime change, where a new government - hopefully, perhaps, a democratic government - comes in and says, ”This pursuit of nuclear weapons is really not making us safer. We’re better off giving it up.”
We’ve seen that circumstance in countries like South Africa during the transition from the apartheid government to a democratic South Africa. The same possibility exists in Iran.
LAMB: I was listening to a hearing this week in which one of the government representatives said that Saudi Arabia has pledged a $500 million grant - a loan, not a grant - a loan to Iraq. But Iran has given $1 billion in a grant.
Saudi Arabia is supposed to be one of our allies. What do you think of the Saudi Arabian situation as it relates to Iran and Iraq? And why do we have this difference?
BOLTON: Well, I don’t think anybody can be happy with that kind of performance by the Saudis. The Iranians clearly have a strategic interest in destabilizing Iraq, possibly in having it split up, so they would have, in their view, dominance over the Shiite areas of the country and over the oil assets that you can find there.
I think that this is a piece, an indication of why a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake, because I think it would dramatically enhance Iran’s stature in the region.
And I think the Arab governments - largely Sunni - in the region would draw the appropriate conclusion. They can’t leave the neighborhood. We can. And if they see us leaving, they will make an accommodation with Iran.
They won’t like it, but they’re very practical people. And in order to help keep their regimes in power, they will find some kind of accommodation that allows them to stay in power, but that gives Iran political and economic hegemony - or at least much greater influence than they have even now.
LAMB: Let me go back to another subject. Anybody that watched the 2000 election returns and the results and the 37 days afterwards, can’t forget your face on television.
What does that do for you, by the way, sitting in Florida counting the chads?
BOLTON: Well, you know, if you were to tell your wife that you were going to Florida for 37 days on business, most people would be inclined to think you were really off doing something else. And for well or ill, the only thing I can say is that I was there on the television. Everybody knew exactly where I was, day in and day out.
And it was an experience, I have to say that. I probably have never been professionally on an emotional roller coaster like that. You could be positive in the morning, and by the end of the day have gone up and down three or four different times.
The best thing I think I can say from the experience is that we won. I would hate to have been a Democrat who spent that amount of time in Florida.
LAMB: Quote, ”Jimmy Baker told me last night that you kicked some ass down there in Florida. Powell” - I assume it’s Colin Powell - ”then turned quickly to the business at hand, saying, he was doing his commander’s assessment of things at State.”
You also tell the story of Jimmy Baker - if that’s what - I don’t know. What do you call him?
LAMB: Calling you and asking you to go to Florida. Where were you?
BOLTON: Well, the day after the election, I stayed up all night watching the returns, like many Americans, waiting for a result which didn’t come.
I was off to Seoul, South Korea, to do a program that the American Enterprise Institute was doing with two universities - two Korean universities.
So, I actually got to Korea - time zone differences being what they are, had left Washington Wednesday. I got to Korea Thursday evening, Korea time. And I saw that, obviously, Florida was still unresolved and that people were moving into a recount battle.
So, Friday morning I woke up - that’s Thursday night East Coast time in the United States - it was still unresolved. So I left a message in Baker’s law firm in Houston, saying that if I could be of any help - since he had been named to head the Bush effort - that I’d be happy to come back.
Friday was our program, our seminar in South Korea. I came back to my hotel room and crashed. And sometime in the middle of the night Saturday - Friday-Saturday night Korea time - Baker called me on the phone and said, ”Get your ass on a plane and get back here.”
So, that’s how I came back to spend a month in Florida.
LAMB: What do you think that did for your future?
BOLTON: Well, I think that it doesn’t hurt to be engaged in supporting the candidate who wins. I think that’s perfectly natural.
I’d not actually been involved in the campaign before that. But I did what I did, because I thought it was the right thing to do, and concluded that I did want to go into the administration, and asked Baker about it. And away we went.
LAMB: This is a quote from you in the book.
”I hadn’t spent a month in Florida to see foreign policy go in the direction it was heading.”
BOLTON: Right. Well, that’s a quote written in 2007, reflecting on how I felt at the end of 2006.
And I’m afraid many of the policies that the administration is now pursuing are policies that are just contradictory to where I thought the president was going when he was elected in 2000 for the first time.
LAMB: I don’t know. I’m not looking for you to criticize anybody, because I know that often gets you nowhere.
But I would like to have you assess the different people in the administration that you worked around, as to what they think and what their base of - you know, their thought toward foreign policy.
BOLTON: Well, Secretary Powell, I think, approached the State Department much the same way he approached his assignments in the military. And for someone like myself who is basically a policy wonk, he had a very different view of the role of the secretary, and looked at a range of issues, personnel, overseas buildings - food and forage, as he used to put it - for the department as a whole.
There’s a very interesting biography of General Eisenhower that reviews his career in the military and the approach that he used, and that basically described him as a chairman of the board who would say, ”Well, that’s a good idea. I’ll take that. And that’s a good idea. I’ll take that” - not being an idea-generator himself, but being somebody who looked to his subordinates to provide him with ideas that he would then implement.
And I think it’s - the book is by Carlo D’Este, as it comes to me - and I thought it was a very close description of General Powell’s style when he became Secretary Powell.
LAMB: Condoleezza Rice.
BOLTON: She is very academic in her background and approach. And I think that’s reflected in a lot of the way she approaches the implementation of her policy, as well.
LAMB: What’s she like up close and personal?
BOLTON: A very personable person.
LAMB: And what’s she like in a negotiation?
BOLTON: The same way.
LAMB: What about Colin Powell?
BOLTON: I think he can be - he has a broad range of approaches that he uses. And I’ve seen them in operation, and sometimes they’re effective and sometimes they’re not.
LAMB: But he did oppose you, didn’t he?
BOLTON: Well - for my nomination?
BOLTON: He says no. There was evidence to the contrary. I describe that in the book. I would think it’s fair to say we had a complex relationship, which I hope the book is faithful to.
LAMB: Dick Cheney.
BOLTON: Well, I’ve known the vice president since he was in Congress and served on the Iran-Contra committee. I’ve known him when he was at the American Enterprise Institute. I’ve known him in a variety of different contexts.
LAMB: That’s where you are now, American Enterprise Institute.
BOLTON: Right. I’m a senior fellow at AEI.
And I have relied on his advice and counsel over the years in a broad variety of areas, beginning with his time on Iran-Contra, when I was head of legislative affairs at the Justice Department, in effect representing Ed Meese in the Iran-Contra hearings.
LAMB: But what’s he like, though?
BOLTON: I think he’s a very pleasant person, low key. He has a very good sense of humor. He’s not chatty Cathy, as they say.
LAMB: How important is he to what is going on in Iraq?
BOLTON: Well, I think he has had, did have and still has a major role in that. But he has always, as vice president, followed the principle that his private conversations with the president should remain private.
So, until somebody writes about what those conversations actually involved, I think it’s very difficult to know exactly what that role would be.
LAMB: What about George Bush, the president?
BOLTON: What about him?
LAMB: What’s your relationship with him? What do you think of him, his ability to make decisions? All that stuff.
BOLTON: Well, I think he is a firm decision-maker. And I think he is good at delegating authority. I don’t think he concentrates decision-making the way some presidents have.
I think that he has taken direction in the past couple years that - on foreign policy issues - that I find troubling.
I think he’s very devoted to the best interests of the country, particularly in defending against terrorism as he sees it. I think he views his entire presidency through that prism, and that’s how he approaches virtually all the foreign policy decisions he makes.
LAMB: Well, as you know, though, on the Iraq war there’s still a lot of people who say we really don’t know how this happened.
BOLTON: I think that’s a very hard argument to make.
You know, we had votes in Congress in the late 1990s, that it was our policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Now, members of Congress can say today, they wish they hadn’t voted that way, but they did. That was the mood in the country. And I think it was correct, because I think that Saddam’s policies and his demonstrated capabilities and proclivities over the year were a threat to the United States and our friends and allies.
The logic was laid out in congressional debates. Everybody had a chance to stand out in the rain and declare their convictions one way or the other.
I don’t have any disagreement with the idea that events since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have not been - they’ve not gone the way we would have wanted to. But I don’t think that should cloud or obscure the initial decision to overthrow him.
What it should tell us is that we should have conducted things differently after the overthrow.
LAMB: Back to George Bush again. Do you think - I don’t know what you think. But I would ask you, what role did he play, from what you know, in the move toward Iraq? And were there others that wanted it stronger than he did?
BOLTON: Well, I don’t - I really can’t describe much of the inner battle there, and I don’t spend a lot of time in the book on Iraq, as I say, because Secretary Powell basically cut me out of most Iraq decision-making - probably worried that I would view things the same way that Vice President Cheney or Secretary Rumsfeld did.
So, essentially, I wasn’t involved in those early decisions or later decisions, by and large, and really can’t answer your question on the president’s decision-making on that.
LAMB: Was Secretary Powell right about that, that you view the world just like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld?
BOLTON: No, I don’t think I view the world just like anybody else. I think everybody views it a little bit differently.
But that was the way the administration had begun to develop, and that’s what happened.
LAMB: So, if you look back on your life up to this point - what, 58 years old?
LAMB: A lawyer, and you’ve had all these different jobs in government. We started off with Barry Goldwater.
What were the points in your life - and I’m talking philosophy now - of where it made a difference as to where you ended up? In other words, you went to Yale, you went to Yale Law School. Your parents didn’t have education, and all that.
What kind of advice do you have for others, if they want to pursue things like you did?
BOLTON: I think it’s very hard to give anybody career advice dealing with politics. Holding high offices in the federal government or political campaigns is such a random decision-making process that, if somebody were to say - and I have been asked, what should I do to become - to be in a position to become U.N. ambassador - I don’t have a very good answer to that.
I think you have to try and make decisions on steps in your career, one step at a time.
LAMB: That’s what I’m talking about, though. Were you a reader?
BOLTON: Yes. I guess what I would say is, do each job that you have as best you can, and not be looking at the next job or the next job after that.
One thing I would say about politics generally is, I fear a situation where we have presidential candidates who, since they were 14 years old have wanted to be president. And I can think of several pictures of them shaking hands with President Kennedy, looking very much like this was the only thing they ever wanted in their life.
I think it’s important for our country, that people who do go into the government have a life in the private sector - do something other than spend their entire career in politics or in government. I think that’s a strength as a whole for the country.
And the notion that you’re sort of driven by a one, riveting ambition from the time you’re a young teenager until you get to the ripe old age of 58, I think is a troubling proposition, not a constructive one.
LAMB: One of the quotes in your book that I wrote down was, ”Many large U.N. meetings were essentially worthless.”
BOLTON: Yes, that’s right.
LAMB: Were they ever not worthless?
BOLTON: I’d be hard-pressed to think of one. And it goes to this question of what actually happens in these meetings.
People come in and read statements that are prepared well in advance, and the State Department works the same way. You’ve got hundreds of people in Washington who have to clear off on things - which, of course, is one reason not to read prepared statements to begin with.
But ambassadors or others will come in, read their statements and then get up and leave.
So, these meetings take place. This is the General Assembly to a tee, but it happens too often in the Security Council.
This isn’t a discussion or a debate or a negotiation. It’s a bunch of people reading statements.
I once suggested in the Security Council that, since we all would have prepared statements on most things, we could skip the meeting and just e-mail each other the prepared statements. We could read them the night before, and then maybe get together and have a real discussion.
That was greeted with complete silence.
LAMB: One other quote.
”Undersecretary General for Public Information - one of the worst swamps in the entire Secretariat.”
BOLTON: This is an office whose budget is devoted essentially to singing the praises of the United Nations, whatever subject matter it is. I don’t want to call it Hollywood on the Hudson, because it’s not that good.
But if you essentially abolish the Department of Public Information at the U.N., you’d save hundreds of millions of dollars. And not only would the world not be worse off, it would be better off.
LAMB: You think - and we don’t have any time left - but do you think that this country will ever demand real reform of the U.N.?
BOLTON: There’s one reform that matters, and that’s moving away from assessed contributions to a system of voluntary contributions.
We should pay only for what we want, and insist that we get what we pay for.
That’d be very hard to bring into reality. But even talking about it would be a good thing for the U.N.
LAMB: What are the chances it’ll happen?
BOLTON: I think you need a commitment by the U.S. government to pursue it, and the determination both in the executive branch and Congress that we’ll start doing it, whether we get widespread agreement or not. That would change the dynamic in New York dramatically
LAMB: John Bolton, author of ”Surrender Is Not an Option,” thank you very much.
BOLTON: Thank you.