By John R. Bolton and Nathan Deal
This article appeared in The Washington Times
As an embattled Israel struggles to protect itself against Hamas rocket attacks and terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip, political ties between Washington and Jerusalem have reached an all-time low. President Obama has put Israel under unrelenting pressure to accept a nuclear Iran, to make dangerous concessions to Palestinian negotiators, and now to stop Operation Protective Edge before it can cripple the Hamas terrorist threat.
Moreover, many among America’s media, university and even religious elites increasingly condemn Israel’s effort to protect its growing population, calling for sanctions, boycotts and divestitures against U.S. firms doing business with Israel. This “BDS movement” does not merely criticize specific Israeli policies, such as Protective Edge, but instead attacks the very legitimacy of Israel itself. It often masks an ill-concealed anti-Semitism, a stain we had hoped was long ago erased from American political discourse. It is reminiscent of former President Jimmy Carter’s view of Israel as an “apartheid state.”
Fortunately, however, while the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship sputters and even deteriorates further at the national level, our states, local institutions and businesses are actually forging ever-closer relations with key Israeli institutions. These rapidly expanding linkages, despite political disagreements between capitals, are mutually beneficial and represent strong testaments to the common sense of both the American and Israeli people.
The state of Georgia, which annually buys millions in Israeli bonds, is a prime example. On issues from antiterrorism and cybersecurity to trade and investment policy, Georgia is engaged in cooperation with Israel that would have been unimaginable decades ago.
Take cybersecurity. For much of the past decade, hostile states, hackers and opportunists have launched cyber-attacks against American military information-technology networks, private corporations, public infrastructure and even individual citizens. In the national security world, the integrity of the “C4” function (command, control, communications and computers) is critical to the success of our combat operations. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Pentagon describes cyberterrorism as a “top threat,” and recently warned it has “serious concerns” regarding the vulnerability of critical military programs and national infrastructure to attack.
Military needs, technology, academic research and sophisticated workforces intersect in both Georgia and Israel. Georgia Tech’s Information Security Center and cybersecurity training at Fort Gordon (the longtime headquarters of the Army Signal Corps), working closely with Israel’s new Advanced Technology Park on the campus of Ben Gurion University, are quickly becoming cybersecurity world leaders.
On a recent trade mission to Israel, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given Israel and Georgia’s economic ties, existing technology hubs and military installations, a partnership between Georgia Tech and leading Israeli universities to combat this threat is a natural next step. Together, the “next Silicon Valley” and the “Silicon Valley of the Southeast” are joining to develop and strengthen our cyberdefenses.
Israel’s Ben Gurion University has made major contributions to technologies in powerful, innovative ways through its new relationships with tech companies and the Israel Defense Forces. Israel, dubbed “the Start-up Nation” because it has the highest density of startups per capita in the world, has thereby facilitated increased research and development for protecting information technology and communications networks. The combination of Israel’s focus on defense and its technological prowess have turned cyberdefense capabilities into one of its most important exports. In just the past three years, Israel’s cybersecurity field has grown from a few dozen to more than 220 companies.
Georgia is similarly becoming a world leader in developing defenses against cyber-attacks, espionage and industrial larceny. According to U.S. Army Cyber Command leadership, Georgia’s state government, academia and the U.S. military in-state are cooperating to improve our cybercapabilities and maximize the potential for “emerging, game-changing land-power technology.”
Georgia Tech is vitally connected to this critical industry and hosts many national and global cybersecurity conferences and seminars that serve as examples of world-class cyberspace monitoring and defense activity. With the U.S Army Cyber Command now located at Fort Gordon, it is well placed to take advantage of Georgia Tech’s expanding efforts. Fort Gordon and Georgia Tech leaders met in January to increase collaboration, including training and ongoing professional development of Fort Gordon officers and enlisted service members.
These examples of mutual cooperation in a critically important field would seem unremarkable were it not for the ongoing bilateral tensions between the United States and Israel. However, despite their prominence, Israel’s political and academic critics in America are outliers. Americans today, more strongly than ever, support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against external threats, whether from Hamas terrorism or Iran’s ill-concealed desire to gain nuclear weapons and threaten Israel with a nuclear holocaust. Georgia’s experience is fully reflective of America’s true values and a sure guide to better relations ahead.
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
President Obama’s response to the July 17 attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has followed a well-established pattern. Viewing international affairs through the confining prism of legal procedures and restraints, Mr. Obama is treating this terrorist act—which even such a stalwart supporter of the president as Sen. Carl Levin called “an act of war”—as something akin to a police homicide investigation.
Mr. Obama has unfortunately dwelled on getting international forensic experts to the crash site instead of emphasizing the vital strategic lessons to be drawn from this terrible episode. He did warn on Friday and again on Mondayof unspecified steps that would be taken—no doubt after the criminal-justice approach plays out—but his vague incantations about “consequences” are also familiar. Red lines ultimately prove illusory with this president, retribution never materializes, and American lassitude and disinterest approach surreal levels.
Tectonic power and political forces—not legalisms—are now clashing in Europe. Vladimir Putin, though a lawyer like the American president, understands this. Mr. Obama does not. Subordinating a president’s primary, existentially important political role to an emphasis on the sifting of evidence impairs America’s ability to protect its vital interests. And, hour by hour, delay saps Europe’s willingness to do more than simply wring its hands.
For much of the past two decades, Russophiles contended that Moscow was finally ready to join the West, but Mr. Putin’s iron determination to re-establish Russian hegemony within the former Soviet Union has repeatedly proven the opposite. For an American president, making clear the broader political implications of Russian belligerence and mobilizing our NATO allies and other like-minded countries ought to be far more important than verifying details like which missile battery fired the deadly rocket, from where, and by whose hand.
The strategic reality is that the rebellion in eastern Ukraine’s conflict is being conducted with Russian direction and material assistance. To be sure, Mr. Putin plays on the local population’s pro-Moscow sympathies, but the key operatives, as in the annexation of Crimea, are either Russians or Ukrainian citizens under Russian command and control.
Ukraine is the great prize among the former Soviet republics, and Mr. Putin suffered a significant setback last winter when Ukrainians overthrew the Yanukovych government. The Flight 17 catastrophe is another crushing blow—or it should have been. But Mr. Putin has played his hand skillfully against a Western alliance left rudderless by detached and indecisive leadership from the White House.
Immediate and longer-term action from the U.S. and its allies is required. It is Moscow’s broader policy of aggressive behavior, extending well beyond Ukraine, that the West must counter. Many have suggested, in response to the downing of Flight 17, instituting additional sanctions against Russia, and substantially increasing U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine. These and related measures are sensible, but they must be made part of a larger strategic vision. Given Mr. Obama’s short international attention span, even initially robust tactical responses will quickly dissipate.
The larger strategy must rest on recognizing that Russia has assumed an adversarial position against the West. Accordingly, we should not merely aid Ukraine militarily, but also renew President George W. Bush’s 2008 proposal to put Ukraine (and Georgia) clearly on track for NATO membership. We should restore the missile-defense project for Poland and the Czech Republic that Mr. Obama unwisely scrapped soon after he took office, the president should give up on the ill-advised “New START” nuclear-arms treaty with Russia that he continues to pursue, and the U.S. should step up its nuclear readiness.
As for economic responses, sanctions should be sharp and effective. Abandon the gradual-escalation theories hatched in university faculty lounges and impose real pain. Barring Russian institutions from Western financial markets is a good place to start. And we should unleash development of North America’s energy reserves, thereby providing Europe a strategic alternative to Russian hydrocarbons (and benefitting ourselves domestically).
Would Europe agree to such robust steps? Given the recent record of feckless U.S. leadership, we won’t know Europe’s “real” answer until our allies see decisive American action. Eastern and Central Europe would almost certainly respond positively, putting pressure on more-hesitant European Union capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, is not about to get ahead of the White House in moving against Mr. Putin.
There is much to do, and the time to do it is slipping away. Significantly, the strategic framework we must construct has implications beyond Europe. Beijing is intently watching how Washington deals with Moscow. What China’s leaders have seen to date simply feeds their aggressive aspirations in the East and South China Sea and along the country’s land borders. China’s near neighbors fully grasp the point.
Yet it is not just Europe and Asia that need U.S. leadership. America, for its own safety’s sake, needs it too. On the evidence of recent days, such leadership is still not forthcoming.
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
This article originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Iraq’s descent into chaos has sparked a fierce, high-decibel debate over who is responsible, a debate that unfortunately overshadows the one we truly need about how to protect American interests there today.
The historical debate is, not surprisingly, highly partisan. One side condemns George Bush’s 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein; others blame Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal of essentially all U.S. forces, leaving Iraq to itself.
I am squarely in the second camp. Obama’s decision to elevate ideology and domestic politics over the national interest (plus his limp-wristed treatment of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program) is largely responsible. Understanding why requires two things the anti-Bush argument sadly lacks — appreciating both the hard reality of the Middle East over the past 35 years and, as important, how historical causation actually works.
Between 1980 and 2000, Iran and Iraq, for different reasons, were each hostile to U.S. interests. Nonetheless, successive administrations failed to resolve either threat satisfactorily. Ronald Reagan’s tilt toward Iraq in the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war, for instance, manifestly did not dissuade Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, hindsight now makes clear we should have overthrown his regime in 1991 rather than returning to the status quo ante bellum.
President Clinton’s “dual containment” policy was even worse, containing neither Iran nor Iraq, while allowing both to support international terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Clinton also ignored the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan and al-Qaida worldwide, tragically leading to Sept. 11, 2001. After overthrowing the Taliban in 2001-02, Bush next rightly decided to finish the first Persian Gulf War, since Saddam remained an obvious threat to international peace and security. America’s military did so with brilliance and speed.
The “blame Bush” argument rests on two assumptions, both wrong. First, it asserts that Saddam’s 2003 overthrow led inevitably and unalterably to the current state of affairs. But does the chain of causation flow solely and unavoidably from the 2003 decision to invade? No. History is rarely so direct. For example, disbanding Saddam’s army, thereby eliminating the paychecks on which many Sunni Arab families depended, helped fuel discontent during 2003-06 and, in 20/20 hindsight, has been harshly criticized. But was the decision to disband the Saddam-era army directly required by the decision to invade? Obviously not; it was entirely separate and distinct, as were the vast bulk of other post-Saddam decisions.
Moreover, Bush’s 2006-08 “surge” policy, which eliminated the al-Qaida threat in Iraq and re-established considerable domestic political stability, was not inevitably determined by any prior decision. Indeed, Bush originally was a minority within his own government and in Washington generally and most Democrats opposed it. Bush’s surge, however, created an Iraq so stable that the Obama administration would later try to steal the credit for its consequences.
Second, blaming Bush rests on the unverifiable but almost certainly incorrect assumption that had we not invaded in 2003, Iraq’s subsequent alternative history would have been smooth and peaceful. Such naiveté hardly comports with Saddam’s malicious history or the deep and bloody confessional hatreds now on display, not to mention later regional developments, such as the fratricide resulting from the Arab Spring. The blithe spirits content for Saddam to remain in power unchallenged also are shockingly careless with the potential regional threat he posed.
Subsequent incorrect decisions thus hardly invalidate the logic of the initial decision to invade. One can support the 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam without being required to defend every subsequent decision. Neither history nor real-life decision-making is like a continuously extruded one-piece steel beam. Manifestly, no one has to defend every decision, especially those with which we disagree, in a complex historical chain.
In fact, Bush’s overthrow of Saddam is far from either a necessary or a sufficient condition to explain Iraq’s current chaos. By contrast, Obama’s 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. forces almost certainly fits both those conditions by removing the military power that constituted our principal leverage over al-Maliki and Iran. Iraq’s inexperience with self-government, combined with Iran’s malign efforts to subvert the entire process, necessitated U.S. forces remaining there for several more years and in much larger numbers than Obama would accept.
Moreover, the absence of a status-of-forces agreement was not a real reason to withdraw but only a pretext camouflaging Obama’s ideology and mollifying his domestic political base.
Resolving the historical debate, however, still doesn’t tell us what we should be doing now. This is neither 2003 nor 2011 but an entirely different environment and Iraq’s collapse is accelerating. Our interests and those of our friends and allies haven’t changed but the options now open to us are, sadly, not what they once were. Obama now is in his sixth year of closing his eyes to the Middle East’s deteriorating reality and the global terrorist threat. If history tells us anything, it is that the United States will feel the pain.
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
The Supreme Court today dealt a blow to the president’s recess appointment power, one of the office’s most important Constitutional prerogatives. The court got Article II, Section 2 (the recess appointment clause) right, but the justices could honestly have gone even further in curtailing his power. Given President Obama’s incredible assault on the Senate’s right to decide its own procedures, he’s lucky they didn’t. There’s a right way to appoint officials without the Senate’s approval, and Obama whiffed. I know, because I was a recess appointee myself.
The president is supposed to be able to fill government vacancies when the Senate is out of session, a historical practice from the time when many months elapsed between lawmaking conferences. It was an uneasy and uncertain compromise between the two branches of government, but the Senate traditionally acquiesced when it was in a “reasonable” recess, like the traditional month-long August vacation. When nominations for the executive branch languish, the president is unable to implement his policies through the people he wants.
The problem is that the Senate’s confirmation process, both for executive branch and judicial nominees, had deviated dramatically from what the framers originally intended. Now the Senate often obstructs confirmation votes for partisan reasons. This is terrible for policymaking and no fun for the nominee watching a president’s term slip away while the Senate dawdles.
President George W. Bush nominated me to become U.N. ambassador in March 2005, but nothing happened. So during the August break — when the likes of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry were blocking an up-or-down vote on my nomination — Bush made it official by recess appointment.
What Obama did, however, was different. He made the three contested appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was holding pro forma sessions once every three days but transacting little business — a well-known Senate tactic to frustrate presidents and block recess appointment. After all, a three-day break is not really a “recess.” Nevertheless, Obama appointed the NLRB members, simply ignoring the Senate and violating the understanding that whatever the “right” length of time is for a legitimate “recess,” three days was too short.
Obama’s characteristic disregard for both the Constitution and common sense was a palpable overreach the court rightly slapped down. The Senate was exercising its legitimate constitutional power to make its own schedule (Article I, Section 5) and continue operating during a regular session. Yes, the point of this was to block recess appointments, but that is the legislative branch’s prerogative. If one branch could decide the prerogatives of the other two — if the Supreme Court allowed Obama to wrench away control of basic decisions of another branch — there would be no limit to further interference. Why, he could then rewrite provisions of federal statutes, selectively enforce others, and ignore still others. Oh wait …
Obama’s assault on the Senate in effect forced the court to consider not just the disagreement over pro forma sessions, but the entire modus vivendi, including the obviously central question of what constitutes a “recess.” However ancient the custom was, however commonly used, of course they had to yield to the court’s interpretation of the Constitution’s plain words and original meaning. Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion rejected that conclusion, but Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurrence, along with that of three others, embraced it. (The 5 to 4 vote indicates that a later revisitation of this issue could go even further.) Had the Supreme Court adopted Scalia’s reasoning, Obama would have left a considerably weakened executive.
Today’s decision rebukes Obama appropriately, and I am relieved that the president’s recess appointment power — the one that let me do my job — was not more substantially curtailed. The real answer is that the Senate should ultimately have up-or-down votes for nominees, whether from Republican or Democratic presidents. Senators can, and almost certainly will, rough up nominees they dislike. And if they raise the battle to the level of preventing a floor vote, presidents should be able to respond through a recess appointment. By risking the demise of that option, Obama did the country and his office a disservice.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Post
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
Whole forests have been sacrificed since the stunningly swift military advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (”ISIL”) to provide enough newsprint for the debate over who bears responsibility for the current debacle in Iraq. Inevitably, analysts are rearguing George W. Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Barack Obama’s complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, and virtually everything else Iraq-related in between.
This is all beside the point for today’s decision-makers confronting the question of what, if anything, to do as Iraq nears disintegration. America must instead decide what its national interests are now, not what they were five or ten years ago. As economists love to remind, the “sunk costs” fallacy warns against revisiting past mistakes to recreate a history we wish had unfolded.
None of the parties to Iraq’s current conflict have anything to recommend them. ISIL is a terrorist organization, and even conceding its (perhaps temporary) schism with Al Qaeda, it is precisely the terrorist enemy we have been fighting since September 11, 2001 (and before, although we didn’t realize it until too late).
Ranged against ISIL are Assad’s regime in Syria, Maliki’s regime in Iraq, and their puppet-masters in Iran. None of them smell any sweeter. (The Kurds are a special case, but they first need to make their goals clear before we decide how to respond.)
Nonetheless, some argue we should assist Maliki to prevent the complete loss of America’s heroic effort to oust Saddam Hussein and give Iraqis the chance for representative government. From a very different perspective, people who always (or at least sometimes) opposed the second Iraq war, now suggest we should aid Maliki because it would provide an opportunity to work with Tehran, presumably building mutual confidence thereby.
Both these arguments are wrong and their policy implications misguided. Instead, we should pursue two courses of action, one tactical, one strategic.
First, regarding the immediate hostilities, we should stand aside, hoping the conflict damages all the combatants, as in the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war, of which Henry Kissinger reportedly quipped that he hoped both sides would lose.
Second, strategically and most importantly for U.S. regional and global interests, we must increase (more accurately, renew) our efforts to overthrow the ayatollahs in Tehran. The reasons this objective deserves priority also explain why aiding an Iranian surrogate like Maliki’s regime does not benefit America today.
Maliki has had his chance, and he has failed; aiding him is likely a fool’s errand. Even if Washington conditioned its assistance on Maliki effectively breaking with Tehran, there is precious little chance he would agree. And if he did, there is every chance he would break his commitment — or Iran would break it for him — at the earliest opportunity once ISIL was crushed.
Iran is clearly the strongest, most threatening power in this conflict. It is rapidly approaching (or has already all but reached) a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability.
For nearly 35 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has been the world’s central banker for international terrorism. It has armed and financed terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism on an equal-opportunity basis, including Sunnis like Hamas and Taliban, and Shia like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraqi Shia who attacked American forces. A nuclear Iran could engage in even greater terrorist activity with relative impunity, something Taliban and Al Qaeda lacked the luxury of contemplating while we were overthrowing their regime in Kabul after 9/11.
Thus understood, it becomes perfectly clear that we should not aid our stronger adversary power against our weaker adversary power in the struggle underway in Iraq. There is little in it for us. The main beneficiary would be Tehran, especially if Obama, reprising Roosevelt’s World War II infatuation with Joseph Stalin, decided to do business with the ayatollahs. “Uncle Ali” Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, would undoubtedly have the last laugh.
U.S. strategy must rather be to prevent Tehran from re-establishing its scimitar of power stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Our interests dictate not being content with a Middle East where Iran and its puppets predominate. Balancing against Iran by aiding friendly Arab regimes (which Maliki’s is not) is inadequate. At best, we would produce a regional status quo filled with sworn enemies of America.
Instead, our objective should be to remove the main foe, Tehran’s ayatollahs, by encouraging the opposition, within and outside Iran, to take matters into their own hands. There is no need to deploy U.S. military power to aid the various opposition forces. We should instead provide them intelligence and material assistance, and help them subsume the political differences that separate them. Their differences should be addressed when the ayatollahs’ regime lies in ashes. And as Iran’s regime change proceeds, we can destroy ISIL.
Unfortunately, there is no chance Obama will adopt anything like this strategy. Indeed, given the president’s limp June 13 statement, it is doubtful Washington will even perform coherently in the months ahead. It is not a matter whether Obama’s Iraq “policy” is correct, but whether he is even interested.
Possibly, Iraq’s potential disintegration, together with the broader collapse of U.S. influence and interests now unfolding, could give impetus to a major national debate, long overdue, about America’s proper place in the world. Let it begin now, whether Obama is inclined to participate or not.
This article originally appeared on Foxnews
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
Barack Obama’s trip to Europe last week for D-Day’s 70th anniversary provided yet another manifestation of his failed leadership.
Ronald Reagan’s memorable 1984 visit to Normandy stands in sharp contrast. Reagan came as the free world’s unquestioned leader, locked in mortal struggle against global Communism, whereas Obama is a smaller-than-life figure — weak, indecisive and now sinking under the Bergdahl prisoner-swap controversy. Our NATO alliance lies in disarray. Russian belligerence is growing. And Obama seems increasingly detached. There is one other difference: Reagan’s D-Day speech will long be remembered, Obama’s quickly forgotten.
Until recently, we believed that victory in World War II and the demise of the Soviet Union eliminated military aggression as a component in shaping Europe’s destiny. No longer. In Ukraine, the West allowed force to prevail, as Vladimir Putin marched into Crimea, changing international borders by annexing it to Russia. Moscow did something similar to Georgia in 2008, breaking off two provinces and subsuming them under Russian control.
Because of Obama’s weak leadership — and the even greater weakness of NATO’s European members — Putin recouped much of the influence Russia lost when a popular uprising overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Moscow Yanukovich government. Russia has also struck a substantial blow against NATO’s cohesion, whether fatal or just debilitating we do not yet know. Worse, Putin is undoubtedly drawing a dangerous conclusion: NATO is vulnerable to a determined Russian strategy of military, political and economic assertiveness.
Europe’s other significant institution, the European Union, also is experiencing considerable stress and turmoil. Its currency, the euro, barely survived the financial crisis and is not immune from further pressure. The EU’s political institutions and their most basic premises are under continent-wide criticism.
In recent European Parliament elections, the United Kingdom Independence Party won the largest number of votes in Britain; the National Front came in first in France; and populist parties of the right and the left scored significant electoral gains elsewhere. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland, which opposes the euro but not the EU itself, contesting its first election, did respectably, demonstrating that even in the EU’s heart, criticism is rising. These protest parties, far from uniformly conservative in the American sense (some actually being pro-Russian), are each distinct national manifestations of discontent. Several have unmistakably repugnant racist and anti-Semitic elements.
But no one should underestimate the voter dissatisfaction they represent. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Labour Party leader, called these election results “a wake-up call to Europe and to Britain.” Blair said further “even among those who are in favor of Europe, there is a keen sense that the moment is right for Europe to think carefully about where it goes from here ….”
In many respects, Obama’s failures and the EU’s continuing crisis reflect common misperceptions shared both by Obama’s vision of American foreign policy and by the EU worldview. This commonality is hardly surprising, since the ideological underpinnings of Europe’s social democrats and Obama’s own leftist inclinations are essentially the same. And also not coincidentally, electorates in both Europe and the United States are rejecting important premises of that ideological foundation. Our elections do not occur until November but all indications are that Obama’s Democrat supporters are in deep trouble, due largely to his policies, both domestic and international.
In short, the West is going through a period of upheaval and uncertainty, not because of the strength of an external menace, but because of grave weaknesses in its own leaders and institutions. That is at least somewhat comforting because the capacity to fix these problems lies in our own hands, at least for now. The larger peril will arise if the United States and its allies do not act resolutely before existential threats materialize.
And here the problem is global. No country is watching the failure of America and Europe to stand effectively against Putin’s belligerence more closely than China. Beijing’s own assertive territorial and political claims in the East and South China Seas are directly comparable to Russian overreach in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, and the inadequacy of the West’s response in Europe is embarrassingly visible to China’s military leadership.
Proliferators of weapons of mass destruction — particularly Iran and North Korea — well understand that only an American-led coalition can stop the spread of nuclear weapons. And after five-plus years of Obama’s presidency, there is precious little evidence that he understands the severity of the threat, let alone what to do about it.
Obama’s European trip once again demonstrates that leadership matters and that its absence matters even more. We are in increasingly dangerous times and America’s president is out of his depth, our most important alliance is palsied and our adversaries are increasingly bold. We can only hope that our failings do not expose us to another 9/11 before we are able to correct them.
This article originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
The friends and family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are understandably happy and relieved that he is free from Taliban captivity after five years.
But we, as citizens, must nonetheless ask whether President Obama’s deal to obtain Bergdahl’s release — involving the exchange of five high-ranking, hard-core terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay — was, in fact, in the US national interest.
Despite Obama’s customarily exaggerated rhetoric, his agreement constituted a substantial setback for America both in the war against terrorism and for a wider world concerned about declining American power and resolve. Bergdahl’s release should be a fire bell in the night for Americans looking forward.
First, swapping Bergdahl for illegal enemy combatants (terrorists, in common parlance) signaled unmistakably to Taliban and al Qaeda that Obama is determined to withdraw from Afghanistan no matter what the cost to the United States or those in Afghanistan fighting to remain free.
Just days earlier, during his West Point graduation speech, Obama had again stressed that, no matter what the facts are on the ground, US forces will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016. If the terrorists still had even the slightest doubt that they needed only a minimal amount of patience to regain control in Kabul, Obama has done everything in his power to eliminate that.
He is surrendering in Afghanistan.
Second, it is despicable for an American president to equate a US servicemember with terrorist criminals such as those at Gitmo. This is the worst form of moral equivalence, the inexcusable mistake of equating two radically different kinds of people or policies.
In Cold War days, we were right to exchange spies with the Soviets, like for like. But to exchange soldiers for criminals as if they were fungible is moral equivalence that we should reject when the terrorists themselves offer it. For our own president to make that mistake is tragic.
Third, Obama tried to disguise his error by characterizing the exchange as consistent with our military tradition of leaving no US servicemembers behind. But Obama’s rhetoric is way off the mark, and the overwhelming majority of our warriors would reject it.
Our entire government has an obligation to protect all American citizens overseas.
If tomorrow, Taliban or al Qaeda kidnapped a Foreign Service officer, or a missionary or a business person, would they not merit just as much concern as a servicemember? Of course. So despite Obama’s pretense, it is not alone Bergdahl’s status as a soldier that warrants some kind of special attention. He cannot legitimately appeal to military tradition to justify swapping Bergdahl for Gitmo detainees.
Finally, and most basically, it has long been America’s unwavering, bipartisan policy not to negotiate with terrorists, especially for the exchange of hostages. By trading to release hostages, we are invariably putting a price on the heads of other Americans.
Exchanging Bergdahl for five terrorists is functionally no different. The Reagan administration was wrong in Iran-Contra to deal for hostages, and it almost cost Reagan his presidency. It is equally wrong today.
Exchanging terrorists for Bergdahl reveals Obama’s not-so-hidden agenda: He is clearing the decks to withdraw remaining US forces from Afghanistan at the earliest possible moment, even before the end of 2016 if possible.
The Bergdahl deal is now history, but it nonetheless provides important lessons.
Clear-eyed presidents must put America first in national-security matters.
All of us as individuals are safer when our country and leaders are strong, and all of us as individuals are more at risk when they are weak. And today we are in ever-increasing danger because of weakness in the White House.
This article originally appeared in The New York Post
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
At West Point on Wednesday, President Obama told the graduating seniors that he had discovered a middle way in foreign policy between isolationism and military interventionism. To the White House, this was like “the dawn come up like thunder outer China,” in Kipling’s phrase.
Others were less impressed, especially since it took five-plus years of on-the-job training to grasp this platitude. Of course the United States has options between war and complete inaction. Not since Nixon has a president so relished uncovering middling alternatives between competing straw men.
When any president speaks, he engages in more than academic analysis. But playing with words, at which Mr. Obama excels, improves nothing in his record. Inattention to foreign threats and challenges as diverse as Islamic terrorism or China’s increasing belligerence in the East Asian littoral; inconsistency and ineptitude in pursuing his own policies, as in Syria and Libya; and indecisiveness in confronting threats like Russia’s pressure on Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear-weapons program all hang like albatrosses around his presidential tenure. Mr. Obama’s speech only further muddled the administration’s contradictory messages on foreign policy.
The president’s “vision” was, as the White House had promised, “both interventionist and internationalist but not isolationist or unilateralist,” a formulation as sterile as the speech itself. Unilateralism vs. multilateralism and interventionism vs. noninterventionism are debates over tools, not over broad philosophies or even strategies. It is like arguing abstractly whether one favors eating with spoons or forks. An essential question must be addressed first: What is the objective? The choice of tactics and methods flows from defining the objectives, not the reverse.
The internationalist/isolationist spectrum does, however, touch on fundamental questions. While Mr. Obama has wisely chosen the “internationalist” bumper sticker for his administration, his actual policies have had strong isolationist elements. Mr. Obama has been weak and ineffectual because of his debilitating reluctance to use the wide range of assets available to advance American interests, not just because of his punctiliousness about using military force. Even as he advocated at West Point the uncontroversial notion that diplomacy and “soft power” are the preferred approaches, while holding military force in reserve, Mr. Obama’s own record demonstrates neither resolute policies, nor effective diplomacy, nor a credible threat.
Consider Syria, where Mr. Obama clearly hoped to make news with his speech by announcing yet another change in policy: increased U.S. assistance for moderate opposition forces, implicitly including military training. The move comes about three years after such training might actually have made a difference. While momentum in that grinding conflict has shifted too often to be confident that anyone now has the upper hand, the Bashar Assad regime is presently stronger than at any point since hostilities began. Moreover, in today’s circumstances, Americans might perversely be training terrorists who have flocked to Syria.
On Tuesday, to avoid stepping on his West Point headline, Mr. Obama announced that he would withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, before he leaves office. Resources “saved” thereby will be allocated to counterterrorism training in other countries, as if redistributing scarcity were a virtue. Typically, Mr. Obama made no mention of seeking “victory” in the war against terrorism, a still-foreign concept to him, in a war whose very existence he denies.
What explains Mr. Obama’s too-little, too-late Syria policy? Or his determination in Afghanistan to replicate his mistake in exiting Iraq? Or his neglect of Iranian and North Korean nuclear proliferation? Or—as Yul Brynner said in “The King and I”—”et cetera, et cetera, et cetera”?
Mr. Obama has somehow managed to combine the worst features of isolationism and multilateralism.
He is isolationist in rejecting the extensive, muscular projection of American power and influence, not just militarily, but in the broadest sense of active leadership to guard or advance U.S. interests around the world. Even the president’s supporters are hard-pressed to name a single piece of geography where America has increased its influence and power, let alone its security, under his leadership. (And, not coincidentally, his personal approval ratings globally are falling.)
Greater American geopolitical clout is not the president’s goal. Instead, he and both of his secretaries of state have preferred multilateral agreements on climate change, greater dependence on international law (as Mr. Obama repeatedly emphasized to Vladimir Putin during the Ukraine crisis), or fruitless negotiations over Syria or Iran’s nuclear-weapons program in U.N. venues like Geneva and Vienna. These are the emblems by which Mr. Obama establishes his “internationalist” bona fides.
Critically, what Mr. Obama’s isolationist strain and his multilateralist strain have in common is that both envisage declining American influence. We have reduced influence because we are most emphatically doing less on our own initiative, visible in the president’s propensity for studied inactivity abroad. And we have reduced influence because when we do act, we are too often caught in glacial processes that essentially guarantee that the U.S. will not achieve all its objectives. If not letting America have its own way is Mr. Obama’s objective, he is an unparalleled foreign-policy success.
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
By Ambassador John R. Bolton
Los Angeles high society is in turmoil following the decision of Brunei’s sultan, owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel, to implement Shariah criminal law in his country, including brutal restrictions against homosexuals and lesbians. Of course, there is nothing really new here. In 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asked at Columbia University about Iran’s treatment of homosexuals, said, “We don’t have this phenomenon.” Indeed, since Shariah’s penalty for “this “phenomenon” is death.
Americans nationwide were shocked at Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 young girls in Nigeria, and the threat they will be sold into slavery or forced marriage. Their crime was being educated, but sadly was no different from Boko Haram’s many prior indiscriminate attacks against nonbelievers. Under criticism for not designating the group as a terrorist organization until late 2013, despite its well-known, bloody history, President Obama dispatched U.S. personnel to aid Nigeria’s ineffectual response to the kidnappings.
Most recently, President Omar Bashir’s repressive regime in Syria has condemned a pregnant woman to death for apostasy by marrying a Christian and refusing to reconvert to Islam. The facts are disputed, but the government’s death sentence and its wider implications are not. Lt. Gen. Bashir’s bloodthirsty suppression of Darfur, the long civil war against Christians in now-independent South Sudan, and providing Osama bin Laden asylum in the 1990s are all too painfully evident.
The key point, generally missed by America’s news media, is that these three incidents have a common foundation. For years, there has been a rising tide of Islamic radicalism, starting in the Middle East, providing a hospitable environment in which terrorism grew naturally. This radical wave has been spreading throughout northern Africa, into Asia, and now around the world.
Most immediately threatened, of course, are those who actually live under this extreme, politicized Islam, especially other Muslims. Beyond the radicals’ immediate neighborhoods, though, the rest of the world, particularly America, has already suffered direct attack, and could well be the target again.
The United States and those who share our faith in freedom of conscience have several possible options. We can pretend the threat posed by the radical and terrorist Islamic fury doesn’t exist, hoping not to experience another Sept. 11, 2001. We can express selective indignation at abuses that offend our sensibilities, treating them as discrete offenses to which we react in an ad hoc fashion. Or we can recognize that a distinctive political ideology is at work here, one based on distorted religious precepts rather than a secular authoritarian philosophy like Nazism or communism.
Mr. Obama has largely pursued Option One, mixed, as in Nigeria’s tragedy, with inadequate, ad hoc responses. The fundamental reason for his unwillingness to address the threat directly and candidly, reflected in his 2009 Cairo speech and repeated frequently thereafter, is that so doing would offend the entire “Islamic world,” thereby increasing the terrorist threat.
The president, however, is badly mistaken, both analytically and operationally, as the pending controversies highlight. First, it is patronizing and condescending to refer to a “Muslim world” as if all Muslims robotically think exactly the same, or to imply that Muslims themselves are not acutely aware of the dangers of radicalism and terrorism, which they know first-hand. The idea that individual Muslims cannot distinguish between the legitimate practice of their faith and those distorting it for ideological purposes is breathtakingly wrong. There is no more a monolithic “Muslim world” than there is a “Christian world.”
Second, if we shrink from identifying and naming a palpable threat to our values and very existence, we can hardly protect ourselves effectively. It is manifestly not an assault on Islam to pinpoint the current ideological threat, and trace it to its source. The United States must shape its policies in light of reality, or we remain extraordinarily vulnerable to a manifest assault against both our physical safety and the cornerstones of an open and free society.
Third, the threat is imminent and rising. In just the past two years, North Africa has seen the deadly attack on Algeria’s Tigantourine natural-gas facility, the near collapse of Mali’s government, the destructive force of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the deadly Sept. 11 attack on our Benghazi consulate. All the while, Hamas and Hezbollah are continuing their deadly terrorist pursuits, Syria has collapsed into a brutal civil war, Iraq is on the brink, and Iran’s ayatollahs are rapidly nearing a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability.
These catastrophes are related, sometimes directly involving close cooperation among terrorist and extremist forces. Our unwillingness to grasp the connections and discuss them rationally will not make them disappear, and certainly will not make them easier to defend against. Seeing the world clearly is not evidence of religious animus. Instead, refusing to acknowledge the obvious is a form of blindness that can be fatal, as we have all too seen often in recent years.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Times