Amb. Bolton warns of Pacific challenges to the U.S.

Amb. Bolton warns of Pacific challenges to the U.S.

John Bolton - wikimediaCalifornia and the United States as a whole need to get their act together to face the rising challenges posed by Russia, China, North Korea and other countries. That was what former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Thursday before and during a speech he gave to 208 business and community leaders at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.

Bolton advanced his position of critiquing the Obama administration, and calling for greater U.S. involvement in the situations in Ukraine, Syria and Nigeria. But the gloves really came off during the question-and-answer period. The first question came from Sally Pipes, the President and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, which sponsored the event and is’s parent think tank.

She asked about the 2012 attack on American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens.

Pipes: “It appears that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. How will Benghazi come out? I’m just worried that the mainstream media is not going to focus on it at all, and let her get away with it.”

Bolton replied at length, beginning with a quip:

This is a critical question, and a personal one to me. Hillary and her husband were a year ahead of me at law school. So I have been burdened with them for 20 more years than the rest of you.

Her record is very thin. The argument of how she handled Benghazi is important. Let me give you a perspective as one who has been at the State Department a long time.

The first defense [of Clinton’s actions] is that the lack of capability, inadequate security, manifest at Benghazi on Sept. 11 was not really her responsiblity; that she was too high above those decisions. Therefore it was her subordinates who acted incorrectly and caused deaths. That’s just flatly incorrect.

Questions about security sometimes don’t go to the secretary of state level. But we’re not talking Iceland here, we’re talking about Libya. The United States just a few years before had overthrown the government. That’s the kind of place you pay a little bit more attention to. Especially because of the circumstances in Libya at the time, and the weakness, the lack of capacity, that the United States has in the region.

In Feb. 2011, as [Libyan dictator Muammar] Gaddafi was on the way down, the State Department made the decision to withdraw all American personnel from the embassy in Tripoli – a correct decision – because of a lack of security. And we had so few assets in the Mediterranean that we had to rent a Greek ferry boat, to come all the way from Greece, to withdraw our people from the port. Now that should have been a signal across the board that the instability or greater threat across North Africa needed rethinking. But that didn’t happen, despite the obvious instability in Libya, where everybody else – all the European countries, even the Red Cross – had withdrawn their official presence.

So if this didn’t get to Secretary Clinton’s office, then it’s a management call that she should be responsible for. The Secretary of State should deal right down to the nitty gritty when they have to.

Jim Baker

I’ll give you my example. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, you may recall that they invaded our embassy in Kuwait City. They turned off the electricity. And although they didn’t enter the embassy compound, they basically were holding our ambassador and staff there hostage. No electricity in August. This is not good. They had to drink the water out of the swimming pool. We had to find ways to purify water and use electric generators to run the purification. We were using emergency stocks of food in the embassy.

And I recall several conversations with the embassy staff meeting where [Secretary of State] Jim Baker was told that, for whatever reason, the emergency supplies of food at the embassy seemed to be largely tuna fish and tomato sauce. There are not a lot of well-known recipes for that.

But the Near East Bureau was working hard so that our people didn’t suffer. Jim Baker considered this on at least two or three days in a row, although ultimately we got the hostages released.

A Secretary of State who is not willing to get his or her fingernails dirty isn’t doing his job. And the notion that, somehow, these security decisions somehow are made by Munchkins, and don’t have to sully the desk of the Secretary of State, is just fundamentally wrong. If you’re not responsible for the basic safety of your people overseas, what are you spending your time on?

Going home

No. 2, the day of the attack, Hillary Clinton just went home. Now, the president [Obama] just went home, too, so it must run in the administration. That’s not how you deal with a crisis. Nobody could have known at the time of the first crisis whether or not further attacks were coming. The Secretary of State and a lot of other officials should have been in her office all night long, working every possibility they could think of. Not to respond when you’ve got a crisis, I just find inexcusable.

And then, for her to say afterward in testimony that you will see thousands of times in the 2016 election, “What difference does it make if a few people are out deciding to shoot up an Americn embassy for a demonstration that gets out of control.” Those are her two alternatives. But they are both wrong. It was a planned attack. That’s what difference it makes.

I just find this hands-off attitude is reflected in the handling of Benghazi before, during and after that attack, and I think it’s a disqualifier myself.


Before the speech, Bolton granted an interview to

Q: How do California’s economic policies affect foreign policy?

The economic situation in California is the economic policies have caused a lot of difficulties for the state that are unnecessary. And that’s shown by Toyota’s recent decision to pull up stakes and head for Texas. But it’s a reflection of the boarder point for America as a whole, that economic policies have consequences. That when you pursue economic policies, they often have consequences that the advocates of the policies don’t expect.

So many of Obama’s policies are wrong on their merits. But they’re also having other consequences that are detrimental to the country’s interests worldwide.

The economic “recovery” — in quotes — is weak by historical standards, and is creating a new normal for the country that’s very worrisome. I think a strong American presence internationally is critical for sustaining our standard of living here at home. But the reverse is true as well. If you don’t have a strong domestic economy, it’s obviously difficult if not impossible do maintain a strong American intenational presence. So I’m very worried about what the long-term economic consequences will be for these domestic policies.

Q: Recent data show that America’s industrial economy is struggling, leading some to call for protectionism.

When you have a policy environment that’s hostile to business, business is going to react by going somewhere else. Toyota is one example. But I know that Gov. Perry in Texas has been trying to persuade, and has had some success, in persuading others to leave as well. I don’t think you resolve that through protectionism. The fact of lower production costs around the world is a reality.

But we’ve faced that for a long time. And the solution is, as always is the case, is comparative advantage. And I think that the capacity that the United States has through technological innovation, and the education of the population, has let the industrial jobs go where they will. We’ve had other opportunites. It’s not a politically palatable thing to say. But it is a reality.

And indeed, as technology changes, jobs come back to this country.


Q: Many Californians, such as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, are more skeptical of American intervention abroad than you are.

A: The issue for American foreign policy is: What do you have to do to protect legitimate American interests around the world? There’s a lot of discussion today about: Are you in favor of interventionism? Or are you in favor of non-interventionism? But it’s a false debate. It’s like having a debate over whether you favor eating with a fork or a spoon. But the question is: What are you eating? What’s the objective?

The United States over the years, since World War II, has provided the basis for whatever minimal international order and civility there is. And if we fail to pursue that role, you will face the consequence of either spreading anarchy, or other powers stepping in to fill that void who won’t have our best interests at heart. It’s certainly true that a lot of other nations benefit from this minimal order and civility. And they don’t bear their share of the costs and burden. There’s no doubt about that.

But we’re not doing it for them. We’re doing it for ourselves. And you can’t imagine that the world got the way it is by accident. So if our behavior changes, the world will change. And in my view, not in our favor.

Q: Why should Americans be concerned about Crimea after 70 percent of the people there voted to re-join with Russia; and after it was attached to Ukraine in 1954 during a drunken bout by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev?

A: The answer is: How do you feel about international borders being changed by military force? And what [Russian President] Putin has done here is use military force in a way that now calls into question all the borders of the former Soviet Union, and the post-World War II settlement.

I think Europe made a mistake in 2008, when [President George W.] Bush proposed bringing both Georgia and Ukraine into NATO membership. And four months later Russia invaded Georgia. That’s what we should have done to eliminate the ambiguity.That was an invitation for Russian meddling. That’s  what we got.

Q: What about the United States and NATO endorsing Kosovo breaking off from Serbia in 1999?

A: Well, the state had fallen apart. It was a case that it was still part of Yugoslavia. I myself didn’t favor what we did in Kosovo. But even if that was at stake, that’s not an excuse for Russia to do it somewhere else. Little children say: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

There’s no logic to that. Maybe they [Russia] should take over Poland, too.


Q: How does China fit into this?

A: It’s a good example of one of the consequences of Ukraine. I don’t think there’s a country that’s following Ukraine more closely than China. Because their assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea have been met with minimal U.S. opposition. Yet if they’re able to take control of that territory and turn what are now international waters into a Chinese lake, it’ll have a profound impact on some of our key economic trading partners like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

People don’t appreciate that all of the oil from the Middle East that goes to those countries goes through the South China Sea through what are now international waters. If they become Chinese territorial borders, China has its hand on the throat of the economy of those three countries, and really all Southeast Asia. So this is a huge, huge issue that the media just don’t pay attention to.

Just in the past 10 days, a Chinese naval vessel has rammed two Vietnamese boats. And there are now anti-Chinese demonstrations in Vietnam, because they don’t want to get into a subordinate status with china.

Q: What about North Korea?

A: There’s a lot of speculation there that they’re about to do their fourth nuclear test. It’s hard to say. But this is an example of just an unambiguous failure by the Obama administration. The situation he inherited from Bush, which was bad enough, has gotten steadily worse. The North Koreans are a threat in Northeast Asia with nuclear weapons. They’ll be a threat more broadly when they get ballistic missile capabilities. They’ll sell anything to anybody, including the terrorist organizations.

And there’s increasing evidence of their cooperation with Iran on their nuclear weapons programs. So again, this is not a problem the media have focused on, but it’s a huge problem.

Q: What about China recently leaking plans for dealing with the collapse of the North Korean regime?

A: They’ve had that plan for a long time. They supply 90 percent of North Korea’s energy, and a large amount of humanitarian assistance. China could bring that government down very easily if it wanted to.

But what it fears is instability in the North that could include massive refugee flows into China, which they don’t want.

So the issue is: Why did they leak that? I buy the conventional wisdom that they were saying to the North Korean government, “Your future is not assured.” It was a sign of displeasure.

Either that, or there’s a split in China about what to do about North Korea. I think there are a lot of young Chinese leaders who think that carrying North Korea’s baggage is not necessarily in China’s interest. My view is that the policy the U.S. ought to do is the unification of the two Koreas. We’ve got to persuade China of that, but I do think there are more Chinese officials who think it would be in their interest to let that happen.

Q: There are a lot of South Koreans in California, and strong business links between the two countries, such as between Samsung and Google. How would these developments affect our economy, and the U.S. economy as a whole?

A: That’s why it’s in our interest to merge the two countries. It would give Korea an enormous international economic advantage to have such a low-wage population in the North, all that territory that needs to be developed. You could invite investment there that would dramatically transform the country.

I think Korean Americans ought to be more assertive about the human rights violations in North Korea, and the prison camp that that regime is basically running, and why the United States ought to do more to promote unification, which is the only long-term solution.

Tags assigned to this article:
John SeilerSouth KoreaJohn BoltonUkraineChina

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