John Bolton: Barack Obama on the run


Barack Obama’s six-day trip to Europe shows the president is on the run, John Bolton said Tuesday.

The former United Nations ambassador told Chicago radio hosts Don Wade and Roma that Obama was fleeing after his recent Middle East policy recent speech, which included laying out aspects of a potential peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think he’s reeling. I think he was very happy to get out on a plane and go to Ireland and get out of the mess he had created for himself,” Bolton said.

Bolton, who issued an early rebuke of Obama’s speech, said the president went wrong last Thursday when he said that Israel’s pre-1967 borders be the starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians.

“I don’t know who advised him to do it, but it was a big mistake politically on his part,” Bolton said Tuesday. “I think he just doesn’t understand international politics, he doesn’t really understand the Middle East.”

Bolton has been long considering entering the race for the GOP presidential nomination, but has made few visible moves toward a campaign.

The U.S. Gives Until It Hurts

John R. Bolton |  New York Post

America’s long-dominant role in international relief reflects both America’s innate compassion and its status as the world’s sole superpower. Time and time again, from tropical-storm devastation in Bangladesh, to the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami in Indonesia, to last month’s earthquake in Haiti, it is America that steps forward first to provide humanitarian relief. In particular, the US military has repeatedly brought to bear its enormous logistical capabilities, especially to lead the immediate response to both natural and man-made disasters.

And what distinguishes the United States even more from other countries is the consistently generous responses by millions of individual citizens, not waiting for their government to act, but contributing money, resources and their own time through churches, fraternal organizations and charities. We don’t do this because we have to, but because we want to. For good reason, therefore, we rightly view ourselves as well-motivated, effective and openhanded.

Many foreigners disagree. Just days after Haiti’s earthquake, France’s minister for international cooperation, Alain Joyandet, complained about the US effort, notably our military’s control of Haiti’s main airport. Joyandet said that “this is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.” Fortunately, France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whipped his minister back into line, just in time before Americans started reminding Paris of France’s colonial legacy in Haiti. Nonetheless, Europe, even after several weeks, is far from matching the US response.

Many people ask why, instead of the United States invariably taking on the burden of “first responder” to humanitarian disaster, the United Nations shouldn’t handle the job. Indeed, in the case of Haiti, there were approximately 9,000 UN uniformed peacekeepers already posted there, as well as almost 2,000 civilian UN personnel. Unfortunately, the UN’s performance over the years demonstrates it is not up to the task. In Haiti, even worse, scores of UN personnel died in the earthquake, including Hedi Annabi, the head of the overall UN mission in country.

The UN’s own internal disorganization has long made fast and effective responses almost impossible. Numerous independently governed and administered UN agencies and programs are involved in humanitarian relief efforts, and each marches to its own drummer. UNICEF cares for children and families; the World Health Organization looks after health, sanitation and medicines; the World Food Program distributes food supplies; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees provides protection and assistance when political or natural disasters cause large numbers of people to cross national borders. The UN Development Program is supposed to be the overall country coordinator of the work of the many agencies involved, but that’s a nearly impossible task.

Then, of course, there’s the long, well-documented history of waste, fraud, corruption and incompetence in UN programs. In Haiti just last week, for example, UN peacekeeping troops from Uruguay were unable to manage the orderly distribution of food (donated from the US, of course) even directly in front of the Port-au-Prince’s now-leveled Presidential Palace. No criticisms, however, from Paris.

The UN system’s dysfunctional performance over the years culminated in dismay over the handling of refugees and displaced persons when Saddam Hussein renewed his persecution of Kurds and Shi’ites after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Major UN donor countries insisted on creating a new coordinating position, an Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, whose office became one more player to be coordinated. And outside the UN, the International Red Cross and scores of “non-governmental organizations,” often serve as the operating arms for UN agencies and national relief efforts. Rube Goldberg would be proud of this structure.

In a disaster’s immediate aftermath, the biggest problems are logistical: getting food, medicine, shelter and sanitation equipment rapidly to the affected areas, and the most important variables are time and distance. Delegating response to international organizations like the UN, rather than local groups, is a prescription for failure. For those countries that are too poor to have adequate disaster response capabilities, regional organizations like the African Union and ASEAN should be better prepared.

But make no mistake about it: the United States is the default humanitarian world leader because no alternatives are visible well into the future. Who else? The UN? The European Union? The “BRIC” countries–Brazil, Russia, India and China? Forget it. America will take the lead, and we will also take the criticism. Our only grim satisfaction will come if there is an American decline, as some believe inevitable, and many hope for. The rest of the world will miss us when we’re gone.

Bam, Wake Up and Smell the War

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

The evidence is mounting that President Obama is following not merely an erroneous anti-terrorism strategy, but one that is increasingly incoherent and incompetent. Two recent developments highlight his failure:

First, senior administration intelligence and homeland security officials testified to Congress that they were not aware in advance that the Christmas Day terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, would be read Miranda rights, arrested and charged with crimes. Stunningly, it appears that these decisions were essentially made wholly inside the Justice Department.

Second, the administration has conceded that some 50 terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay could neither be safely released nor tried and would therefore be held indefinitely. This flatly contradicts repeated Obama promises to close Gitmo. It also undercuts the rationale for Obama’s planned civilian trials for other terrorists and previous decisions–including some by the Bush administration–to release far too many who simply reverted to terrorism.

Obama has strained mightily to move away from former President George W. Bush’s “global war on terror,” changing many of its underlying policies and even sidelining the phrase “war on terror.” That Obama has not fully succeeded in reversing Bush’s policies is not for lack of trying, but only because global realities have made it impossible for even someone so determined to succeed in just one year.

However, make no mistake: Obama has not given up. He remains determined to revolutionize America’s conceptual basis for dealing with terrorism. His approach is a throwback to the pre-9/11 paradigm of treating terrorism as a problem to be handled through conventional law enforcement channels. That means full constitutional rights, including Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections and evidence restrictions, public jury trials and more.

But it is the President’s attempt to reframe the war on terrorism that should be on trial. The protections we afford criminal defendants are important to us as citizens of a constitutional civil society, where lawbreaking is an aberration, a problem to be handled largely by postcrime punishment of offenders. We reluctantly accept the existence of crime as inevitable because overly intrusive measures to prevent it are too threatening to highly prized liberties. Americans vigorously debate the balance among these competing interests, but the overall theory is almost universally shared.

The war paradigm that Bush tried to follow after 9/11 is radically different because it sees the terror threat differently. Doubtless, the Bush administration did not get everything right. But at its core, the war paradigm recognizes that terrorists aren’t looking simply to harm our citizens, as thieves and even murderers are; they are seeking to injure or destroy the society itself. This is why terrorist attacks are acts of war, not criminal acts. Perhaps the most visible evidence of the distinction is that terrorists proudly boast of their intentions and accomplishments, using trials as propaganda vehicles–unlike criminals, who approach trials trying to beat the rap or minimize punishment

Obama argues that prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts and closing Guantanamo Bay demonstrate America is committed to the rule of law and thus eliminate important terrorist recruiting tools. In fact, it is the very idea of America, not some incidental manifestation, that motivates terrorists. Critically for us, therefore, the “war on terror” paradigm is entirely consistent with our deeply held commitment to the rule of law.

One need only recognize reality: War necessitates a different legal framework than common crime does. Terrorism obviously differs from war between countries, but that hardly means it is simply an aggravated form of bank robbery. Indeed, much terrorism is state-sponsored, which is why the sponsors should be as much at risk of retaliation as terrorists themselves.

Take Abdulmutallab as a case study. By treating him like a common criminal and affording him the rights to remain silent and consult a lawyer, the Justice Department assisted a terrorist in sealing his lips. Instead of interrogating him fully about other potential terrorist threats and terrorist networks, thus gaining real-time, actionable intelligence, Abdulmutallab’s information was lost, perhaps forever. This is the perfect proof that we are fighting the terrorists with one arm tied behind our backs.

We need a new public debate on the war paradigm versus the law enforcement paradigm, cutting through legalisms and concentrating on basic policy questions. Obama does not want such a debate, and for good reason: He is on the losing side, both from a national security perspective and politically.

Obama’s Next Three Years

John R. Bolton |  Commentary

Where is Barack Obama’s foreign policy headed? In answering, one must accept a measure of humility. Predicting American policy makes more fools than sages. That goes double for foreign policy, as analysts must anticipate not only the actions of the United States but of foreign provocateurs as well.

In the case of Barack Obama, there is an additional caveat: the high-profile concerns that have monopolized his efforts abroad are seen by the president himself as little more than Bush-era loose ends, not the defining transactions of his own foreign policy. All new presidents encounter irritating constraints on their aspirations, but Obama is more irritated than most at having to endure any sense of continuity with his predecessor. His criticism of Bush continues unabated even as he fares no better in the same stubborn terrain.

Obama is not looking to build his foreign-policy legacy on top of disputes that predate his arrival. He is working to move past these, toward the day when he can implement his own foreign policy and national-security agendas. Accordingly, the best way to predict Obama’s foreign policy in the next three years lies not in examining how he deals with the accumulated baggage of Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace, and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. Important as those are, they constitute what Obama has had to confront. We should ask instead what he will attempt to establish once he has become less encumbered by the inherited issues. Here, the record shows three critical characteristics.

First, Obama has no particular interest in foreign and national-security policy. That is not what he has spent his professional and political career, such as it is, doing, and it is not where his passions lie. There can be no question that the challenges of remaking America’s health-care, financial, and energy-production systems claim the bulk of Obama’s attention.

Second, Obama does not see the rest of the world as dangerous or threatening to America. He has made it clear by his actions as president that he does not want to engage in a “global war against terrorism.” The rising power of other nations, creeds, and ideologies, however unsavory, pose no grievous challenge to which the United States must rise. We are not at a Dean Acheson–style, post–World War II “present at the creation” moment. Therefore, Obama reasons, why behave in reactive, outmoded ways when there are many more interesting and pressing domestic projects to nurture?

Obama’s America need only be restrained, patient, and deferential. Take, for example, Obama’s November 2009 trip to China, during which the media highlighted how unyielding Beijing was, thus confirming their “rising China/declining America” conventional wisdom. In fact, it was more Obama’s submissiveness and less China’s assertiveness that made the difference on issue after issue: trade policy and Chinese currency manipulation; Taiwan; Beijing’s unwillingness to limit growth for the sake of global-warming theory; and Iranian and North Korean nuclear-weapons programs. Obama repeatedly came away empty-handed, even on blatantly cosmetic aspects of the visit: where he would speak, to whom, and how it would be broadcast.

Third, Obama’s vision is embedded in a carapace of naive internationalism, a very comfortable fit when national security is neither that interesting nor that important. Obama is the first president since December 7, 1941, to espouse a determinedly unassertive global role for the United States, one ironically verging on an essentially neo-isolationist view of America. Obama’s December 1 announcement of troop increases in Afghanistan is not to the contrary, since he proclaimed the beginning of withdrawal in virtually the same breath. Afghanistan, like Iraq, is the very paradigm of legacy issues Obama does not want to confront. Failures such as his Middle East peace process and dealing with Iran and North Korea have simply led to resignation and inattention.

However, Obama’s is not your grandfather’s isolationism. He focuses not on America’s virtues but on why it is ordinary (thus explaining why, as I have written elsewhere, he is firmly “post-American”). It is America’s ordinariness that should enjoin it from imposing its will upon other nations. Obama is our first sitting president to express this sentiment. In April, he articulated this point with absolute clarity. Asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, the president responded, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, “No.”

In this vein, the boundless naïveté in the president’s UN speeches abundantly demonstrate  Woodrow Wilson’s patrimony. In September, he said to the UN General Assembly:

It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared. . . . In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group or people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.

In 1916, Wilson said that “the interests of all nations are also our own,” and later advocated “peace without victory.” He said, “There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace” founded on “the moral force of the public opinion of the world.” If you removed the dates from these two sets of comments, most people would have to guess which was Obama’s and which was Wilson’s.

Through these prisms–Obama’s focus on domestic issues, his belief in the absence of major international threats, and his fascination with multilateralism for its own sake–we can project forward the president’s foreign policy. Conveniently for Obama, pushing his priorities will involve international negotiations where presidential authority is virtually exclusive. That does not mean, of course, that he can determine the final outcome where congressional action such as Senate treaty ratification is required, but Obama and his negotiators will be able to dominate in crafting the agreements themselves. Three policy areas loom large and will allow Obama to showcase, in various combinations, the three core characteristics of his worldview.

The first policy on the table will almost certainly be American arms reduction, achieved through budget decisions and arms-control agreements, both bilateral agreements with Russia and multilateral pacts with other nations. At a time of profligate federal spending, only the Department of Defense’s budget is constrained. With economic stimulus all the rage, Obama has rejected enlarging the standing military; decided against increasing defense procurement to replenish the weapons and other equipment consumed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and stalled progress on critical high-tech military systems. These expenditures (and others) are central to future power-projection capabilities, and all would result in tangible assets and greater policy options, in contrast with the pathetic “shovel-ready” programs of the actual stimulus. This disparity is not accidental.

Even worse, both Obama’s Prague speech on a nuclear-weapons-free world and the first U.S. Nuclear Posture Review since 2001, heavily determined by the White House, point toward unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States, whatever the success of international negotiations. The president believes strongly, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that lowering U.S. nuclear capabilities toward zero will induce would-be proliferators around the world–Iran and North Korea take note–to give up their own nuclear-weapons programs. This is what Obama means by “strengthening” the regime established by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and what Gordon Brown has already proposed in giving up one of Great Britain’s four nuclear-missile submarines.

On several occasions in 2009, Obama and Russian President Medvedev announced agreements on future dramatic cuts in both nations’ nuclear arsenals and strategic delivery systems. Obama has already unilaterally reduced U.S. efforts in the missile-defense field, and there is every prospect of returning to some version of an antiballistic missile treaty. The Russians, of course, are delighted to agree to these reductions. For even if the international price of oil were again to rise dramatically, Russia would remain incapable of sustaining its nuclear forces anywhere near U.S. levels. “Mutual and balanced” reductions thus commit Russia merely to their most optimistic projections of their own capabilities and serve essentially to restrain the United States. In fact, “equal” levels severely and disproportionately disadvantage the United States because of our obligations to provide nuclear umbrellas for NATO, Japan, and others. Russia has no comparable need.

Multilaterally, Obama has been even more activist, enshrining his objectives in Security Council Resolution 1887 (indeed, even chairing the council session that adopted it) and convening a global summit on “nuclear security” in 2010. Obama has promised U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which was actually defeated by majority vote in the Senate in 1999). He has pledged to renew negotiations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty as well as a treaty for the prevention of an arms race in space. He favors creating and strengthening so-called nuclear-free zones around the world and has urged all states not already party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to join as non-nuclear-weapons states, meaning that Israel, Pakistan, and India would have to give up their nuclear weapons (which won’t happen in any of their cases). Finally, Secretary of State Clinton promised active U.S. involvement in drafting an Arms Trade Treaty for conventional weapons, which is a thinly disguised route to achieve domestic gun-control objectives long blocked in the normal legislative process.

All these objectives will meet fierce domestic opposition in the Senate and elsewhere. But make no mistake; Obama knows where he wants to go and is working hard to get there.

Obama’s second leading policy concern is international agreement on global warming. This is not the place to re-debate global warming, but the climate-change True Believers clearly see little appeal in anything less than statist, command-and-control direction of global behavior. Obama’s efforts will draw the U.S. more fully into this fold.

Political reality may have doomed the possibility of a full-up treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2009, but that setback has not dimmed Obama’s multilateral enthusiasm. Environmentalists have focused blame for the absence of a legally binding treaty on the United States, as Congress is unable to enact cap-and-trade in Obamamania’s first year. In response, Obama will likely move more aggressively in multilateral negotiations to create a successor to Kyoto despite congressional inaction. In so doing, he will be following a now familiar strategy for American leftists, which is to internationalize problems on which they cannot make progress domestically. They have attempted in recent decades, with varying degrees of success, to do so on a host of issues: gun control, the death penalty, abortion, and the “rights of the child” among them.

The strategy is to reach agreement with like-minded leaders of other countries, whose governments are likely to be far to the Left of America’s political center of gravity. Then, treaty or other international agreement in hand, activists return to the Senate to announce that the rest of the world is determined to do “X” and that America cannot allow itself to be “isolated” along with Somalia, Burma, China, or other assorted holdouts. Thus, on global warming, Obama will likely focus on international approaches to reach his goals, perhaps using executive agreements rather than treaties to bypass the Senate and domestic political roadblocks. Similarly, he will increase efforts to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, which global-warming activists are touting as a backdoor to increasing environmental regulation.

Third–both enabling and following from the first two foreign-policy imperatives–“global governance” and “international law” will become growth industries under Obama. To the UN Security Council, Obama said, “The world must stand together. And we must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” This dovetails nicely with the sentiments of the incoming president of the European Union, former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who made clear in his November 19 acceptance speech that “2009 is also the first year of global governance with the establishment of the G-20 in the middle of the financial crisis. The climate conference in Copenhagen is another step toward the global management of our planet.” As our post-American President Obama well knows, the European Union is a continuing font of ideas on global governance, always eager to share its own form of bureaucratic control and accompanying “democratic deficit” worldwide. Now the new European president has a rapt pupil in the Oval Office and acolytes scattered throughout Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

In many respects, the renunciation of “torture” in interrogating captured terrorists, the commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the criminal trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other defendants in U.S. courts are about making sure that “international law is not an empty promise.” These steps are, perilously, also decisions about retreating from a war paradigm to a law-enforcement paradigm in dealing with terrorism. But it was not coincidental that Obama’s first applause line in the General Assembly came when he referred to renouncing “torture” and shutting down Gitmo.

There is much more global governance in the works. The Obama administration sought and won re-election to the new UN Human Rights Council, a body that the Bush administration voted against creating in 2006 and that it subsequently refused to join. The new council has proved itself just as antithetical to American interests as was its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, but mentioning yet another reversal of Bush policy won Obama a further round of applause in the General Assembly.

There will undoubtedly be more such applause to come. Secretary Clinton has committed to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Whatever the pros and cons of these agreements, the larger question is how much “law” the Obama administration is prepared to make outside the ever growing U.S. Code we already possess. To Obama’s internationalist sensibility, the offense, of course, is that laws “made in the U.S.A.” by freely elected representatives of our own citizenry are too “exceptional” and too “parochial” to hold weight in this interconnected world. Mere “municipal” laws, as international-law scholars refer to them, don’t pass John Kerry’s “global test” of legitimacy for American foreign policy. President Obama clearly wants to fix that problem.

Secretary Clinton opined, in Nairobi last summer, that it was “a great regret but it is a fact we are not yet a signatory” to the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court. So it was no surprise when the State Department confirmed on November 16 that the United States will now participate as an observer in meetings of the court’s members. Observer status is manifestly a step toward the administration’s ill-disguised ultimate objective of re-signing the Rome Statute, ratifying it, and becoming a full member of the court. Obviously, all these and other steps have implications not only for the United States but also for close allies like Israel, which were protected by earlier U.S. opposition.

Barack Obama’s blueprint for the United States spells trouble for American autonomy, self-governance, and defense, all key elements of national sovereignty. His undisguised indifference to repeated diminutions of that sovereignty is entirely consistent with the views of his European admirers, who, at their level, would like to see their nation-states dissolve into the European Union. In the end, however, the United States is exceptional and will not melt into any larger or global union; it will simply become less able to protect itself and its constitutional decision-making system. That is clearly where our first post-American president’s policies will take us.

Global Threats

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

Although President Obama spent much of his first year in office trying to revolutionize the U.S. health care system, the external world often inconveniently intruded. As the attempted Christmas mass murder of passengers flying from Amsterdam to Detroit demonstrates, our adversaries have not been idle. Nor will they be idle in 2010.

A critical question, therefore, is whether the president has learned anything during his first year, or whether he will continue pursuing national security policies that leave us at greater risk. The outlook is not promising. Too often, Mr. Obama seems either uninterested in the global threats we face, unpersuaded that they constitute dangers to the country, or content simply to blame his predecessors.

When he does see international threats, his instinct is to negotiate with them rather than defeat them. Facing totalitarian menaces in 1939, British politician Harold Nicolson said of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his closest aide that they “stepped into diplomacy with the bright faithfulness of two curates entering a pub for the first time; they did not observe the differences between a social gathering and a rough-house; nor did they realize that the tough guys assembled did not speak or understand their language.”

Nicolson could be writing today about Mr. Obama. Consider some of the issues lying ahead:

1. The global war on terror: Despite the administration’s verbal about-face on the effectiveness of our antiterrorism efforts within days of the unsuccessful Christmas attack, its fundamental approach remains flawed. Mr. Obama himself has led the charge in shifting from a “Global War on Terror” toward a law-enforcement paradigm, continuing, for example, to press for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Even today, the administration is treating would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than an enemy combatant, thus losing the chance to gain enormously valuable information on al Qaeda activities and plans.

Al Qaeda-style terrorism has never been susceptible to law-enforcement methods. It is not simply a crime like bank robbery, which is why military and intelligence agencies have undertaken much of our antiterrorist activity since Sept. 11, 2001. And it is why sidelining them now can have potentially catastrophic consequences for the United States and our allies.

Mr. Obama should articulate some grand strategy for countering terrorism. Withdrawing from Iraq, mixed signals in Afghanistan (surge troops in 2010, but begin withdrawing in 2011), and public defenders for airplane bombers is a prescription for failure. Indeed, the Christmas near miss demonstrates that more, not less, attention must be devoted to al Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere, such as Somalia.

2. Nuclear proliferation: Iran and North Korea, the two gravest nuclear proliferation threats, have so far spurned Mr. Obama’s “open hand.” This is truly remarkable, since both rogue states have skillfully used prior negotiations to their advantage, buying time to advance their nuclear and ballistic missile efforts, and extracting tangible economic and political benefits from America and others. Accordingly, their current unwillingness to talk shows they think they can extract an even higher price from Mr. Obama before even sitting down, a truly discouraging sign.

In fact, neither Iran nor North Korea will be negotiated out of the nuclear weapons programs (or their chemical or biological weapons, which are not even on the horizon for discussion). Moreover, we cannot be content merely trying to “contain” nuclear rogue states, since so doing simply leaves the initiative entirely with them, given their asymmetric advantage of threatening or actually using their weapons. These countries, each for its own peculiar reasons, are not subject to the Cold War deterrence principals. Still worse, the risks of further proliferation are both palpable and threatening if Pyongyang and Tehran keep their nuclear capabilities. There is simply no sign Mr. Obama understands these ever-growing risks.

Instead, Mr. Obama is negotiating drastic nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, even as he eviscerates our missile defense capabilities, apparently believing unilateral strategic arms cutbacks will entrance Moscow and persuade rogue proliferators to dismantle their programs. This is naive and dangerous.

3. Global governance. Although the Copenhagen Conference on climate change failed to achieve anything like its sponsors’ objectives, their under lying push for greater international control over the economies of the world’s nations, and their tax and regulatory systems, continues unabated. In fact, as the president’s speeches–especially those given at the United Nations in September–demonstrate, he entirely buys into the notion of “global governance,” with the United States in time subordinating elements of its sovereignty to international authority.

This worrisome predilection has only been whetted by the failure at Copenhagen, and we can anticipate far more activity in 2010 and beyond, not only on climate change but in a host of areas traditionally considered “domestic” policy (such as abortion, firearms control and the death penalty).

Frustrated by their failures in the United States, the American left has increasingly resorted to international treaties and conferences to advance its agenda. Mr. Obama’s administration is filled with people who share that worldview, including the president himself.

In short, if you were concerned in 2009 about America’s increasing international vulnerability and its decreasing global influence, you will find little to celebrate in the coming year. Our adversaries sense weakness across the board in Washington, and they will not hesitate to take advantage of it.

Importantly, whatever national security decisions Mr. Obama makes in 2010 will undeniably be his, as the passage of time diminishes his ability to blame President Bush and the situation he inherited. Happy New Year, Mr. President.

Dick Cheney: Conservative of the Year

John R. Bolton |  Human Events

In Washingtonian “inside the Beltway” terms, the most amazing aspect of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new clout is that he is achieving it the old-fashioned way: talking about public policy. He is not running for President or any other office. He has not formed a PAC or a D.C. lobbying firm. He is not dishing on former colleagues, not spreading gossip, not settling scores. He is, instead, writing a memoir about his extensive career in public service, and giving occasional speeches and interviews, mostly on national and homeland security policy, long his central focus.

How is it, therefore, that someone who has no political ambitions can cause so much angst at the White House and in the mainstream news media? The irrefutable answer is that what Cheney is saying, primarily on foreign policy, defense and anti-terrorism, makes sense to more and more American citizens growing increasingly worried by the Obama Administration’s insouciance when U.S. national interests are threatened, both at home and abroad. Since the only real, long-term way to deal with persuasive positions on substantive policy matters is to refute them with sounder policy arguments, it is not hard to understand why the Obama White House is near panic. Where are they going to go to find a better policy inside his administration?

The most visible evidence that White House handlers worry about Cheney’s scoring too many unanswered points came in May, in connection with a speech he was scheduled to give at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Cheney has had a long association with AEI, going back to the end of the Ford Administration. Later, after leaving the Defense Department in 1993 following Bush 41’s loss to Bill Clinton, Cheney sojourned briefly at AEI, as is customary in the Washington think-tank world where many federal officials decompress and reflect on their governmental experiences before returning to business or other pursuits. Cheney later joined AEI’s Board of Trustees, “stepping down” in 2001 as Vice Chairman, as AEI likes to put it, in order to become Vice President.

So, a major Cheney speech at AEI shortly after leaving the vice presidency was neither surprising nor aimed at the new Oval Office occupant. What was surprising, unprecedented and even unpresidential, however, was the Obama Administration’s reaction. Instead of leaving it to allies in Congress, Cabinet officers, or the media to debate the former Vice President, the White House scheduled a speech by the President himself on precisely the same topic. Even more amazingly, they scheduled it on exactly the same day as Cheney’s AEI speech, May 21, two hours before Cheney was scheduled to start his remarks. Political commentators searched their memories and clippings files, but no one could come up with another example of a President’s so directly taking on even a former President, let alone a former Vice President.

So nervous were Obama’s stage managers that they did not realize until too late that they had made a serious mistake by having Obama go first, thus allowing the amused Cheney and his waiting audience at AEI to watch Obama’s speech and then directly critique his arguments as soon as Obama had finished. Tellingly, Cheney didn’t have to alter the text he had already prepared, because he had already correctly anticipated and written out refutations of all of Obama’s central arguments. The White House politicos had tried to set a trap, but had succeeded only in trapping their own President.

Combined in this one historic speech are the key themes that Cheney has sounded since leaving the Vice Presidency: the critical need to understand that we are in a long, continuing war against international terrorism, the importance of sustaining and enhancing our defenses and capabilities against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the risks we face in letting our guard down.

In particular, Cheney gave a vigorous defense of “enhanced-interrogation techniques,” the detention facility for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and the national security benefits the United States obtained through its vigorous program of intelligence gathering. He criticized the Obama Administration’s decision to release previously classified memoranda and reports about our interrogation techniques, stressing the benefits thereby gained by al Qaeda and other terrorists, and then challenged the administration directly: Why not release the full texts of these records, including specifically the information that our interrogation techniques had elicited from the captured terrorists? Let the American people weigh the value of this evidence against the techniques themselves, and let history judge. Needless to say, the Obama White House has done nothing, thus underlining the fundamentally political nature of the original Obama decision to release only the parts of the documents they felt benefited his partisan view.

So befuddled were the administration and its media surrogates by Cheney’s AEI speech and his subsequent comments that they have insinuated darkly that Cheney actually does have a nefarious hidden motive. He is, they say, trying to defend his record and that of the Bush Administration, an obvious conflict of interest, they claim! Most people have scratched their heads at this criticism, which is what passes for devastating analysis by the media, because it is entirely natural for a senior public official to explain and defend his policies once he leaves office. In fact, it is critical that men and women who have served in high positions, as Cheney has, to do just that, to give our citizens a better understanding of what actually goes on in high-level decision making. With senior officials constrained by the limits of what they can say publicly while still serving in the government, the public often receives only a very limited understanding of what an administration’s actual thinking is on key policy decisions. To have a former Vice President willing to go on the record once he leaves office is a huge service to us and our nation, helping to illuminate and explain key factors affecting our national security.

Perhaps most galling to Democrats is how closely Joe Biden’s role as Vice President has tracked that of Cheney’s, which these same Democrats criticized so vociferously while Cheney was in office. The main difference, of course, is that Cheney is much quieter than Biden, which objective observers have to score as a plus for Cheney.

Desperate to distinguish themselves from Cheney, Biden’s media flacks say that he and his staff have worked well with Obama’s White House staff, in contrast to the rancor and in-fighting of the Bush-Cheney years. This effort to re-write history, however, simply will not fly. Especially on national-security policy, the Bush and Cheney staffs worked well and closely together. If, at the end of eight years, the staff relationships were not as close as at the beginning, that was hardly Cheney’s fault. Having worked as a White House summer intern for Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1972, I can recount from personal experience what it’s like when the President’s people are at knife’s-edge with the Veep’s. That’s not what it was like in the Bush years, certainly not in the first term. Bush’s second term was different for many reasons, marked notably in foreign affairs by the overwhelming predominance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But even then, Cheney’s relations with the NSC staff remained close, in large part because Rice’s successor as National Security Adviser, Steve Hadley, had worked for Cheney at the Pentagon during the Bush 41 Administration.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Cheney knows that the personal attacks on him, as offensive as they are, in reality constitute stark evidence that Obama and his supporters are simply unable to match him in the substantive policy debate. An old lawyers’ cliché says: “If the law is against you, pound on the facts; if the facts are against you, pound on the law; if the law and the facts are against you, pound on the table.” Obama and his supporters are doing the political equivalent of continuous table-pounding, because that’s basically all they have to offer. Cheney’s unwillingness to be deterred by the media assaults on his character, his judgment and his performance in office are therefore his most impressive force multiplier with the general public. Outside-the-Beltway Americans see him for exactly what he is: a very experienced, very dedicated patriot, giving his fellow citizens his best analysis on how to keep them and their country safe.

Cheney’s quiet, inner-directed motivation is simply impervious to the attacks orchestrated against him by the Chicago machine-style politicians at the White House, a fact also plainly visible to his fellow citizens. And it is yet another important reason to have confidence that Cheney’s solid policy analysis will yet prevail in the national political arena. Of course he is the conservative of the year!

The Danger of Obama’s Dithering

John R. Bolton |  Los Angeles Times

Weakness in American foreign policy in one region often invites challenges elsewhere, because our adversaries carefully follow diminished American resolve. Similarly, presidential indecisiveness, whether because of uncertainty or internal political struggles, signals that the United States may not respond to international challenges in clear and coherent ways.

Taken together, weakness and indecisiveness have proved historically to be a toxic combination for America’s global interests. That is exactly the combination we now see under President Obama. If anything, his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize only underlines the problem. All of Obama’s campaign and inaugural talk about “extending an open hand” and “engagement,” especially the multilateral variety, isn’t exactly unfolding according to plan. Entirely predictably, we see more clearly every day that diplomacy is not a policy but only a technique. Absent presidential leadership, which at a minimum means clear policy direction and persistence in the face of criticism and adversity, engagement simply embodies weakness and indecision.

Obama is no Harry Truman. At best, he is reprising Jimmy Carter. At worst, the real precedent may be Ethelred the Unready, the turn-of the-first-millennium Anglo-Saxon king whose reputation for indecisiveness and his unsuccessful paying of Danegeld–literally, “Danish tax”–to buy off Viking raiders made him history’s paradigmatic weak leader.

Beyond the disquiet (or outrage for some) prompted by the president’s propensity to apologize for his country’s pre-Obama history, Americans increasingly sense that his administration is drifting from one foreign policy mistake to another. Worse, the current is growing swifter, and the threats more pronounced, even as the administration tries to turn its face away from the world and toward its domestic priorities. Foreign observers, friend and foe alike, sense the same aimlessness and drift. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to remind Obama at a Sept. 24 U.N. Security Council meeting that “we live in the real world, not a virtual one.”

Examples of weakness abound, and the consequences are readily foreseeable.

Canceling the Polish and Czech missile defense bases is understood in Moscow and Eastern European capitals as backing down in the face of Russian bluster and belligerence. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened the day after our 2008 election to deploy missiles targeting these assets unless they were canceled, a threat duly noted by the Russian media when Obama canceled the sites. Given candidate Obama’s reaction to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war–calling on both sides to exercise restraint–there is little doubt that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s project to re-extend Russian hegemony over as much of the former Soviet Union as he can will continue apace. Why should he worry about Washington?

Obama’s Middle East peace process has stalled, most recently because he set a target for an end to Israeli settlement expansion, couldn’t meet it and then proceeded as though he hadn’t meant what he said originally. By insisting that Israel freeze settlements as a precondition to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Obama drew a clear line. But when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withstood Obama’s pressure, Obama caved, hosting a photo-op with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that strengthened Netanyahu and weakened Abbas just when Obama wanted to achieve exactly the opposite. However one views the substantive outcome of this vignette, Obama himself looked the weakest of all. It could well be years before his Middle East policy gets back up off the ground.

On nuclear nonproliferation, North Korea responded to the “open hand” of engagement by testing its second nuclear device, continuing an aggressive ballistic missile testing program, cooperating with other rogue states and kidnapping and holding hostage two American reporters. Obama’s reaction is to press for more negotiations, which simply encourages Pyongyang to up the ante.

Iran is revealed to have been long constructing an undeclared, uninspected nuclear facility that makes a mockery of almost seven years of European Union negotiation efforts. Forced to deal publicly with this deeply worrying threat, Obama proposes the equivalent of money-laundering for nuclear threats: Iranian uranium enriched in open, unambiguous defiance of four Security Council resolutions will be enriched to higher levels in Russia, and then returned to be burned in a Tehran reactor–ostensibly for peaceful purposes. Sarkozy again captured the growing international incredulity in his noteworthy Security Council speech: “I support America’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges.”

Finally, Obama’s agonizing, very public reappraisal of his own 7-month-old Afghanistan policy epitomizes indecisiveness. While there is no virtue in sustaining policy merely for continuity’s sake, neither is credit due for too-quickly adopting policies without appreciating the risks entailed and then fleeing precipitously when the risks become manifest. The administration’s stated reason for its policy re-evaluation was widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election. But this explanation is simply not credible. Did not the administration’s generals and diplomats on the ground, not to mention United Nations observers, see the election mess coming? Was the Hamid Karzai administration’s cupidity and corruption overlooked or ignored during Obama’s original review and revision of his predecessor’s policy?

The unmistakable inference is that Obama did not carefully think through his March Afghan policy, or did not have full confidence then or now in Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal or Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, or that it is now politically inconvenient among increasingly antiwar Democrats to follow through on that policy.

None of these explanations reflect credit on the president. He is dithering. Whatever decision Obama reaches on Afghanistan, his credibility and leadership have been badly wounded by his continuing public display of indecisiveness.

Our international adversaries undoubtedly welcome all of these “resets” in U.S. foreign policy, but Americans should be appalled at how much of our posture in the world has already been given away. If Obama’s first nine months indicate the direction of the next 39, we still have a long way to fall.


O’s Albatross: Misguided Nobel Will Weigh on the Rest of His Presidency

John R. Bolton |  New York Post

Americans were justifiably proud last week of their many Nobel Prize winners. Eight of the nine honorees in physics, chemistry and medicine were US citizens, some native-born, some naturalized, a near total American sweep. And their achievements were glorious: better understanding how DNA works, the basis for enormous medical progress; developing fiber-optic cable, revolutionizing global communications; and advances in cell biology, with enormous implications for treating cancer. In each case, these breakthroughs, some made as long as 20 years ago, have proven themselves beyond the laboratory, and already made enormous real-world differences.

Next to these marvels, how to explain the Nobel Peace Prize, the most prestigious of all, to President Barack Obama, in office less than nine months?

The Nobel Prize web site says the awards recognize “extraordinary achievements,” but the Obama citation refers only to his “extraordinary efforts,” a dramatic contrast. Accordingly, President Obama was gracious and humble in his remarks after the award, but he would have done better to decline the award entirely, and invite consideration only after he fashioned a real record of achievement.

Unfortunately, this year’s Peace Prize follows a decades-long series of politicized decisions by the Norwegian Nobel committee. The committee has repeatedly rewarded its ideological brethren, the common theme being a desire to produce a more modest role for the United States in world affairs, and a larger role for multilateral organizations, or, as some describe it, “global governance.”

By contrast, our first two sitting presidents to receive the Nobel Peace Prize had real accomplishments behind them. Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 won recognition for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Both the warring parties and contemporary analysts credited the former Rough Rider as the central player in resolving the conflict, bringing great credit to him and the rising global power of the United States.

Next was Woodrow Wilson for the year 1919 (not actually announced until 1920, along with that year’s prize). Recognizing Wilson’s Fourteen Points, his central role in the Treaty of Versailles and creation of the League of Nations, the Nobel Peace Prize honored the most important act of American diplomatic leadership in the world to that date. The Treaty of Versailles was defeated in the Senate, and America never joined the League, in large measure due to Wilson’s domestic political misjudgments and incompetence, but the importance of his work internationally cannot be disputed.

Next to these giants (Roosevelt being one of four presidents memorialized on Mount Rushmore), what has Obama done? Tellingly, no one actually argues that his international accomplishments justify the award. Instead, they contend that it is the prospect of accomplishments down the road that they are trying to encourage, and moral leadership. Some cite Mother Theresa’s 1973 Nobel Peace Prize as an example of such an award, itself a breathtaking comparison, given Mother Theresa’s life work was not simply a nine-month run in the Calcutta slums.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with encouraging hope and the possibility of future success. But it is otherworldly and in fact dangerous in national security matters to confuse emotions with reality. In fact, however, these vacuous aspirational justifications for giving the Nobel to Obama simply obscure the real ideological motivation behind the award: the Norwegian committee is promoting a cause, its cause. They seek to promote and encourage a particular kind of American, one who finds favor with European Leftists, who constantly ask, paraphrasing Rex Harrison’s musical query in “My Fair Lady”: “why can’t Americans . . . be more like us?”

In 2002, for example, in selecting Jimmy Carter, the then-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee said the award was intended as “a kick in the leg” to President Bush, which should hardly be a qualification, let alone a public justification. Then, in 2007, former Vice President Al Gore’s selection for his global-warming work was widely seen as criticism of Bush administration environmental policy. Over the last several decades, moreover, the Nobel has repeatedly honored UN agencies or personnel, rewards increasing in inverse proportion to the organization’s effectiveness.

This year, one Nobel Committee member, Aagot Valle, of Norway’s Socialist Left party, said we should view the selection as “support and a commitment for Obama.” Indeed. Unable to vote in America’s 2008 presidential election, the Nobel Committee apparently decided to vote this year, making their ideological perspective unmistakable. Valle and the committee chairman, a failed former Norwegian prime minister, both referred to Obama’s hopes for nuclear disarmament. But they are just that: hopes. Ronald Reagan also aspired to a world without nuclear weapons. Where is his Nobel Peace Prize? Obviously, Reagan was not the right kind of American, not one appealing to the Norwegian and broader European Left.

Their message really is quite straightforward: “Jimmy Carter in 2002, Al Gore in 2007 and now Barack Obama. Do you Americans get the point yet?” It is precisely the preachiness and attitude of moral superiority inherent in these awards that many Americans find offensive, and which may, ironically, leave President Obama in a more difficult position here and abroad than before the award.

What, for example, what will be the world’s reaction if he agrees to his military commanders’ request to increase American forces in Afghanistan by 40,000 troops? What will be the reaction here if he does not? And this is far from the last hard choice the new Peace Prize winner will face during the remainder of his presidency, from Middle East conflicts, to Iranian and North Korean nuclear proliferation, to Hugo Chavez in this hemisphere. The president owes his best answers to his fellow Americans, not five miscellaneous Norwegian politicians.

The Nobel Committee, as its chairman proudly boasted, has engaged in “realpolitik,” directly intervening in American politics. It has thereby shown just how little it understands our country, it has gravely undermined its own credibility, and it has devalued the Peace Prize itself. Instead of preening itself on the wonderfulness of honoring Obama, the Nobel Committee should have worried more that it was actually hanging an albatross around his neck.

Seven Questions for John Bolton

John R. Bolton |  Economist

John R. Bolton has worked for several Republican administrations. Most recently, under George W. Bush, he served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005, then as America’s permanent representative to the UN from 2005 to 2006. That last post came by way of a recess appointment, with Democrats (and some Republicans) blocking his confirmation in the Senate. Yet Mr. Bolton has been a critic of both Republican and Democratic presidents. After leaving his post at the UN, he criticized Mr. Bush for deviating from his first-term foreign-policy goals. He has criticised Barack Obama for his “naive and dangerous approach to dealing with the hard men who run pariah states.” Mr. Bolton is currently a senior fellow at AEI. This week The Economist asked him some questions about Iran, Israel, the UN, and Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Economist: What do you think of the Obama administration’s acceptance of Iran’s offer to hold broad talks on security issues?

Mr. Bolton: Iran is not going to be talked out of its nuclear-weapons programme. The EU-3 have been negotiating with Iran for close to seven years, the net effect of which is that Iran is now seven years closer to a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability. Time is an asset that works in favour of would-be nuclear proliferators, and negotiations give them that asset for free, allowing proliferators to make progress under the cover of “diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem”. In fact, the negotiations not only don’t solve the problem, they contribute to making it worse.

Economist: Would you be willing to trade a security guarantee (a guarantee that America will not try to change the regime in Iran) for the verifiable dismantling of Iran’s nuclear-weapons programme?

Mr. Bolton: We should try to change the regime in Iran. It is a threat to all of its neighbours–Arab as well as Israeli–and a threat to international peace and security more broadly. Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons clandestinely for 20 years or more. To protect and conceal their program, they have lied in the past, are lying now and will lie in the future. Even if, say, Barack Obama were prepared to give a security guarantee, the regime in Tehran would never agree to the extremely intrusive verification regime that would be necessary.

Economist: If you were advising Barack Obama, what advice would you give him on dealing with Iran? Would you suggest the use of force?

Mr. Bolton: I think he has shown so far he is impervious to realistic advice on Iran. The Iranians sleep safer at night knowing that the Carter administration’s ideological descendants now govern in Washington.

Economist: What role, if any, do you see the United Nations playing in the disputes over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programmes?

Mr. Bolton: The Security Council’s sanctions against Iran and North Korea have been and almost certainly will continue to be of marginal value. Just as the Security Council was largely irrelevant to the great struggle of the last half of the twentieth century–freedom against Communism–so too it is largely on the sidelines in our contemporary struggles against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Economist: You are a proponent of reform at the UN, and you served as permanent representative when Ban Ki-moon was selected as secretary-general. Do you think Mr Ban has made any progress in cleaning up the institution?

Mr. Bolton: Minimal progress as far as I can see.

Economist: As the Obama administration pushes for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, do you think the administration is right to demand a total freeze on settlement building in the West Bank?

Mr. Bolton: No. I think the administration’s position puts the cart before the horse. The issue of boundaries and settlements should be issues for negotiation, not a precondition to negotiations.

Economist: What parts of Mr Obama’s foreign policy, if any, have you been impressed with?

Mr. Bolton: I think the administration’s emphasis on Pakistan, and the risks of that regime’s nuclear-weapons arsenal falling into the hands of radicals and religious extremists is extremely important, as is the understanding that what happens to the Taliban in Afghanistan figures importantly in what happens in Pakistan.

The Key to Changing the United Nations System

John R. Bolton |  ConUNdrum

This foreword appears in ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives, edited by Brett D. Schaefer.

There has perhaps been more commentary in the United States that is critical of the United Nations in recent years than in any comparable period.  There are many reasons for the growth of this criticism:  the Security Council’s failure to take its own resolutions seriously in case after case, especially in the face of Saddam Hussein’s defiance; the Oil-for-Food scandal; the endless efforts in one policy area after another to “norm” the United States into compliance with a liberal agenda that could not achieve a majority within our own democratic system; and international officials who seem to think that U.N. member governments work for them and not the other way around.

Whatever the reasons, and they are many, the growing criticism has legitimately raised the attendant question:  what do you plan to do about it?  This volume is a significant step toward answering that question, covering as it does the broadest range of U.N. activities.  The succeeding chapters are rich with ideas and suggestions for “change,” the political flavor of the day, thus in themselves giving the lie to the idea that there is no alternative to the United Nations as we know it.

This foreword attempts to set the stage for the creative analyses and proposals that follow by briefly describing the sad, and largely unsuccessful, history of U.N. reform efforts in the past thirty years and by then explaining revolutionary change that might actually produce a different result:  moving toward voluntary funding of the U.N. and its activities.  In addition, it provides complementary information about the culture of the U.N. organization and its member states that any subsequent American reform efforts, in whatever substantive policy area, will have to take into account.  The high-minded won’t like reading these pages, but it will do them a world of good.