Ambassador Bolton on the Fallout in Afghanistan — John Bolton

Ambassador Bolton on the Fallout in Afghanistan — John Bolton

Ambassador Bolton on the Fallout in Afghanistan — John Bolton

He’s a phenomenal statesman … Former Ambassador John Bolton doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk. Bolton has spent his entire political career shaking up bureaucracies to protect American interests. And he’s done so while maintaining diplomacy with major world players. Bolton discusses government service, diplomacy and the fallout from the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan with host Charles Mizrahi.

Topics Discussed:

• An Introduction to John Bolton (00:00:00)
• Goldwater vs. Reagan (00:04:22)
• Government Service: A Calling (00:10:11)
• Becoming a U.S. Ambassador (00:14:12)
• The Truth About Diplomacy (00:19:18)
• The “Endless War” (00:24:21)
• Nuclear Arms (00:30:03)
• Wrong Impression (00:34:26)
• Withdrawal from Afghanistan (00:36:47)
• China’s Threat (00:39:26)
• Promise in America (00:48:32)

Guest Bio:

Throughout his entire career, John Bolton has defended America. Prior to entering government service, Bolton served as a litigator in Washington D.C. After becoming Under Secretary of State in 2001, he worked to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And from 2005 to 2006, he served as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Recently, Bolton served as a U.S. National Security Advisor from 2018 to 2019 under President Donald Trump.

Resources Mentioned:

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Read Transcript

JOHN BOLTON: The main function of diplomacy is to have smooth relations around the world. And, of course, you can always have smooth relations if you never complain about the way other countries treat the United States — how they treat our businesses that want to trade and invest there or how they treat our citizens when they come to visit. A whole range of issues might be covered. I don’t think that’s the purpose of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of countries or the State Department. For us, it’s to advance and protect our interests. And that means, sometimes, you’re going to have to say things that make people unhappy.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Ambassador John Bolton. Ambassador Bolton served as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. He also served as a 27th United States National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Throughout his career, Ambassador Bolton has been a staunch defender of American interests. While he was the Under Secretary of State, he advocated tough measures against the nuclear weapons programs of both Iran and North Korea and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction worldwide.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I recently sat down with Ambassador Bolton, and we talked about his views on the United States in the world and the fallout from the U.S.’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Ambassador Bolton, thank you so much for being on the show. I want to tell you: I’ve been a big fan of yours for close to 20 years. When you served in the UN — I think it was 2005 or so — you were the first person from Washington that I could actually understand. And to me, you made a lot of sense.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, thank you very much. It’s nice to know that people are listening to what anybody says in Washington these days.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Well, we were certainly listening to you. There are so many things I want to talk about. And I was so excited when I heard that you were going to be on the show. The first thing that I want to start with — forget about modern day politics, the geopolitical, our view in the world and how the United States should be viewed according to Ambassador Bolton.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I first want to get to something that I find totally fascinating. How does a Baltimore kid — who was born in 1948 to a father who was a fireman and a mother who was a regular housewife in post-World War II — grow up to be a conservative? You were handing out leaflets for Barry Goldwater in 1964. How does that transformation happen?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I don’t think it was a transformation. I think that, for many years, people have assumed — in a very Marxist fashion — that your political views are determined by your socioeconomic circumstances. So, if you’re born into a blue-collar family, and your father is a union man, then you’re going to end up a Democrat.

JOHN BOLTON: Now, interestingly, my mother always said we were a middle-class family. It didn’t bother me or my father to be a working-class family. But my mother said we were a middle-class family. She would sometimes concede that we were a lower-middle-class family. But she wasn’t going to let go of the middle class. And I think what they taught me was that I didn’t have to be a lower-middle-class guy for the rest of my life. And there wasn’t a limit to what I could do if I worked hard enough at it.

JOHN BOLTON: My father, like many young men who were in World War II, had a very protective view of the country — a very patriotic view. And certainly, that influenced me as well. Now, when I went through high school, I read a lot of philosophy. I was very interested in it. I read a lot of Marx. I read big chunks of Das Kapital — as hard as that is to imagine. And [I read] The Communist Manifesto. I was horrified by it. So, I was moving in a conservative direction. And I was fascinated with people like William F. Buckley Jr.

JOHN BOLTON: But most of all, I was fascinated with Barry Goldwater. I thought he was the cat’s meow. That’s how I got involved in his campaign. And then, just to seal the deal, when I got out of high school, I went to Yale in the late 1960s. There were maybe a handful of conservatives. Out of 4,000 undergraduates, there may have been 50 or 60 who you would legitimately call “conservative.” And listening to the liberals on the faculty and the students for four years — that’s all it took.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: What I find so amazing is that you grew up in the one of the most turbulent times in American history. People were burning draft cards. It was the first time where there was animosity toward our country. It used to be our country — right or wrong. Here, it wasn’t the case when you were growing up and going to school — high school and college. I was thinking 40 to 50. I think you could put all you folks in a small coffee shop. There weren’t that many who weren’t burning draft cards or protesting the Vietnam War. In fact, you were for the Vietnam War.

JOHN BOLTON: Right. That was another anomaly. But a lot of it had to do with the general culture at Yale — the idea that they were oppressed and a small minority. In fact, you could walk around the Yale campus for days on end and never find anybody who disagreed with the prevailing ideology.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you were standing up against the wind in a big way. So, why did you gravitate toward Barry Goldwater? Ronald Reagan, at the time, was not as well-known as Barry Goldwater. But what drew you to him?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I first got acquainted with Ronald Reagan — and I’m leaving aside the Death Valley Days TV show — when he gave what turned out to be a very famous speech. It was a half-hour speech — a few days before the 1964 election. And even to devoted followers of Goldwater, it was pretty clear by that point that he was going to lose. But suddenly, here was this guy, Ronald Reagan, who gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard for half an hour on television. It became clear that he was the next new thing, so to speak.

JOHN BOLTON: What attracted me to Goldwater? He wrote two books that I read: The Conscience of a Conservative, which was about domestic philosophy, and a second book called Why Not Victory? He had me at the title. When all these people were talking about how difficult the Cold War was — you needed accommodation with the Russians and peaceful coexistence with this philosophy of Marxism. I said I’ve read quite a bit about it and was appalled. And Goldwater — all he had to do was ask the question: “Why not victory?” And people didn’t have an answer for it.

JOHN BOLTON: So, Goldwater also had a well-deserved reputation for saying exactly what was on his mind. He was not afraid to be the only dissenting voice in the Senate from time to time. There was a saying in Washington: “Politicians hate to vote. It’s like standing out in the rain — especially when you’re in a minority.” They said that Barry Goldwater lived in the rain. And I thought that anybody like that had to be qualified to be president.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you worked for Barry Goldwater as a volunteer, right? You were not getting paid.

JOHN BOLTON: Right. I was a kid. I handed out leaflets at the polling place.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Okay, so you’re handing out leaflets. You’re going around. But already, your trajectory in life is not the typical one. You’re a minority at Yale — who has these kinds of views that you have. And you see the world as a totally different place than your classmates. They’re looking at defeat. They’re looking at a country that has peaked — or so they think — and it’s on a decline. Europe, and the Soviet Union, has an alternative form of government — not a cruel empire, which it was. At the time, people were probably carrying around books of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book, no? That was your time as well, right?

JOHN BOLTON: Sure. That was the time. People thought that the Cultural Revolution was the wave of the future.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK. And then, a little after that, you interned or worked in the White House for Spiro Agnew.

JOHN BOLTON: Right. I was the White House intern before it became a powerful, well-known position. I did that between my first and second years of law school in the summer of 1972 — at the time of the Watergate break-in, as a matter of fact. And of course, shortly after I left, Agnew was indicted and convicted of bribery and whatnot. But I didn’t go to jail for Watergate or bribery. I like to say that I emerged from that internship poor but not indicted.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you worked for Spiro Agnew for two years or so. Was it two?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I just worked there during the summer. But I watched his criticism of the Legal Services Corporation — one of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. And I wrote my note for the Yale Law Journal, with a classmate of mine, on how legal services lawyers — by keeping tenants in apartments in New Haven without paying rent and preventing them from getting evicted — had a harmful effect on the low-income housing market because it was driving small landlords out of business.

JOHN BOLTON: It’s not too different from today during this eviction moratorium. So, some poor guy who owns a house that he has divided into three apartments is not getting any rent. What’s he going to do? He’s going to sell the house, and those apartments won’t exist.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: He still has to pay maintenance and real estate taxes, and he’s getting no rent roll. It’s horrendous. OK, so you become a lawyer. You graduate from Yale. At what point do you wake up and say: “Government service is my calling”?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I considered it for a long time. I originally thought that I’d fold into the foreign service. I thought that would be a career path. But I read a study, when I was at Yale, by an administrative sciences professor named Chris Argyris called: Some Causes of Organizational Ineffectiveness Within the Department of State. And it was basically a study of the Foreign Service and how members of the Foreign Service couldn’t stand confrontation. They would go out of their way to not disagree with each other or foreign governments.

JOHN BOLTON: And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that foreign service ought to be where you’re advocating American interests — not avoiding conflict because your personality isn’t suited for it. I thought: “I’m not going to be happy in the Foreign Service.” So, I thought law was another alternative. But the big choice for many lawyers at Yale Law School — when I was there — was that when you graduated, you had to work in New York or Washington. And it was a hard choice for me. But I decided to work in Washington — in part because I knew that would bring me much closer to politics.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And you also had your classmates — I think it was Hillary Rodham Clinton at the time. Was it Bill Clinton also?

JOHN BOLTON: They were a year ahead of me. But Clarence Thomas was a classmate. In fact, we one floor above one another in student housing. We used to talk over the late hours in the evening when we should have been studying down in the laundry room in the basement of our building.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, that must have been something You and a young Clarence Thomas were just hanging out. There must have been a lot of fun conversations back in the early or late 1970s…

JOHN BOLTON: It was the early 1970s. We surprised a lot of people. If you haven’t read Clarence’s memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, I urge you to take a look at it because it’s a very graphic demonstration of how somebody…

JOHN BOLTON: Speaking of [people with] strange backgrounds who turned out to be conservative … Reading how Clarence grew up, it’ll be very clear how he [formed] the philosophy that he has today.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, it’s so amazing — the formative years and experiences that certain people go through change them dramatically. It sets in motion your life’s trajectory. You realize where you’ve been, and you have a great foundation. And like you said in the beginning, you had a union father and were in the middle class. You would think it would be “X” because you fit in that box. But your experiences don’t fit perfectly in that box.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, it was another disproof of Marxism. He called it economic determinism. And it depended on what class you were in. That was going to determine your views, future and everything else. He was wrong on that — like he was on pretty much everything else.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, the proof’s in the pudding. In 1989, it was all over. OK. I just wanted to get the background because I’ve listened to so many interviews. I’ve read so many of your writings. I never got what went on from 1948 to 1970. Thanks for filling in that blank for me. It really shows what type of person you are and where your views come from. I would say they’re novel and different. But they’re so pragmatic that they kind of smack you the face and say: “Why are we doing this?” Here’s the problem. Here’s my solution. Let’s not pussyfoot around the problem, and let’s get to it.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: But before we get into that, during George W. Bush’s [presidency] you become a UN ambassador. In the scheme of things, is that a great job to have? Is that an important job in the State Department? How is it viewed in the whole hierarchy of state? Is that a good position, bad position or stupid position?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, it depends on the administration. The Democrats typically give it cabinet rank, which is a big mistake because the Secretary of State is the cabinet officer for the department. I viewed it mostly as a damage control job — although, there were certain things we had to get done. But it was very challenging because so much of the hidden agenda had some kind of anti-American bias in it. Or, if it wasn’t not explicitly anti-American, it was anti-Israel or against American allies. So, it was very challenging. I didn’t expect to accomplish much while I was there. I hoped and expected to minimize the damage to the United States.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Well, you stood up to bullies, that’s for sure. You didn’t suffer fools gladly. It seems like that’s the kind of job where you go home each night and say: “I need a stiff drink.” Everyone hates you. And here we are giving money to most of these countries. And they’re coming and kicking us in the face.

JOHN BOLTON: The first job I had — other than the Agnew internship — was at the U.S. Agency for International Development, our bilateral foreign aid agency, in the beginning of the Reagan administration. I was in charge of policy and budget for AID. I did a study about voting records in the UN General Assembly. And I thought what I would do to show we were serious about not getting kicked around was cut foreign aid budgets to countries that consistently voted against us. This caused great turmoil at the State Department because they thought: “My goodness, that’s terrible. That’s telling people that they can’t take the United States around. That will complicate our diplomacy.”

JOHN BOLTON: But I took it up to New York, and I showed it to Jeane Kirkpatrick — who was our ambassador at the time. She thought it was a great idea. And so, we had a big internal battle at the State Department. It didn’t get very far because they basically didn’t want to do it. But that’s the kind of thing that you need to do to shake up bureaucracies. In fact, I got a going away present from AID. It was given to me because it embodied what they saw as my philosophy of government.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Is that the grenade? Yeah, I would expect that.

JOHN BOLTON: So, it says here: “John R. Bolton, truest Reaganite, AID 1983.”

CHARLES MIZRAHI: To describe it to the people listening: It’s a hand grenade on a little platform.

JOHN BOLTON: If you want to get stuff done in government, you have to be prepared to run into opposition. And if you’re not facing any opposition, you’re probably not getting anything done.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: To an average guy like me — who was never in politics and reads — I read The Wall Street Journal. I can understand what’s going on. I don’t need a Ph.D. to figure out right or wrong. How is it possible that the State Department and the UN Ambassador aren’t in sync when these countries are kicking us in the teeth and taking our money? Why do you say that there’s a conflict there?

JOHN BOLTON: The main function of diplomacy is to have smooth relations around the world. And, of course, you can always have smooth relations if you never complain about the way other countries treat the United States — how they treat our businesses that want to trade and invest there or how they treat our citizens when they come to visit. A whole range of issues might be covered. I don’t think that’s the purpose of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of countries or the State Department. For us, it’s to advance and protect our interests. And that means, sometimes, you’re going to have to say things that make people unhappy.

JOHN BOLTON: I was trained as a litigator. I practiced law for many years. When I was interviewing for jobs in law school, one partner at a big firm in New York said to me: “If you want to be a litigator, that means more than half of your day — almost every day — you will be talking to your opposing counsel. [And it] wants nothing more than to rip your client’s lungs out. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” And I thought: “What a great description. I’m ready to go.” So, unless you’re prepared to defend and advance the country’s interests, I don’t know what the purpose of diplomacy is.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: When you have countries that are the epitome of evil — which are killing their citizens, subjugating them and causing havoc in their regions and throughout the world — how can there possibly be any meeting point that a civilized country could have with such evil?

JOHN BOLTON: That’s a good question, and there isn’t a good answer to it. Even now, after a lot of years of doing it, I’m thinking that there’s something to the proposition that authoritarian governments — terrorists and people like that — simply have a different version of truth than we do. And this is a real problem inside the State Department and the Foreign Service. It goes by the name of “mirror imaging.”

JOHN BOLTON: So, you’re a reasonable guy. You go out and see a problem with another country. You want to sit down at a conference table and work it out. Surely, there must be a reasonable way to compromise and eliminate the problem. You look at the guy sitting across the table from you. He’s dressed in a coat and tie, and you say: “He must think the same way that I do.”

JOHN BOLTON: In the meantime, if the guy across the table comes from an authoritarian society or is a radical extremist, he thinks: “You are the depraved representative of a botched and declining society that ought to be kicked onto to the trash heap of history.” And his goal is to do anything he can to make that happen.

JOHN BOLTON: That’s not what negotiating with the Brits is like. But it is what negotiating and with a lot of our adversaries is like. And so, when they make a commitment — and this is the epitome of success at State — we reached agreement on X. OK, well, that’s great. Is the other side going to live up to it? Does it have the slightest intention of honoring its commitments? Or, for many of them, is that just the beginning of the negotiation?

JOHN BOLTON: I think the State Department has a cultural problem in that way. If I ever had the chance, I would try to spend a lot of time to fix that cultural problem. Until we do, we’re not going to be represented as well as we could be. There are a lot of very bright, able people at the State Department who have been overwhelmed by this culture.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s like what Warren Buffett said: “You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.” No matter what — we’ll talk about the Iran deal in a second. But what boggles my mind is you sit down, read the paper, watch the news and [think]: “Why are we even negotiating with certain characters on the world stage?” They are bent on the destruction of our way of life. They’re bent on destroying everything that the United States stands for. They’re bent on killing our people through terrorism and causing damage to our allies.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Where’s the mutual point where we can say: “I give here. You give there.” How could one do that? I don’t get it. Now, you’re telling me that the State Department doesn’t get it either — which makes me even happier. It doesn’t make any sense.

JOHN BOLTON: It stems from the fundamental difficulty some people have in appreciating that the job of the U.S. Government is to protect its own citizens. We’re not engaged in some kind of global project to make a perfect world. We will make progress through the clash of ideas. It’s basic democratic theory. You elect the government of the United States. They’re supposed to look out for us. The normal citizen can’t spend significant parts of his or her time worried about diplomacy. And if the diplomats themselves don’t recognize that they have a mission and obligation, we’re going to be in increasing difficulty. And that’s very clear.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And that’s why we’re here. Before we go further, tell me if I’m wrong on this: It’s also a time frame. When we’re dealing with our adversaries. This time frame is measured in decades. Many times, our time frame is measured in months or days.

JOHN BOLTON: Yeah, we see this now. The Chinese have an incredibly long, strategic horizon. There’s been a lot written about the 100-year march that they want to go on — from taking control in 1949 to 2049. The objective may be global hegemony; meaning, we’re a second-rate power by that point.

JOHN BOLTON: Whereas, we’re obsessed with quarterly reports and SEC filings. We’re driven by short-term considerations. Now, for the United States, it’s a national characteristic. We are very impatient people. That has its pluses and minuses.

JOHN BOLTON: The plus side is, unlike our European friends, we don’t manage problems. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about solving problems — not that we always succeed. But that’s the mindset. The disadvantage is that you can get frustrated. So, in Afghanistan, after 20 years, we’re pulling out because people say that it’s an endless war. But 20 years is the blink of an eye. The Taliban has a saying. I think I first heard it 20 years ago. The Taliban would say about the Americans: “You have the watches. We have the time.” And that’s a big problem for us.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Unfortunately, they were right. They waited it out and continued on. This was an unforced error. I can’t even call it our evacuation. Our humiliation in front of the world was: “Enough already. Let’s pull out” — without any thought as to what the repercussions would be.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, [there are] huge repercussions inside Afghanistan. We’re going to see that more and more in the coming days. But the biggest problem is that both Trump and Biden thought that if you looked at Afghanistan — and really all of Central Asia, such as India, China, Pakistan, and Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — formerly part of the Soviet Union, but Russia right behind them. You have to imagine it as a big, messy pile of pickup sticks.

JOHN BOLTON: And what Trump and Biden thought was: “We want to get out of this endless war.” We just have to reach in and pull out the American stick. And then, we’ll be out, and nothing else will change.” Well, that’s fundamentally wrong. It’s a very complicated environment. And we have made a real mess of it in ways that it’s impossible for us to see at this point.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: The pull-out of Saigon in 1975 — the humiliation that we suffered there. Forget about what was done. It’s impossible to forget. It was so sad. What was done to our allies who supported us by the North Vietnamese — they came in and slaughtered these people. But just a few years later, was Pol Pot killing a third of his people. This was something that we could have prevented if there was some type of long-term planning on how to extract ourselves from Vietnam, no?

JOHN BOLTON: Yeah. It’s part of the problem of democratic society in the sense that you have an election, and elections have consequences. And they should. But it makes it harder when you don’t build a consensus that we did have for a time during World War II and the years after. There were obviously differences. But we had a pretty good consensus in the Cold War. I think that’s gone now. It’s partisan time. But it’s worth it to look for ways to get back to that.

JOHN BOLTON: The Germans — even the Europeans — have longer-term horizons than we do. The Germans, in fact, have a word for the patience you need in negotiations. It’s called “sitzfleisch.” And it means exactly what it sounds like. You sit there, and sit and sit. You don’t give up. You don’t compromise. Whereas, I’ve seen the Americans start looking around at their clocks and watches and say: “We’ve got to wrap this up.” Once you’re in that mode, you’re going to lose that negotiation.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: You do stupid things like an Iran deal. We did have a consensus — and I think you’d agree — after 9/11. I’m in New York, and I remember that at the time, there were no Democrats or Republicans. We were all Americans. It was a really trying time as we were burying more than 3,000 people from the World Trade Center.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Going into Afghanistan … What President Bush was doing was preventing terrorism from spreading and having a base so that there would never be another 9/11. I think people forget that after the 20 years of our involvement in Afghanistan. Correct me if I’m wrong. It was wasn’t nation building. We were just not giving safe harbor to terrorists.

JOHN BOLTON: That was the fundamental objective. I think we did engage in nation building. And honestly, we wasted a lot of money on it.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Where did that ever work? Where did we ever get that right — this nation building concept?

JOHN BOLTON: You can’t move a people in a direction you want them to unless they’re ready to do it themselves. And then, you can help. Or, in some cases, they were on that road before, and you put them back on the road.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: But they were already on the road. They already got that taste. They want that. For us to go into a country and tell them: “We’re democratic, and we want you to be democratic” — to a country that never even had a history or relationship with this form of government. Nope. This is us. This is America. Where did that ever work?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, it doesn’t. John Stuart Mill, in his famous essay on representative government, describes the preconditions for success at democracy. He said that the people must be willing to receive it. And it comes for different people at different times. It’s no knock on anybody if they’re not willing to receive it — or if they’re not ready. We can’t force them to do it. And we shouldn’t worry about the fact that we can’t. We’re pursuing our interests.

JOHN BOLTON: We gave Afghanistan a lot of collateral benefits. They’re going to disappear now. And I’m sorry for that. It wouldn’t have taken much to stay with a relatively small force. But we had two presidents in a row — Trump and Biden — who both, for years, wanted to get out. And we’ll bear the consequences for a long time.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: What concerns me — and I want you to tell me that I’m totally wrong on this. What concerns me is the Taliban taking over Afghanistan once again. And right next door, you have Pakistan with nuclear arms. That combination keeps me up at night. Tell me I’m overreacting.

JOHN BOLTON: No. I felt this was one of the main arguments that I used with Trump to urge that we keep a military presence in Afghanistan — not just to prevent terrorists from taking control there, but to watch what was happening in Pakistan and Iran.

JOHN BOLTON: The fact is, and I’ve written on this, that the government of Pakistan has been moving in a more radical direction — particularly in the military. For many years, it supplied the Taliban with arms, weapons and secure bases across the Pakistani border. It has built up terrorist groups that move against India. It has attacked the Indian parliament two months after 9/11 and tried to undercut the Indian government in Kashmir — which Pakistan thinks should be part of it. And it has pursued nuclear weapons.

JOHN BOLTON: So, the greater the possibility of Pakistan being run by their equivalent of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the more in danger we are of that kind of government giving individual nuclear weapons to terrorists. You don’t need a ballistic missile to deliver a nuclear weapon. You can put it in a tramp steamer and sail it into the New York harbor. You can bring it across the Mexican border. You can deliver it in a lot of ways.

JOHN BOLTON: If that happens, that’s very threatening. It’s why proliferation in Iran and North Korea is a concern — and not just because of the danger in Northeast Asia with North Korea or the Middle East with Iran, but because countries like that — which are authoritarian extremists — could give those weapons to people they thought could hurt the United States or our allies. They would not hesitate to do it.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: We saw North Korea help Syria build a nuclear reactor until the Israelis blew that up. So, these people are not shy about helping the enemies of the United States. They arm themselves with any capabilities that they have to have a nuclear strike. It’s so frightening to me because all of this is like a kid’s game compared to what could happen. And 9/11 could be a small footnote compared to what could happen. But, God willing, it’ll never happen. But it’s possible. That’s what scares me.

JOHN BOLTON: Right. There are many things wrong with the Iran nuclear deal. But even if it didn’t exist … When people say: “How soon could Iran have a nuclear weapon?” The answer is probably in 48 to 72 hours if it sends a sufficient wire transfer to Pyongyang and gets a nuclear warhead or two coming back by a return cargo plane.

JOHN BOLTON: That’s what proliferation is all about. It makes everybody more unsafe and incentivizes others to try and get their own nuclear weapons. That remains a big danger for us. It’s not just the threat from China or Russia. It remains the threat — nuclear weapons proliferating, chemical weapons or biological weapons. That’s what COVID should teach us.

JOHN BOLTON: They used to call — and still do — biological and chemical weapons: The poor man’s nuclear weapon. And I’m not saying China did this deliberately — although, I do think the evidence points to a leak from the lab, and we might want to know why they’re doing that kind of biological research to begin with.

JOHN BOLTON: But let’s face it, the world’s performance with COVID-19 has not been very good. And if you took our experience — that a terrorist or rogue state could gain — from the past year and a half and built it into an attack plan with Ebola, a new coronavirus or other dangerous pathogens, you could see a significant threat to the United States and its allies. It would be very hard for us to respond them.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Look what happened to this country overnight — the way the economy shut down. What do people get wrong about John Bolton, so they call him a warmonger? What are you saying here? I’m not the first guy to ever ask you that question. Why is that? Why are they saying that your views are warmongering views? We’re having a discussion here. I’m not a diplomat. I’ve never served in government. I’m just a regular guy listening to what you’re saying. This all makes sense. What don’t they get about you?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think, in large measure, they don’t pay adequate attention. But I do think there’s also a cultural difference. Everybody agrees that the primary way to resolve international problems is through diplomacy. The difference with me — and many people in the Foreign Service — is that I view diplomacy is the answer. Remember the old Ivory Snow commercial. I view diplomacy as the answer 99.44% of the time. And many of the diplomats view it as the answer 100% of the time. And it clearly is not.

JOHN BOLTON: So, if you talk about the world’s trouble spots, you’re going to talk about the potential for conflict. Take India and Pakistan. They’ve had several wars — and have come close on other occasions — since independence in 1947. And it shouldn’t surprise anybody that that’s on people’s minds. If you’re worried about the main threats to the United States, and its friends around the world, you’re worried about adversaries that are prepared to use force to get their way.

JOHN BOLTON: So, I think it’s also a mark of our time. People like to talk in bumper stickers. They engage in ad hominem attacks. They don’t deal in substance. That’s not unique in American history. I think we go through cycles. Sometimes, it’s worse than others. I think we’re in a particularly bad period now. It’s fueled by social media where you can you can fire off a message. You can talk about what somebody says without reading the op ed or listening to the speech or interview. You can read a tweet about what somebody said about what I said and attack the tweet. You can attack what the tweet says that I said — even though I didn’t say it.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: What gets me is watching our withdrawal … What are we doing in Afghanistan now? How would you call it?

JOHN BOLTON: A retreat.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, sadly. There were 2,400 men and women who defended our country and died there. And who knows how many of our Afghan allies have died over the past 20 years. It’s so disheartening. It’s just terrible — absolutely terrible.

JOHN BOLTON: We’re back in the pre-9/11 period.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I think it’s worse now. We’re worse than pre-9/11.

JOHN BOLTON: We have both al-Qaeda and ISIS to worry about now.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: We have two.

JOHN BOLTON: And more will come.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And Iran is way more developed now than it was in 2011. North Korea is way more advanced as well. Let me put that aside for a second. You have a vast amount of experience. You’re a pragmatic guy. You are an ally of the United States. You depend on the United States for security. And I’m talking about Taiwan. I’m talking about Israel. I’m talking about Europe. And you see the way we just treated an ally. We’ve been there for 20 years. The way this whole process is going down — how are you sleeping at night?

JOHN BOLTON: Not very well. What I try and tell our foreign friends is that Trump was an aberration. I wouldn’t draw any broad conclusions from his presidency in terms of foreign, defense or domestic policy and the future of American politics. He was an aberration. Hopefully, he’s not coming back. And you should set that aside. Biden is a product of the American political system. And Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense, said it right. He can’t think of a single foreign policy issue that Biden has ever been right on.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: In 47 years.

JOHN BOLTON: So, Trump and Biden agree on pulling out of Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean there’s a trend. These are two screwy events that have unfortunately come together in close conjunction. But it’s not anything people should try to generalize from. The best thing I can say is the famous saying that the British sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill. But somebody said: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — usually after they’ve tried everything else.” So, we’re in the trying everything else period. Give us a little time here, and we’ll get it straight.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: How do you see this playing out with China? And how do you see China now — watching this debacle taking place, knowing that they had their sights on Taiwan. And they’re building up and have become much more aggressive over the past few years. How do you see them? What would be your next chess move if you were China?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think you have to look at China as the existential threat of the 21st century. And just as the Chinese government is expert at planning long term, we’ve got to think in in longer time horizons. But I don’t think we should minimize this. People talk about a second Cold War. It’s nothing like a second Cold War — to our detriment.

JOHN BOLTON: With the Soviet Union, we had almost no economic contact at all. So, isolating it — going toe-to-toe with it — caused us no economic pain. That’s not going to happen in the case of China. They’re counting on it. Our material isn’t really to overcome our strategic thinking. And we’ve got to put that aside. It’s going to be a difficult exercise.

JOHN BOLTON: The one silver lining from the coronavirus is that I think the American people understand — and surveys show this in Europe and Japan as well — that China’s obvious cover-up of the origin of the virus has caused the opinion about China to tank in the United States and around the world. So, people are now waking up to the other threats we face from China — military, economic and political. And that’s a good thing. We can protect ourselves. We can prevail. We’re coming from behind. But we’ve got the time if we apply ourselves.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Given the present administration, do you think they would — based on what we’ve been seeing — step up to the plate and protect Taiwan?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think political reporters like to talk about splits in the Republican Party — Trump versus the non-Trump persons. What I’ve seen in the past month or so, with respect to Afghanistan, has shown a huge split within the Democratic Party. People understand the consequences of Biden’s decision — carrying through on Trump’s decision to get out of Afghanistan. And I think this is an opportunity.

JOHN BOLTON: I do think we’ve got a pressing need for a big debate on China. People need to understand things like Huawei is not a normal telecommunications company. It’s an arm of the Chinese state. And it’s not kidding around in Zhejiang. It’s carrying out a cultural genocide against the Uyghur people. It has suppressed democracy in Hong Kong. It’s a lot to talk about.

JOHN BOLTON: For example, in coming to the defense of Taiwan, we need to explain why. We need to get the American people ready for it. And there are plenty of good reasons. If you want chips for your computers, they’re probably manufactured in Taiwan — quite apart from the fact that it’s a free country and has depended on us. So, this is very important. And I think this is how we overcome the problem of the short attention span. We’ve got to talk about the big picture and protecting American values against the competition from the authoritarianism that the Chinese government represents.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: But with the way we’re acting now with Afghanistan, isn’t it shaking our allies to the core and has them saying: “My gosh, they might not be here for me”?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think it is with some of them. I think that underlines the nature of the problem we’ve got. And I think that’s why it’s important. If you look at public opinion polls — whatever people think about withdrawing from Afghanistan — at some point, they’ve looked at what has been happening. And Biden’s opinion is going down significantly because Americans don’t like watching America being humiliated. And they don’t like self-inflicted mistakes. So, it’s hard to find anything good in this. But there is one lesson to be learned. You just have to think about what the consequences are of your actions. Like Tony Blair said: “Don’t follow simplistic political slogans.”

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, the last thing because I want to wrap this up: You’re a breath of fresh air. You look around and say: “How come no one gets it?” And it’s good to hear that you get it! You were able to articulate it well. In the Middle East, we had the Abraham Accords, which seem to be moving in the right direction. Yet, Israel is faced with Hezbollah in the north. Hamas, which is an arm of Iran in Gaza, is shooting missiles on the on the Israeli population centers.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And the Arab world is moving closer to — I wouldn’t say democracy because that’s not really what they’re looking for — more of an understanding of Israel being a player in the Middle East and an equal member state. It has never been viewed that way. How do you see that playing out over the next several years under this administration — especially given the backdrop of what we’re seeing now?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Iran has hegemonic aspirations in the Middle East in terms of geopolitical control and religious domination inside of Islam. We’ve talked a lot about the nuclear program, but it’s also its support of terrorism. Remember, Iran was the first government to be declared a state sponsor of terrorism by Ronald Reagan during his administration. That’s how long this has been going on. And its conventional military activity in Iraq and Syria with Hezbollah and Lebanon. They’re using the Houthi rebels in Yemen to fire missiles and drones — civilian airports in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

JOHN BOLTON: The Abraham Accords reflect the fundamental tectonic shift in the Middle East. I think it’s inevitable that more Arab governments recognize Israel. I think we’re going to see it. I think the pace will speed up because they recognize they’re in it together against Iran. That is a force that’s more important than anything else we might have expected.

JOHN BOLTON: I think it’s a mistake for the United States to say it wants to get out of the Middle East because we need to focus on China. We are the preeminent world power. We have to be able to walk, chew gum and say the alphabet at the same time. We can deal with China. We can deal with the Middle East. We can deal with Russia. We can do it all and still have time left over. We just have to apply ourselves. And I hope the rising generations understand that. Those of us who grew up in the Cold War faced a clear threat to the United States. We’re still in the process of understanding the threats that we face now. And a lot of people still don’t. So, to me, that underlines how much work there is to be done.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. True. One last thing for you, Ambassador: What keeps you up at night?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, actually, nothing keeps me up at night. I don’t worry about things that way. I’ve got a long list of problems around the world, and if things started keeping me up at night, I wouldn’t get any sleep at all. People have missed the point about the end of the Cold War — where we had a peace dividend. Remember that? We had the Washington consensus where we had reached the end of history. That’s not true.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: We had a surplus in the budget.

JOHN BOLTON: We were close to having no national debt at one point. That was a very mistaken view of the world. And 9/11 woke us up in a major way. But here we are — 20 years later. A lot of people obviously didn’t get it at the time, forgot it or are too young to remember. But there’s never an easy day. The framers used to say that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance. And it’s still true today.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, wow. By the way, would your dream job have been Secretary of State?

JOHN BOLTON: Sure. Well, my career isn’t over yet.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: I love it. That’s what I need to hear. I’m so happy. But look, 2024 is right around the corner. You know what it is? You’ve lived long enough, and seen enough things, that people are starting to say: “This guy happens to be right.” It took that long. Reagan was out in the boondocks for so many years until the country woke up and said: “This is our guy.” He was up from 1964. And it took him until 1980 to get on the national stage in a big way.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Ambassador, is there anything else you want to close with? I could talk to you for hours. Is there anything? Make me feel good. I don’t sleep at night. I’m worried about all these things. Now that I know you’re snoring, that gets me even more nervous. So, give me something to feel good about.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think the fundamental promise of America remains very strong despite the difficult times we’re in now — and they are pretty bad. We’ve seen worse. People have got to remember that. The Civil War was a near fatal episode in our history. But we overcame that, and we will overcome other problems because that’s the nature of the people who came to this country. They came with hope. And we have never lost that.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Do you ever wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say: “Gosh, I came from Baltimore. My pop was a fireman. My mom was a housewife. And here I am dealing with the world players.” Where else could that happen in the world — other than America?

JOHN BOLTON: No doubt about it.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you’re not only a phenomenal statesman. I remember reading somewhere that the difference between a statesman and a politician was that a politician cares about the next election. A statesman cares about the next generation. And in everything I’ve ever read that you’ve written, you take a long-term view. You do second and third-level thinking. If this happens, then this will happen. And then, this will eventually happen. In investing, you do the same thing. You try to anticipate two or three moves ahead. And it seems like the short-termism that our politicians and foreign policy leaders have been doing for so long hasn’t been working.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, it reduces our options. And part of what we’re looking for now is to correct past mistakes in situations where we don’t have a lot of room to maneuver. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. It just means you have to be creative.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: We keep doing a lot of unforced errors. We’re in the positions that we deserve to be in because we put ourselves there.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, there’s a depressing saying that people get the government they deserve. I hope that’s not right.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, amazing. Ambassador John Bolton, God bless you. Keep fighting the good fight. Your thoughts keep getting clearer. Your message doesn’t have to scream anymore because it’s playing out the way you said it would. And don’t listen to you at our nation’s peril. You’ve been playing this out. And you’ve played this game long enough. You know how the players work. Hopefully, the people in power realize that.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Like you said, we’ve had a lot of adversity over the past 200 years. We’re going to overcome this because the American people are a pragmatic people. We’re a decent people. See what’s happening around you. In Afghanistan, Marines are taking babies. My wife looked at that picture in the paper. Look at our Marines. These aren’t soldiers. These are dads and moms.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: And she looked at it from the other perspective. She said: “You imagine what it is for a mother to give their infant to a stranger — what their fear is to do something like that.” And as a Jew, whose family was in the Holocaust, I totally get that. To give up everything to see that your children aren’t thrown into the gas chamber…

CHARLES MIZRAHI: These people are giving their children to strangers to care for them. These are military people who they’ve never seen or will never know again. It’s amazing what’s on the ground over there. We have no idea about all the stories that will come out of this.

JOHN BOLTON: It shows what we’re squandering when we ignore that. After we essentially betrayed the Afghans, they’d still rather have their children live with us.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, [rather them than] these oppressors. Ambassador John Bolton, all the power to you. Keep fighting the good fight. Thank you for your service to this country. You could have made a zillion more dollars by being a CEO of a big multinational company — flying private jets. But you chose government service. Sometimes, I’m sure you wake up and say: “Why the heck do I do that?” But from one citizen to another, thank you so much for your service. You’ve done great for us.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, thank you very much. It was great to be with you.

CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.

 

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