The Pentagon’s on Fire — Amb. Bolton Remembers 9/11

BY JOHN BOLTON

September 7, 2011

Editor’s note: Ambassador John Bolton was asked by Fox News to share what transpired for him on 9/11 . 

I arrived at the State Department early on September 11, my bags packed to fly to London that afternoon. I was to meet there with Georgi Mamedov, my Russian counterpart, continuing negotiations to extract the United States from the outdated 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Secretary Colin Powell had a September 19 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and there were summits between Presidents Bush and Putin in Shanghai and Crawford, Texas, in October and November to prepare for.

Typically, State has morning and periodic meetings so the bureaucracy can get its act together, both for the day ahead and the longer term. We were just finishing one of those meetings — evaluating careerists for vacant ambassadorial positions — when we received word that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

None of us had the slightest idea what was up. I hurried back to my office in the southwest corner of the Department’s seventh floor, the floor that housed the Secretary of State and other high-ranking personnel, to learn more about the bizarre-sounding developments in New York.

At some point a few minutes later — I have no recollection of the exact time — my secretary raced into my office to say that the Pentagon was on fire. I went to a window and saw a great cloud of smoke and fire rising just across the Potomac River from the iconic building’s western side. Another staffer then ran in to exclaim that he had just watched a large aircraft crash into the Pentagon right next to its helipad.

We were under attack. We had no clue what was coming next.

I went immediately to the State Department Operations Center, in the middle of the seventh floor, where several top officials were gathering in a secure videoconferencing facility so we could communicate with other government agencies. 

With President Bush in Florida, we knew that the Vice President and other key White House personnel had been moved to a bunker deep under the White House. NSC staffers were in the Situation Room in the West Wing basement, trying to coordinate information from around the country to determine if there were further potential attacks or hijackings under way.

Everything seemed to be in chaos, then and for much of the rest of the day. For hours, there were worries about a flight hijacked from Dulles, which we realized only later was not still “missing” and potentially dangerous, but which was the plane that had struck the Pentagon. It took until early afternoon to conclude that four aircraft had been hijacked domestically, although it was still far from certain what was happening on board international flights heading toward America.

Although the nation as a whole was understandably focused on the attacks and the obvious and immediate human tragedies involved, the White House, the State and Defense Departments, and others began automatically to concentrate on what would come next. Some of State’s activity on September 11 and thereafter was vital but quintessentially bureaucratic: letting the rest of the world know the U.S. government was still functioning. We activated the Cold War “hot line” to Moscow, for example, to confirm earlier high-level messages that enhanced U.S. military readiness was in response to the attacks, not in any way related to Russia.

That day, Powell was in Peru for long-scheduled meetings, the remainder of which he immediately cancelled, returning to Washington in the early evening. On September 12, after a large 7:00 A.M. meeting in his office, he asked me to stay behind. Powell wanted me to do whatever it took to reschedule the lost meeting with Mamedov, in advance of Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov’s impending arrival in Washington. Keeping that Powell-Ivanov meeting was important substantively, but Powell also wanted to send Russia and other countries yet another signal, however small, that America was fully open for business.

With commercial air travel still chaotic, I finagled my own “milair” plane to Moscow, an Air Force version of the Gulfstream V, departing Andrews Air Force Base on September 15 with a small delegation. Our course took us just east of Manhattan, and we stared at the huge cloud of dust and smoke still billowing from where the World Trade Center had stood. We watched in silence. There was simply nothing to say.

U.S. intelligence had missed Al Qaeda’s preparations for the 9/11 attacks, and there was no telling what else we were missing. And, as devastating as 9/11 was, the consequences of a terrorist or rogue-state attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, possibly delivered via ballistic missile, would be far worse. We formally withdrew from the ABM Treaty on December 13.

After 9/11, proliferation and terrorism were not “problems” to be “managed.” They were mortal threats to be stopped. They still are.

To see this article as it originally appeared on Fox News Opinion, click here.

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.

Obama’s Af-Pak Imperative

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

Last Friday, General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. ground commander in Afghanistan, briefed NATO defense ministers on his proposed strategy, apparently successfully. “I have noted broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach,” NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration continues its internal, but extraordinarily public, Afghan strategy debate. While NATO ministers were endorsing McChrystal, Vice President Biden, who opposes his recommendations, took on his predecessor, Dick Cheney. Risking his own oblivion even before his term ends, Biden responded to Cheney’s criticism of the President’s indecisiveness by asking “Who cares?”

In fact, the U.S. direction in Afghanistan is likely to be Obama’s most important national security decision to date. By precipitating the current debate, and through his ongoing display of discomfort with a strategy he personally announced in March, the President has gravely impaired the confidence of many allies and Americans in his overall capacity to make hard national security choices. Either his initial Afghanistan decisions were poorly thought out, or today’s irresolution over his hand-picked commander’s operational proposals signals indecisiveness and a propensity for second-guessing. Neither explanation is presidential.

Beyond this evidence of Administration disorder and weakness, however, the United States and its NATO partners must agree on our fundamental strategic objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is what Obama should have done before his March announcement, and must in any event get right now. White House efforts to blame corruption in Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential elections for rethinking its entire policy are inadequate. The Administration should have understood Afghanistan better, and factored the risk of corruption into its original decision, or should have done more to head it off. Apparently it did neither.

America’s real objectives have not changed in the last six months. After 9/11, our principal strategic objective in Afghanistan was overthrowing the repressive Taliban regime, and denying Taliban and al Qaeda a safe haven from which to plot and execute terrorist attacks around the world. That objective was critical in 2001, and it remains critical today. It cannot be achieved by remote control warfare, but only through the systematic destruction of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and often literally in hand-to-hand combat.

But today the West has another critical strategic objective: preventing the government of Pakistan from destabilizing to the point where Taliban or other religious fanatics gain control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The danger in Pakistan grew after the overthrow of the Afghan Taliban partly because they and al Qaeda found refuge inside Pakistan, and from which they now threaten both countries. President Bush did not appreciate soon enough or respond effectively to the compound nature of the “AfPak” problem, and, his Administration’s decision to push Pakistani President Musharraf from office was clearly a mistake and a contributing factor to Pakistani instability. Nonetheless, it is critical now to concentrate on the even higher nuclear stakes involved in not losing Pakistan to NATO’s enemies.

In a curious analytical confluence, some proponents of NATO troop increases, most notably McChrystal, and opponents such as Senator Kerry have argued that extensive Afghan “nation building” is required to ensure Taliban and al Qaeda are eliminate as threats there. Kerry supposedly wants political stability before committing more troops, whereas McChrystal argues for nation building to solidify military gains.

Both sides miss the point, though McChrystal’s military reasoning does correctly conclude we need more forces. Unfortunately, his socio-economic theorizing risks the kind of failure that underlies Kerry’s argument, thus laying the predicate for future U.S. withdrawal whether Taliban is defeated or not.

Afghan legitimacy, stability and well-being do not affect the basic interests for which we are fighting. Our national security interest in destroying Taliban and al Qaeda exists whether Afghans are doing well or poorly economically or whether Afghan elections become more corrupt or less corrupt. These characteristics relate to military activity, but are neither prerequisites for troop increases nor the inevitable outcome of successful military operations. “Nation building” deserves our endorsement but cannot be the measure of our success, since it rests fundamentally with Afghans, not Americans. We are not in Afghanistan to spruce up its quality of life, but to protect America. Otherwise, we have no point being there.

This the hard truth: neither nation building nor military action guarantees forever against Taliban’s return; there is only continuing struggle, which at the moment America and NATO are not winning in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. We need urgently to grind Taliban and al Qaeda between two military millstones: NATO in Afghanistan and stepped-up Pakistani military operations on their side of the border. That requires substantial U.S. (and European) troop increases, and soon. If Afghanistan thereby “nation builds” into a more pleasant country, so much the better, but Afghan wholesomeness is irrelevant to the strategic judgment President Obama is long overdue in making.

Erring on the Side of Incaution

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

President Obama’s decision not to deploy anti-ballistic missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic is unambiguously wrong. It reflects an unrequited concession to Russian belligerence, an embarrassing abandonment of two of America’s strongest European allies, and an appalling lack of understanding of the present and future risks posed by Iran. Worse, this unforced retreat of American hard power clearly signals what may well be a long American recessional globally.

First, Mr. Obama’s capitulation was about Russia, not about Iran. Russia has always known that former President George W. Bush’s national missile defense project was not aimed against Russia’s offensive nuclear capabilities, neither in scope nor in geographical deployment. To the contrary, our common interests in defending against threats from rogue states should have led to missile-defense cooperation, not antagonism.

What has really agitated Russia was not that the sites were for missile defense, but that they were an American presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, Russia’s now-defunct sphere of influence.

Now, without anything resembling a quid pro quo from Moscow, Washington has dramatically reduced its presence and isolated its own friends. In Russia and Eastern Europe, the basic political conclusion is straightforward and worrying: Russia, a declining, depopulating power, growled, and the United States blinked. This devastating reaction extends worldwide, especially among our Pacific allies, who fear similar unilateral U.S. concessions in their region.

Second, Mr. Obama’s proposed new missile defense deployments will not protect the United States against Iranian ICBMs, for which the Eastern European sites were primarily intended. Protecting Europe was only an ancillary, although welcome side effect, one intended to help calm European concern that the United States would abandon Europe and embrace isolationism behind national missile defenses.

Western Europe, not surprisingly, seems largely content with the Obama-projected alternative, which, if implemented, would protect Europe, but would have few tangible benefits for America.

Thus, despite Mr. Obama’s rhetoric about replacing one missile defense design with a more effective one, the systems in question are aimed at two completely different objectives. Of course, it also remains to be seen whether and exactly how the administration will actually implement its projected deployment, and what new risks are entailed.

For example, U.S. ships deployed in the Black Sea would be fully exposed to Russia’s naval capabilities, in contrast to more secure bases in continental Europe. Failure to implement the new plan aggressively will be seen as yet another failure of American will.

Mr. Obama’s public explanation omitted any acknowledgment that the Eastern European deployments were never intended to counter existing Iranian threats, but rather were to protect against threats maturing in the future. Obviously, to be ahead of the curve and ready before Iran’s threat became real, we had to begin deployment now, not in the distant future. Instead, Mr. Obama’s decision effectively forecloses our ability to be ready when the real need arises.

Third, although purportedly based on new intelligence assessments about Iran’s capabilities, Mr. Obama’s announcement simply reflected his own longstanding biases against national missile defense. He has never believed in it strategically, or that it could ever be made operationally successful.

The new intelligence “estimate” agreeably minimizes the threat posed by Iranian ICBMs, thus facilitating a decision to cancel that had been all but made during last year’s campaign. The assessment, as briefed to Congress immediately after the president’s announcement, involved no actual new intelligence, but only a revised prediction of Iran’s future capabilities.

The new “assessment” also confirmed the administration’s often-expressed and so far frustrated desire to negotiate with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. That schedule has slipped badly, leaving Mr. Obama running out of time for diplomatic endeavors.

Moreover, stronger economic sanctions, his fallback position, are increasingly unlikely to be comprehensive or strict enough to actually stop Iran’s nuclear program before completion.

How convenient, therefore, to suddenly “find” more time on the missile front, thus facilitating a diplomatic strategy that had been increasingly headed toward disastrous failure. Moreover, whatever the available intelligence, it does not determine what levels of international risk we should accept. Mr. Obama has too high a tolerance for such risk.

He is too willing to place America in jeopardy of Iran’s threat, a calculus exactly opposite from what we should use. It is far better to err on the side of U.S. security than on the side of greater risk of nuclear devastation. There is no harm in deploying our missile defenses before Iran’s ICBMs can reach America, but incalculable risk if Iran is ready before we are.

Mr. Obama’s rationale for abandoning the Eastern European sites ignores the important reasons they were created, underestimates the Iranian threat, and bends the knee unnecessarily to Russia. This all foreshadows a depressing future. Our president, uncomfortable with projecting American power, is following the advice of his intellectual predecessor George McGovern: “Come home, America.” Both our allies and adversaries worldwide will take due note.

Was the Lockerbie Release Bad Business or Good Diplomacy?

John R. Bolton |  Daily Telegraph

Outrage was the uniform American response to Scotland’s release last week of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of blowing Pan Am 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie in December, 1988. Two hundred and seventy innocent people died in that act of terrorism, of whom 189 were Americans, many of them students on their way home to celebrate Christmas with their families.

Outrage also greeted the public celebration of Megrahi’s arrival in Libya and his warm reception from Muammar Gaddafi. These manifestations of insensitivity only highlight the shamefulness of Britain’s fundamental mistake in letting Megrahi go free, regardless of his condition. “Compassion” has no place here. Releasing him to die at home means that he has spent less than two weeks in jail for each of his 270 victims. They never made it home.

The justifiable disgust over Megrahi’s release sadly underlines what amounts to a spectacular failure of American diplomacy. “Obamamania” overseas is a dominant theme of the media, endlessly recounting how the US position in the world has improved since President Bush’s departure. “Engagement” with friend and adversary alike is the Obama administration’s hallmark, with diplomatic advances expected to flow like wine.

So what happened? The state department said on Friday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked “for weeks and months” to persuade Britain not to release the murderer. Both Washington and London all but begged Gaddafi not to hold public celebrations on Megrahi’s arrival in Tripoli. Yet Britain, the other half of the “special relationship”, ignored Clinton’s efforts, as did Libya, which only recently resumed full diplomatic relations with America.

This is effective US diplomacy? This is one of the tangible benefits of Obamamania? The purported “decision” by Scotland (under whose laws America, Britain and Libya agreed Megrahi would be tried) was almost surely taken at the behest of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Government. Even worse, Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and Lord Trefgarne, president of the Libyan-British Business Council, have both essentially confirmed that Megrahi’s release was intended to facilitate enhanced commercial relationships between Britain and Libya. Gaddafi said the release “will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of co-operation between the two countries”. Is there any doubt of his meaning?

Cabinet protestations to the contrary are increasingly hollow, as inconvenient new evidence, such as Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis’s letter to Scotland’s justice secretary, demonstrates. For sure, there was no “deal” between Brown and Gaddafi or their underlings, no signed contract, no express quid pro quo between Megrahi’s release and business for Britain. In reality, of course, that is not the way it’s done. All denials of such an explicit transaction are probably “the truth”, but not the whole truth. Sequencing the release and the subsequent contracts was designed to enhance official deniability, but the linkage is palpable to all concerned.

Expert Cabinet spin cannot hide the emerging reality. Some say Brown listened to those British victims’ families who still doubt Megrahi’s guilt. Why does he have so little faith in Scottish justice? And if Scotland (birthplace of two of my grandparents) can’t get mass terrorism right, what does that tell foreigners thinking about visiting?

In fact, this is merely the latest example of a fundamentally flawed American approach to international terrorism, begun in the Clinton administration. Although rejected by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Clinton philosophy that terrorism was simply a law-enforcement matter is again in vogue in full force under President Obama. Both the first President Bush and President Clinton should have treated the destruction of Pan Am 103 as an attack on the US and responded accordingly. This mass murder was not simply a bank robbery writ large; it was an act of state aggression almost surely directed by Libya’s government, then, as now, in Gaddafi’s hands.

At the barest minimum, the Clinton administration should never have agreed that Megrahi could be tried in Scotland, which does not provide the death penalty for murder, or even for mass terrorism or any other crime. In America, after a trial at least as fair as Scotland’s, and appeals exhausted, Megrahi would not now be in a position to ask for clemency. Nor should the US and the UK have agreed that Megrahi’s trial would “not be used to undermine the Libyan regime”, in the language of the UN letter that facilitated Megrahi’s transfer to Scottish custody 10 years ago. His release will be widely seen, especially by terrorists and their state sponsors, as one more act of Western appeasement. Gaddafi will wonder again why, five years ago, he gave up his nuclear and chemical weapons programmes.

Next month in New York President Obama will preside over a UN Security Council meeting on non-proliferation. All of the council’s 15 heads of government are expected to attend, including Brown and Gaddafi. Perhaps the three of them will pose together for the cameras. It should be a very cosy scene, but with no Obamamania.

Deal Weakens U.S. Posture

John R. Bolton |  USA Today

President Obama has to date failed to articulate any coherent strategic rationale for the substantial cuts in nuclear weapons and delivery systems he agreed to Monday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama’s inability to do so is not surprising, because he made these commitments without waiting for an up-to-date “nuclear posture review,” the definitive mechanism for assessing America’s strategic needs.

Avoiding this authoritative process, coupled with the administration’s hell-for-leather insistence on ratifying a new treaty by December, and its proposed cuts in missile-defense expenditures and critical weapons systems such as the F-22, demonstrate just how ideologically committed Obama is to a less robust U.S. defense posture. Not only are the proposed cuts in nuclear weapons levels dangerous, but the reductions in delivery systems are even more reckless, as the United States now significantly relies on such systems to deliver conventional warheads. Russia does not.

Obama’s approach weakens our nuclear and conventional capabilities, while leaving Russia exactly at levels to which it would otherwise be driven by its own bleak economic realities. Moreover, Russia still insists on linking reductions in U.S. missile defenses to offensive cuts, and Obama hasn’t unequivocally rejected this dangerous connection.

Obama’s policy is risky for America and its global allies who shelter under our nuclear umbrella. It is hardly the time to shred that umbrella. Nuclear proliferation threats are growing, with North Korea detonating nuclear devices and testing missiles; Iran’s nuclear and missile programs progressing; India and Pakistan increasing their capabilities; and other would-be nuclear states watching America’s response.

Although Obama hopes dramatic U.S. nuclear weapons reductions will discourage proliferation, the actual result will be the exact opposite. Reality is much harsher than a wishful-thinking administration willing to accept deep cuts in America’s defenses, with our military already stretched thin.

The answer is not to rush into any new treaty with Russia by year’s end. Preserving the verification mechanisms of the START treaty, which expires then, is doable by simply extending those mechanisms until new strategic levels can be carefully considered and prudently negotiated. Any other approach leaves America vulnerable. Our president should know better.

Sudanese Dictator Thumbs His Nose at U.N.’s “Criminal Court”

John R. Bolton |  Liberal

The recent indictment of Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir, by the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) graphically demonstrates why the ICC is fundamentally flawed. Criticizing the ICC, of course, is not equivalent to defending Bashir for his actions in Sudan’s Darfur region.  We can simply assume, and probably correctly, that Bashir is guilty of every offense the ICC has charged.

Bashir’s evil, however, does not justify the ICC’s indictment. The ICC is a potentially huge source of unaccountable power, exercising the weighty executive authority of prosecution, and the enormous judicial power of trial and sentencing, all without the slightest accountability to real people or their elected representatives. Moreover, for Americans, mixing executive and judicial powers in one self-contained institution is itself deeply troubling.

ICC advocates respond that it is responsible to the 108 governments now party to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC. But this defense actually demonstrates the ICC’s unaccountability: an international meeting of 108 governments is rarely capable of anything but platitudes, and certainly not the hard decisions required to oversee sensitive prosecutions.

Because the ICC lacks effective oversight, there is every risk it will take actions that have unforeseen effects in difficult crisis situations. In real governments, decisions can be coordinated to form an overall national policy. The ICC, however, is disconnected and autonomous, causing consequences for which it bears no responsibility.

In fact, Sudan’s decision to expel Western humanitarian aid groups in retaliation for Bashir’s prosecution now threatens to make the grave humanitarian crisis in Darfur even worse. While the Security Council has tried for years to create an effective international peacekeeping force in Darfur to reduce the violence and provide security for humanitarian relief deliveries, the ICC’s indictment has simply made matters worse, and will continue to have that unfortunate effect well into the future.

For too many Westerners, the ICC is a substitute for a truly effective response against the repression and violence taking place in Darfur. Unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to resolve the Darfur crisis, these Westerners are content with “gesture politics,” symbolic acts which may make them feel better about themselves, but which have no positive impact where the tragedy is actually occurring. The world’s hard men, like Bashir, are not deterred from committing outrageous and inhumane acts for fear of being arrested if they travel to the great capitals of Europe. That may deter those who create institutions like the ICC, but Bashir and his ilk are quite content to stay in the world’s Khartoums and run their cruel and authoritarian governments as they see fit. Moreover, many other governments around the world, attracted to Sudan’s rich oil reserves, will happily finance Bashir and those like him, making Sudan’s current government essentially immune from economic pressure.

Although many sincere people argue for “humanitarian intervention” in Darfur, or “the responsibility to protect” its suffering population, no government has yet been willing to take the difficult steps to actually carry out such an intervention. Nor is there any prospect for such action in the foreseeable future because of the tangible–if unpleasant–reality that stopping the Darfur atrocities is not sufficiently in any other country’s national interest that it will order its own citizens into harm’s way to end them.

The most logical answer to Bashir’s murderous ways is not to indict him from the safety of The Hague, but to empower the Sudanese and others to overthrow him. Then, with new, legitimate authorities in place, the Sudanese could themselves deal with Bashir and hold him accountable for the crimes he has long committed in their name. That is a far better way, if there are to be prosecutions, than trying to hold Bashir accountable in a court thousands of miles away from the crime scene.

A representative Sudanese government might, in fact, chose not to prosecute Bashir and his cohorts, but instead follow South Africa’s route after the end of apartheid. There, the new democratic government created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring to light the facts of apartheid’s cruelty, and thereafter to move forward. One can advocate either prosecution or reconciliation, but that decision should ultimately be for the Sudanese to make.  Removing the decision from them nurtures false but superficially appealing charges of “Western imperialism,” and ultimately impedes Sudan’s own political development

Even among the most outspoken Western critics of Bashir, no one is lining up for “regime change.”  That should tell us something, and no one knows it better than Bashir, faced with the ICC indictment. He had no fear in expelling non-governmental organizations providing aid to the very people the indictment is theoretically supposed to be vindicating. Until the West understands the inherent conceptual defects of the ICC and the consequent real-world risks of its actions, we can, unfortunately, simply expect more tragedy like this in the future.

The Three-State Option

John R. Bolton |  Washington Post

Gaza would be returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank would revert to Jordanian sovereignty.

War in the Gaza Strip demonstrates yet again that the current governance paradigm for the Palestinian people has failed. Terrorists financed and supplied by Iran control Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is broken, probably irretrievably; and economic development is stalled in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are suffering the consequences of regional power struggles played out through them as surrogates.

Israel isn’t a happy place, either. It endures opprobrium from the world’s High-Minded for defending itself from terrorism yet still finds itself subjected to terrorist attacks from Hamas and terrorists based in Syria and Lebanon. Israel’s domestic politics are increasingly muddled, and its way forward obscure.

Neighboring countries also suffer. Egypt has walled off its boundary with Gaza; Lebanon remains under threat of a Hezbollah coup enabled by Iran; Syria slides further under Iranian hegemony; and Jordan is trapped in the general gridlock. Other Arab countries search for solutions, but their attention is increasingly diverted by the growing threat from Iran and the downturn in global oil prices.

Given this landscape, we should ask why we still advocate the “two-state solution,” with Israel and “Palestine” living side by side in peace, as the mantra goes. We are obviously not progressing, and are probably going backward. We continue poring over the Middle East “road map” because that is all we have, faute de mieux, as they say in Foggy Bottom.

The logic to this position is long past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically. If the way out were obvious, after all, it would already have been suggested. So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be:

Let’s start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a “three-state” approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today’s conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. “International observers” or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem. Accordingly, they should not have to reassume this responsibility alone. They should receive financial and political support from the Arab League and the West, as they both have for years from the United States. Israel should accept political and administrative roles by Jordan and Egypt, unless it intends to perform such roles itself (which it manifestly does not).

Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does. Cairo fears that Hamas extremism, and its affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, will increase the risk of extremism in Egypt. Strong ties exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and extremism in Egypt is growing, so already the real issue is finding the best way to control the threat simultaneously in Egypt and Gaza. Keeping Gaza politically separate from Egypt may be optically satisfying to some, but doing so simply increases threats to Egyptian stability, the loss of which would be catastrophic for the broader region. Just ask the mullahs in Tehran.

Without a larger Egyptian role, Gaza will not, and perhaps cannot, achieve the minimal stability necessary for economic development. Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens. The West Bank link to Jordan, for now at least, is less urgent; the matter cannot be put aside indefinitely, partly because, ironically, long-term Israeli security concerns there are more complex than in Gaza.

For Palestinians, admitting the obvious failure of the PA, and the consequences of their selection of Hamas, means accepting reality, however unpleasant. But it is precisely Palestinians who would most benefit from stability. The PA–weakened, corrupt and discredited–is not a state by any realistic assessment, nor will it become one accepted by Israel as long as Hamas or terrorism generally remains a major political force among Palestinians.

Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult. One place to avoid problems is dispensing with intricate discussions over the exact legal status of Gaza and the West Bank. These territories contain more legal theories than land. “Retrocession” to Egypt and Jordan may or may not become permanent, but one need not advocate that to get started in the interim.

The Palestinian and Israeli peoples deserve a little glasnost and perestroika from the outside world. Either we do better, conceptually and operationally, or Iran will be happy to fill the vacuum.

After Russia’s Invasion of Georgia, What Now for the West?

John R. Bolton |  Daily Telegraph

At least for now, the smoke seems to be clearing from the Georgian battlefield. But the extent of the wreckage reaches far beyond that small country.

Russia’s invasion across an internationally recognized border, its thrashing of the Georgian military, and its smug satisfaction in humbling one of its former fiefdoms represents only the visible damage.As bad as the bloodying of Georgia is, the broader consequences are worse. The United States fiddled while Georgia burned, not even reaching the right rhetorical level in its public statements until three days after the Russian invasion began, and not, at least to date, matching its rhetoric with anything even approximating decisive action. This pattern is the very definition of a paper tiger. Sending Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice to Tbilisi is touching, but hardly reassuring; dispatching humanitarian assistance is nothing more than we would have done if Georgia had been hit by a natural rather than a man-made disaster. 

The European Union took the lead in diplomacy, with results approaching Neville Chamberlain’s moment in the spotlight at Munich: a ceasefire that failed to mention Georgia’s territorial integrity, and that all but gave Russia permission to continue its military operations as a “peacekeeping” force anywhere in Georgia. More troubling, over the long term, was that the EU saw its task as being mediator–its favourite role in the world–between Georgia and Russia, rather than an advocate for the victim of aggression.

Even this dismal performance was enough to relegate NATO to an entirely backstage role, while Russian tanks and planes slammed into a “faraway country”, as Chamberlain once observed so thoughtfully. In New York, paralysed by the prospect of a Russian veto, the UN Security Council, that Temple of the High-Minded, was as useless as it was during the Cold War. In fairness to Russia, it at least still seems to understand how to exercise power in the Council, which some other Permanent Members often appear to have forgotten.

The West, collectively, failed in this crisis. Georgia wasted its dime making that famous 3am telephone call to the White House, the one Hillary Clinton referred to in a campaign ad questioning Barack Obama’s fitness for the Presidency. Moreover, the blood on the Bear’s claws did not go unobserved in other states that were once part of the Soviet Union. Russia demonstrated unambiguously that it could have marched directly to Tbilisi and installed a puppet government before any Western leader was able to turn away from the Olympic Games. It could, presumably, do the same to them.

Fear was one reaction Russia wanted to provoke, and fear it has achieved, not just in the “Near Abroad” but in the capitals of Western Europe as well. But its main objective was hegemony, a hegemony it demonstrated by pledging to reconstruct Tskhinvali, the capital of its once and no-longer-future possession, South Ossetia. The contrast is stark: a real demonstration of using sticks and carrots, the kind that American and European diplomats only talk about. Moreover, Russia is now within an eyelash of dominating the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the only route out of the Caspian Sea region not now controlled by either Russia or Iran. Losing this would be dramatically unhelpful if we hope for continued reductions in global petroleum prices, and energy independence from unfriendly, or potentially unfriendly, states.

It profits us little to blame Georgia for “provoking” the Russian attack. Nor is it becoming of the United States to have anonymous officials from its State Department telling reporters, as they did earlier this week, that they had warned Georgia not to provoke Russia. This confrontation is not about who violated the Marquess of Queensbury rules in South Ossetia, where ethnic violence has been a fact of life since the break-up of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991–and, indeed, long before. Instead, we are facing the much larger issue of how Russia plans to behave in international affairs for decades to come. Whether Mikhail Saakashvili “provoked” the Russians on August 8, or September 8, or whenever, this rape was well-planned and clearly coming, given Georgia’s manifest unwillingness to be “Finlandized”–the Cold War term for effectively losing your foreign-policy independence.

So, as an earlier Vladimir liked to say, “What is to be done?” There are three key focal points for restoring our credibility here in America: drawing a clear line for Russia; getting Europe’s attention; and checking our own intestinal fortitude. Whether history reflects Russia’s Olympic invasion as the first step toward recreating its empire depends–critically–on whether the Bush Administration can resurrect its once-strong will in its waning days, and on what US voters will do in the election in November. Europe also has a vital role–by which I mean the real Europe, its nation states, not the bureaucracies and endless councils in Brussels.

First, Russia has made it clear that it will not accept a vacuum between its borders and the boundary line of NATO membership. Since the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapsed, this has been a central question affecting successive NATO membership decisions, with the fear that nations in the “gap” between NATO and Russia would actually be more at risk of Russian aggression than if they joined NATO. The potential for instability and confrontation was evident.

Europe’s rejection this spring of President Bush’s proposal to start Ukraine and Georgia towards NATO membership was the real provocation to Russia, because it exposed Western weakness and timidity. As long as that perception exists in Moscow, the risk to other former Soviet territories–and in precarious regions such as the Middle East–will remain.

Obviously, not all former Soviet states are as critical to NATO as Ukraine, because of its size and strategic location, or Georgia, because of its importance to our access to the Caspian Basin’s oil and natural gas reserves. Moreover, not all of them meet fundamental NATO prerequisites. But we must now review our relationship with all of them. This, in effect, NATO failed to do after the Orange and Rose Revolutions, leaving us in our present untenable position.

By its actions in Georgia, Russia has made clear that its long-range objective is to fill that “gap” if we do not. That, as Western leaders like to say, is “unacceptable”. Accordingly, we should have a foreign-minister-level meeting of NATO to reverse the spring capitulation at Bucharest, and to decide that Georgia and Ukraine will be NATO’s next members. By drawing the line clearly, we are not provoking Russia, but doing just the opposite: letting them know that aggressive behaviour will result in costs that they will not want to bear, thus stabilising a critical seam between Russia and the West. In effect, we have already done this successfully with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Second, the United States needs some straight talk with our friends in Europe, which ideally should have taken place long before the assault on Georgia. To be sure, American inaction gave French President Sarkozy and the EU the chance to seize the diplomatic initiative. However, Russia did not invade Georgia with diplomats or roubles, but with tanks. This is a security threat, and the proper forum for discussing security threats on the border of a NATO member–yes, Europe, this means Turkey–is NATO.

Saying this may cause angst in Europe’s capitals, but now is the time to find out if NATO can withstand a potential renewed confrontation with Moscow, or whether Europe will cause Nato to wilt. Far better to discover this sooner rather than later, when the stakes may be considerably higher. If there were ever a moment since the fall of the Berlin Wall when Europe should be worried, this is it. If Europeans are not willing to engage through Nato, that tells us everything we need to know about the true state of health of what is, after all, supposedly a “North Atlantic” alliance.

Finally, the most important step will take place right here in the United States. With a Presidential election on November 4, Americans have an opportunity to take our own national pulse, given the widely differing reactions to Russia’s blitzkrieg from Senator McCain and (at least initially) Senator Obama. First reactions, before the campaigns’ pollsters and consultants get involved, are always the best indicators of a candidate’s real views. McCain at once grasped the larger, geostrategic significance of Russia’s attack, and the need for a strong response, whereas Obama at first sounded as timorous and tentative as the Bush Administration. Ironically, Obama later moved closer to McCain’s more robust approach, followed only belatedly by Bush.

In any event, let us have a full general election debate over the implications of Russia’s march through Georgia. Even before this incident, McCain had suggested expelling Russia from the G8; others have proposed blocking Russia’s application to join the World Trade Organisation or imposing economic sanctions as long as Russian troops remain in Georgia. Obama has assiduously avoided specifics in foreign policy–other than withdrawing speedily from Iraq–but that luxury should no longer be available to him. We need to know if Obama’s reprise of George McGovern’s 1972 campaign theme, “Come home, America”, is really what our voters want, or if we remain willing to persevere in difficult circumstances, as McCain has consistently advocated. Querulous Europe should hope, for its own sake, that America makes the latter choice.

Guest Speaker: John Bolton on Criminalizing Political Differences

John R. Bolton | Standpoint

Our free society will see serious trouble if we fail to see that not every political mistake is equivalent to Watergate and not every misstatement is perjury.

Having never been arrested anywhere by legitimate authorities, I was amused to learn some months ago that an illegitimate authority planned to arrest me when I spoke at the Hay Festival. George Monbiot, pretender to the throne of Monbiotshire, and assorted Hay camp followers were sufficiently outraged by a dissenting, non-Leftist voice sullying their muddy pleasures that they were spurred to action.When I wrote Surrender Is Not an Option, the memoir of my tenure as US Ambassador to the United Nations, I learned that authors not only write their books, but also serve as their chief marketing officers. I had, therefore, dutifully done about one million interviews since the book’s November 2007 publication, and saw Hay as one more brick in the marketing wall. To be honest, I had never heard of it before.

The would-be King George (George III in his later years comes to mind) believed I was a major architect of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy–thus proving, among other things, that he hadn’t read my book. Since that’s all that due process requires in Monbiotshire, he now had only to arrest the body and take it back down his rabbit hole.

In the event, I appeared at Hay, answered an hour’s worth of questions and left the stage before King George could lay a hand on me. The Welsh constabulary was most helpful, actually having a little fun. Being an American, I asked one policeman if he was armed; he smiled and said: “I might be.” I felt even more secure. As I drove out of the western badlands of Wales, King George and his subjects pursued me, but got stuck in Hay’s copious supplies of mud. Ta-ta, as the locals say. The affair might be chalked up as nothing more than a publicity stunt for Hay, given that Monbiot writes for The Guardian, the festival’s sponsor. On the other hand, there was an underlying element of menace that would become apparent if the criminalisation of policy disagreements became more widespread.

In the case of the “citizen’s arrest”, the pernicious idea is that, based on their own moral self-evaluation, people can take the law into their own hands and determine who is a criminal. At a minimum, this approach is intended to deny legitimacy in the public square to opposing points of view, and taken to the next level–the threat or use of physical force–is intended to intimidate those views into silence. This is, in the worst case, the path first to anarchy and then to fascism.

Representative government’s central benefit is that competing viewpoints openly debate, with the majority view ultimately prevailing. In the United Kingdom, a majority in Parliament supported the Iraq war, deeming it both correct and lawful. Obviously, many disagreed, and they are perfectly entitled to express their views and continue working to reverse the relevant parliamentary decisions. What they are not entitled to do in a free, constitutional society is to use the techniques of force and intimidation. Although Monbiot’s attempt at a “citizen’s arrest” falls into the category of farce, more sustained and serious efforts along those lines are the basis of tragedy. No responsible citizenry should allow this cancerous view to take hold.

But even beyond the elementary distinction between legitimate and illegitimate citizen action is the critical question of limits on governmental action in democratic societies. Having failed to handcuff me, Monbiot announced he was going after bigger game: former Prime Minister Tony Blair, leader of the Iraq “war party” in Britain, now analogised to 20th century fascist leaders who launched wars of aggression. Let’s be clear: this analogy is nonsense. Blair advocated his views in a democratic society, and his views prevailed. He did not impose anything on anyone. Many may see his policies as wrong, even disastrously so, but he is guilty only of superior political leadership, not crimes against humanity. A free society’s punishment for political leaders who lose their support is turning them out of office. Comparing Blair to Hitler is not merely the fallacy of moral equivalence, but outright moral blindness.

Even more fragile is the claim, made under the rubric of “universal jurisdiction,” to try the leaders of other countries for “war crimes”. Apart from the laughably hubristic character of countries like Belgium, or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, asserting universal jurisdiction over the entire world, the moral imperialism of the assertion betrays its basic weakness. Power without accountability is as unacceptable when it purportedly serves a “higher” moral authority as the reverse. That is what happens when the odd magistrate in Spain–or the United Kingdom–decides to arrest a foreign leader for alleged crimes unrelated to the arresting country.

All of this may simply be a passing fad, or it may be part of a larger trend, evident for decades in Washington, to criminalise political differences. Not every political mistake is equivalent to Watergate, not every misstatement is perjury and not every disagreement is evidence of the other party’s venality. If we fail to grasp this point, our free societies will see serious trouble ahead.