Surrender Is Not an Option
By John Bolton
GLENN: So, you know, I don't want this to sound wrong because I think if President Reagan were in the White House, we would have a much different stance on this and I think the outcome might even be different. I think Ronald Reagan would have said that the Mullahs and the Ayatollah over there, it's an evil empire and the people should rise up and grab their freedom while they can. But we don't have that as a president. We have a guy who's, you know, wishy‑washy at best it seems, and I can't for the life of me figure out what difference this is going to make unless it's a true revolution and the people actually take their power back.
BOLTON: Well, I think that's right. We are in a potential revolutionary situation in Iran, although I don't think things are going in the right direction from that perspective, at least as of now. But I think Obama is pursuing a policy that's fundamentally different than the kind of policy Reagan pursued against the Soviet Union, ultimately successfully. I think the right policy is a new government in Tehran and not just Mousavi versus Ahmadinejad but the overthrow of the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the creation of a truly representative government. That is not Obama's policy. Regime change is not Obama's policy. His policy is to try and negotiate with whomever ends up on top in Iran about their nuclear weapons program, and I think that's the fundamental reason he hasn't said very much at all. He torqued up his rhetoric a little bit over the weekend, probably more in response to domestic U.S. political pressure than anything else, but there is no evidence at all that his policy of trying to negotiate with the regime over the weapons program has changed one iota.
GLENN: Isn't this a result really of the Bush administration? I mean, it's always been my theory that Iraq was a secondary target. I mean, I believe that they actually believe that, you know, Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction, et cetera, et cetera, but really the idea was the head of the snake over there is Iran and if you could pop that by putting democracy on both sides of it, the people would rise up and they would take their country because they would see. They would say, oh, my gosh, look what's happening, and it would catch on and they would see that they could possibly rise up and take their country back. A, do you buy into that theory; and B, if so, isn't what's happening there now because of what we've done in the Middle East and George Bush's policy of regime change?
BOLTON: Well, you know, if anything the Iranians should have been very grateful to the Bush administration for having overthrown the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, thus for moving Iran's two biggest enemies. But obviously that wasn't on the Mullahs' mind. They have got their own agenda which includes dominance within the Islamic world, becoming a hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf and beyond. I think that the groundwork for what we're seeing in Iran today has been laid over a 30‑year period. This regime in Iran is not popular and I think the people there, for a variety of reasons, economic reasons, desire not to be oppressed by harsh Sharia law, ethnic dissatisfaction, that all of that put together left the Mullahs in a very weak position and this obviously stolen election was the spark that united it. Now, whether that will be enough to overturn the regime itself, I don't know. But the Iranians and particularly the young Iranians, population under 30's about 2/3, 70% of the total population. So that's a lot of people. They are educated, they are sophisticated, they know they could have a different life, they see what has happened in Iraq with the elections there. They see what's happened in Afghanistan, particularly the women, to see this new opportunity. And I think the evidence is all around. I think what they may not have counted on was the brutality of the Mullahs and the lack of outside support, particularly from the United States.
GLENN: What difference would it make if President Obama did what President Reagan did in Poland, which was, we're with you; we stand right beside you? We didn't go into Poland, at least overtly. We didn't go into Poland but I mean, we stood by them. What difference would that make?
BOLTON: Well, I think it would make an incredible difference, but I would stress that the support has to be more than rhetorical. You see our friends in Europe are much farther out front rhetorically than President Obama is but that's typical of the Europeans. They don't have any skin in this game and talk is what they do. That's what their leaders are expert in. I think to use your analogy of Reagan and Poland, we were providing support back then just as rudimentary as fax machines and primitive computers, but that was the Twitter of the 1980s. Reagan went beyond rhetorical support. We did provide concrete support for overtly and covertly for solidarity and did other things in Poland. That's what we should have been doing frankly during the Bush administration, quietly preparing for these circumstances. The fact is that the demonstrators, the people in Tehran and the other cities now are face to face with the Islamic revolutionary guards court. They are the people with t he weapons, they are fanatics, they are the ultimate defenders of the Islamic revolution. And assuming they hold together, and that is at least a question, although there's no evidence they are about to break apart that I can see. But assuming the revolutionary guards hold together, the people out in the streets of Tehran are badly outgunned and in a confrontation there isn't any question who will win.
GLENN: Do they have any guns? Do the people have a right to have a firearm over there?
BOLTON: I don't think there's a strong Second Amendment in Iran and, you know, I think ‑‑
GLENN: There's barely a strong Second Amendment here.
BOLTON: Well, that's a different story that's for sure but, you know, this is ‑‑ they are showing great courage by going out into the streets, and I think we saw how brutal the regime is prepared to be by the way it cracked down on the demonstrators on Saturday with depending on who you want to believe between 10 and perhaps as many as 150 killed. Let me just say when it comes to repression, what you saw on Saturday was nothing compared to what the revolutionary guards would be prepared to do. The Mullahs, the top Mullahs, the supreme leader see what's happening as a threat to the revolution itself, and since this is a theocratic government that believes in answers only to God and that actually only notice what God's will is, it's not deterred by outpourings of public sentiment to the contrary. So I hope people are not carried away by adrenaline here. The potential for a confrontation and conflict in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere I think is very real and it could be very bloody.
GLENN: What happens ‑‑ what do we do then?
BOLTON: Well, I ‑‑
GLENN: Would we even see the pictures at that point?
BOLTON: Well, you raise a very good point because the regime is shutting down sources of information, expelling and detaining Western reporters, interfering with communications. It appears to be a very sustained effort on their part to reduce visibility inside the country, and I think that's a predicate obviously for further repression, further arrests of dissident leaders and for violence in the streets. Had we been doing more over the past several years, then I think we might be in a position to do more in response to a further crackdown. Honestly I don't think we've got the foundations in place to do that, and I'll say again here we are almost 10 days after the election and President Obama has given zero evidence, zero evidence that he's prepared to rethink his policy of negotiating with the regime under whatever guise that might be in power. That I think is what's driving him and, you know, we'll see what happens over the course of this week but I think he in a way is proceeding on a theological basis that if only he can get around the negotiating table with the regime, he can talk them out of their nuclear weapons program. He needs to wake up to what's going on. But as I say, I don't see any evidence of that yet.
GLENN: What do you ‑‑ let me play devil's advocate. He would say, you know, the reason why we're in the trouble that we're in is because, you know, we have tried to dictate the terms and we're trying to meddle in everybody's business and let's just stay out of it. I think that would be his case is that, you know, we have nowhere ‑‑ we have no way of winning in this game and if we stand against these people, then we're just going to have more anti‑American rhetoric over there. I don't know how you could have any more. They already call us the Great Satan. But you would have more anti‑American sentiment, we would destroy the chance that we have to sit down at the negotiating table, and we should stay out of these things.
BOLTON: Well, let's take that argument as face value. That presumes that if we could ever get to a negotiating table, we could succeed in what the state's objective for the negotiations is which is to get Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. I see zero prospect that Iran is going to be chitchatted out of its nuclear weapons program, whether it's Mousavi or Ahmadinejad or anybody associated with the current regime. But I think the argument also betrays a more fundamental misperception of what the U.S. role could and should be.
As you point out, even though Obama's saying I'm not going to meddle, the Iranian leadership is accusing us of meddling. So facts aren't going to make a lot of difference here, and I think that if we were in a position where our president was saying, you know, we may not be able to offer much concretely or frankly anything concretely to support the dissidents, we want you to know that we are with you in spirit. And I think we've had testimony since the end of the Cold War from dissidents all over the former communist world that the fact that outsiders were with them gave them strength as they sat in prison cells and were being repressed across the board, that they didn't lose hope, that they knew outside people were with them in spirit and it gave them the strength to carry on under the most adverse conditions. You are seeing adverse conditions in Iran right now and our president's saying, well, you know, I still want to negotiate with the people who are doing the oppression.
GLENN: Let me see if you'll answer this one. Who is Barack Obama when it comes to the Middle East and these nasty regimes? I can't help but think, ambassador, that ‑‑ I mean, I have a lot of Jewish friends and a lot of them voted for Barack Obama and I look at them now and say, have you woken up yet? This guy is not a friend of Israel and he seems to be at least even playing footsy with some of the biggest enemies of Israel which happen to be the biggest enemies of America as well. Who is this guy on his Middle East policy? Do you know yet? Is he just a guy who is misguided or maybe, you know, give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe he's right, just going to take a totally different approach and try to be everybody's friend. Is he just misguided or is there something else?
BOLTON: No, I don't think so at all. I think he is no friend of Israel's. I think he sees that part of the world in terms of real moral equivalency. You know, you have the Israelis and they were victims of the Holocaust. So they have that on their side. Then you have the Palestinians. They are victims of the Israelis. So, you know, we're all kind of in this together. I think Israel's in for a tough year ahead as Obama applies pressure to them, and I think that a large part of his policy there and with respect to Iran really reflects his own naive view of his ability to change things simply because of who he is. It is truly a form of narcissism. I think it's less ideological than it is egotistical. I hope that introduction to brute reality will change the Obama attitude. He's a bright man, there's no doubt about that, and maybe a little education in the real world will have an effect. But I think he honestly believes that just by showing up, he can make a difference. I think that is laughable, but the level of confidence he displays in his own rhetorical and personal persuasion abilities are just unaccountable. Well, it's all on the table now in Iran. We'll see if he learns a lesson.
GLENN: Ambassador, thanks. Appreciate it.
BOLTON: Thank you.
GLENN: You bet, bye‑bye. Ambassador John Bolton.