In Discussion with John Bolton

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: In Discussion with John Bolton

DATE:  3pm, 16 December 2020

VENUE: Online

SPEAKER: Ambassador John Bolton, Craig Tiedman

EVENT CHAIR: Craig Tiedman


Craig Tiedman  00:04

Welcome, everyone to another live event at the Henry Jackson Society. I’m Craig Tiedeman, the Director of Policy and Research here at HJS. And today I have the honor of hosting our very distinguished guest Ambassador John Bolton for what should be a fascinating conversation on US foreign policy. Today’s event is entitled Ambassador Bolton on US foreign policy looking back and looking forward. Ambassador Bolton has served at the highest levels in the US government. And throughout his distinguished career. He’s had a major impact on US foreign policy. Ambassador Bolton served in numerous administrations and senior positions at USA ID, US Department of Justice, the Department of State and most recently at the White House as the assistant to President Trump for national security affairs. Ambassador Bolton has written several books, including his most recent memoir about his experience serving as the US National Security Adviser in the Trump administration. The book is entitled “The Room Where it Happened,” a White House memoir I’m holding up here, I’ve read it cover to cover, I recommend you go out and buy the book if you haven’t done so already. On behalf of the Henry Jackson Society. I want to thank Ambassador Bolton, for joining me here today. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.


John Bolton  01:24

Well, thanks very much for inviting me glad glad to be with you. Sorry, it’s virtual. But we’ll get through this soon enough, I suppose. But glad glad to do it.


Craig Tiedman  01:31

And hopefully in the new year, we can we can have you here in London, personally. So we are very hopeful. So it’s it’s a real honor to have you here. I guess I should mention to the audience that the sequence of events as Ambassador Bolton, and I will have a discussion for about a half an hour. And then we’re going to open it up for questions from you all. And you simply have to use the q&a function on your zoom screen. And someone will be filtering your questions to me. Please identify yourself when you ask the question. So this event will not run the full hour up until 4pm GMT. We’re going to cut it short. At 355 GMT. The ambassador has another engagement. So without further ado, we want to get right into it. So Mr. Ambassador, are you ready for some questions? Sure.


John Bolton  02:31

Let’s go. That’s it. Sounds great. Let’s


Craig Tiedman  02:33

Let’s do that. So let’s start with looking back. US foreign policy under under Trump, you served for almost a year and a half as national security adviser. Looking back, what would you say your most important achievements were in foreign policy, your having an influence on foreign policy?


John Bolton  02:55

Well, I think in several respects, we made progress in continuing to break from the Obama administration’s substantially misguided view of the world. And I think though withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement of 2015 was significant. I think, despite President Trump’s public rhetoric, I think we did a number of things take a very, very much tougher line on Russia. And I think, on China, in part because Trump came to see the threat that China pose to the US and the West as a whole, which I think is the existential international affairs question for all of us for the 21st century. I think there was, there was a lot of progress there a lot more to be made and a huge subject for discussion. But nonetheless, very significant. And I think the being able to get the US defense budget up to $750 billion a year that will be the last figure in the administration, we now face the risk of cuts from the Biden administration. But this this went a long way, not far enough, but went a long way of correcting the the terrible deficiencies in our military capabilities during the Biden administration, something that is important kind of across the board, although again, as we’ve just seen, reported publicly and very painfully in the past few days, not enough given this very disturbing, very significant, sophisticated Russian computer attack in cyberspace that we’re still learning the full details of. So I would say it’s a mixed record. And I just say, by way of explanation, it’s because Trump doesn’t think in policy terms he thinks episodically anecdotally, I’ve described his decisions, many of which I obviously agree with is being like an archipelago of dots. They’re just kind of out there. You can try and draw lines between them, but it’s a frustrating exercise.


Craig Tiedman  05:00

Yes, that’s right. Yeah. And and you certainly alluded that in your book, I enjoyed reading a lot of the anecdotes. It’s a, it’s one of those things where you had just almost a year and a half, it would have been great to have a personal opinion had you been there longer? What might you? What do you think you might have achieved if you’d stayed a bit longer? And what would you have wanted to achieve? In addition to those things that you just mentioned?


John Bolton  05:32

Yeah. Well, actually, I put it in the opposite perspective. And in retrospect, I wish I had been the first national security adviser, not the third, that’s not to say that my tenure would have been any longer. But I think the administration and the transition made significant mistakes. In the early days, I think the transition began with throwing out all the work that the pre election transition led by Governor Chris Christie had done, that was a mistake, it meant they had to start all over again. And the transition and in the White House in the first six months, almost everybody involved had no prior experience in the federal government. And I by No, I mean none. A couple of people, Steve Bannon had experience in the Navy as a lieutenant, which is it’s I, I salute his service, but it’s not quite the same as as really knowing how the government function. So in the transition in those first several months, there were a lot of opportunities missed because people didn’t realize how the government supposed to function. And I think Unfortunately, it also established patterns of work and expectation that affected the rest of the four years of the administration that this was, Don McGann, the first White House Counsel for Trump and a veteran of the bush 43 administration used to lean over to me occasionally and say he would whisper. This is not the Bush administration. And and that was certainly right. And I don’t think process ultimately totally governs outcome. But when you don’t have a coherent process, it by definition makes achieving sound outcomes harder.


Craig Tiedman  07:14

Yes. And and I’ll just jump ahead, because, hypothetically, let’s just say that President Elect just says we’re we’re calling him President Elect Biden, I guess, at this at this point in time, although Trump still hasn’t conceded. Let’s say you got a phone call from him tomorrow, and he said, Hey, Ambassador Bolton I could really use your help. How do I want to pick your brain on on? How do I form a solid national security team that’s effective? Based on your experience? Because you’ve served and other administrations? What would what sort of advice would you would you give him in forming that team?


John Bolton  07:58

Yeah, well, he already has substantial parts of it together. But I think even even from what he’s announced publicly, I’m already worried there’s a lot of duplication and overlap and uncertainty about who’s doing what to whom you’ve got John kerry, a former Secretary of State, as the international climate change are in a seat on the National Security Council, sitting in an office in the State Department coming to the sit room for meetings. Does anybody seriously think John Kerry is going to confine himself to talking about climate change? Not a chance, as far as I know, and he’s known Biden longer than almost everybody else associated with it. And and so I think there are, that’s just one example. But it’s certainly the biggest, I think the other and so confusion at the staff level is it’s not as bad as confusion at the presidential level. But but it makes it makes things harder. I think a another problem he’s got already is that so many of these people have served under him before for long periods of time. They obviously know his thinking very well, that’s an advantage. But I think, I think the Biden administration has a risk of groupthink. And, and, and look, since most of them were veterans of the Obama administration, thinking that they can simply default to the views and policies, they held them, as, for example, simply rejoining the Iran nuclear deal that I think they’ll find very problematic. So so just going ahead, he needs to worry about that.


Craig Tiedman  09:44

Yeah, I was just about ready to ask you to it’s what are the what are the foreign policy initiatives that you think that he should hold over from the the Trump administration and then where are they where are the Where’s the friction and some of the initiatives that may not have worked and need some adjustment and in your mind?


John Bolton  10:07

Well, I think a lot of the problem with Trump administration policy was that he while at the rhetorical level, it may have been good we support Juan Guaido against the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, for example, we didn’t implement effectively. And so we haven’t carried the policy through to its its logical conclusion. I think Biden ironically benefits from the shift that Trump made and the view of China taking a much harder line in the last six or eight months largely because of the Coronavirus and the widespread and quite correct popular perception that China withheld information on the Coronavirus, in effect corrupted the World Health Organization and therefore made it much harder for the rest of the world to deal with. what that has done is we have surveys that show in the US in Europe and elsewhere, has contributed to a dramatically negative view of China, at least an increase in the negative view across the board. And that certainly supports a harder line on a variety of Chinese policies, whether it’s in the South China Sea, or in cyberspace, or in the economic sphere. Now, Trump may have reverse that had he gotten a second term, but by net Biden benefits from at least directionally from the way it’s going now. On the other hand, again, to come back to john kerry and the environmental issue on climate change China is is the is the biggest problem. I think, as I see it right now, how is President Biden going to handle a harder line on a range of China policies, which I think is required, versus carry saying, but we need to cooperate with them? on climate change? I think this is going to be a lot harder than they think.


Craig Tiedman  12:01

Yeah. And and on this side of the Atlantic, it’s starting in, I think, 2019, we’ve seen the British government and even European governments starting to question, their feel good policies towards China may have been, you know, the start of their, you know, sort of wolf warrior diplomacy effort on behalf of the Chinese diplomats. But then you’ve got the COVID pandemic. And what I wanted to ask you, which is really the elephant in the room is, is this pandemic is changed everything. It’s almost like we could say that the world is World History is pre COVID and post COVID. In a lot of ways. How would you assess China’s overall behavior during this pandemic?


John Bolton  12:50

Yeah, well, they suppressed information right from the outset. I mean, the South China Morning Post, some time ago, identified the first known cases in China in early November of 2019. And yet China, told nobody didn’t reveal the extent of it. I don’t think to this day, we know, really what’s happened in China, we keep hearing the diseases suppressed, you know, a few harsh measures, but basically, that the China escaped the worst of it. I don’t believe that. I think they’ve had more difficulty than they’ve led on, I think they’ve had more economic difficulty than they’ve led on. And I think they have gone out of their way to make it probably impossible today to know exactly or to do enough investigation to come to a reasonable conclusion, where the disease started, I don’t buy the conspiracy theory, necessarily, in all its manifestations. But you know, there’s a lot of research in China on bat fevers. And I just curious why there’s so much interest in bat fevers, it’s like asking for the Russians. Why are they so interested in ebola? Look, we know they’ve got an active biological weapons program, and they could have had an accident. I’m not saying it was delivered or anything like that. But I’m saying it certainly is curious how this phenomenon continues. And so when China says, For example, they don’t want to be involved in Strategic Arms talks with the US and Russia, because they don’t have as many nuclear weapons. How about talks about their biological weapons program? This is this is very, very troubling. And and yet they’ve gone out of their way to draw a curtain across it. And as I say, I’m just not sure we’ll ever get enough information really know the origin and spread of this disease in China.


Craig Tiedman  14:42

Yeah, I mean, in your, in your mind, do you think that they’ve expressed remorse for this or I mean, it doesn’t seem like it seems like China’s just moving forward on on their regular program and is serving aggressive moves in South China Sea and around the world. I mean, how do you think that the US and even Britain and Europe should respond to this?


John Bolton  15:08

Yeah, well, I think it’s part of the late breaking realization that we’ve had on a variety of fronts of the challenge that China really poses. For example, the threats from Huawei and ZTE to fifth generation telecommunication, we should be thankful for the Australians and the New Zealanders who really sensed it first, I give them the enormous credit for alerting the United States and so on. And, and I think we’re seeing a growing awareness of the threat that these particular weaponized firms pose and telecoms, but we see it in a lot of other areas, too. And so I think, the US, UK, the West as a whole, really need to emulate the Chinese and get a long term strategy in place right now we’re responding on an ad hoc fashion, which is fine, I’d rather be doing it that way than not responding at all. But Biden has an opportunity if if, if his administration thinks strategically, and not just in terms of Asia, in the Pacific, but but particularly Europe, as well. And and I would say in the Middle East, to between our Arab States and Israel, China is very energy dependent, and it’s a real vulnerability for them something that we should be looking at exploiting?


Craig Tiedman  16:32

Yes. And, and, you know, certainly, Britain and Europe need, you know, have expressed the need to respond. And, and yet, we have the the second elephant in the room on the side, which is, which is Brexit. And I just wanted wondered if you could share your thoughts. How, like the US, a Biden administration, how may they How might the US play a role in, in helping this this impasse? It just, you know, the the COVID crisis has really amplified a lot of things and, and Brexit, you know, again, the the Prime Minister, has announced yet another sort of impasse. What’s the US interest in this and what can we do?


John Bolton  17:25

Well, I think there’s a huge us interest, I was a supporter of Brexit in 2016. And before for that matter, I think it’s, it goes to a basic question of sovereignty of, of a democratic system that makes its own decisions not having the made by a distant bureaucracy and not so geographically distant, but certainly politically distant, the bureaucracy in Brussels. I think it was a great missed opportunity and in the Trump administration, for British government’s not to move ahead with the basis of a bilateral trade deal with the United States. I mean, I know what the European Union treaties say. But I would have said, we’re getting out anyway, we don’t care. We’re not going to go. We’re not going to enter a bilateral trade agreement with the US until we’re out. But we’re certainly going to get it ready. It’s so so we missed some opportunities there. And with Biden coming in, I know there’s concern and in the UK, and and there’s some warrant for the big because Biden again, this is the default position of the Obama administration. Just next to the European Union is a wonderful example of ceding national sovereignty to supranational institutions. And you’ll remember Obama’s famous comment when he came over to visit David Cameron saying, Well, if you get out you’ll be at the back of the queue. In trade negotiations queue not being a word Americans use very often I know where he got that from, from somebody in London. Biden comes with with another potential problem, and that’s this rhetoric, which I think is completely unfounded, but but nonetheless present about a Brexit that somehow undercuts the Good Friday Agreement concerning Northern Ireland. This has nothing to do with the technicalities of how to handle the border situation there. Which I think I think really, Boris Johnson’s done a good job of coming to a practical, workable way to handle but the fear that somehow or another the George Mitchell’s legacy will come on done. Now. I think that’s utterly wrong. But I do think Johnson needs to worry about that, as part of establishing his relationship with Biden, what I would urge on the assumption that there’s an agreement and I you know, like it’s a coin toss as we get to the end of the year, but one way or the other, I think, senior British officials ought to be talking to the Biden trends. Team right now about a trade deal. And I make whatever progress is still possible at a technical level with the US trade representative’s office in the remaining days of the Trump administration. But I would spend a lot of political capital trying to establish a good linkage between Biden and Boris Johnson. And I think the trade deal was central to that.


Craig Tiedman  20:23

Yeah. Do you think that the buying team has reached out to the Clintons? You know, we’ve, Hillary Clinton is Chancellor of the Queen’s University Belfast, and it’s part of her husband’s legacy, the Good Friday Agreement? Do you have any insight as to what you’ve heard back in Washington? Is that do you think the Clintons will get involved?


John Bolton  20:46

Well, you know, it’s very hard to tell everybody else from prior democratic administration seems to be getting involved. And they’ve talked about different roles for Hillary too. But But I just think my own experience in transitions is that good intentions are bad. It is completely out of control. And it’s very hard to establish priorities. So therefore, the the old adage about the squeaky wheel getting the attention is correct. And I don’t I don’t think that Boris Johnson’s government should sit back and wait for the phone call from Biden, I think they need to be proactive and and maybe they are already quietly behind the scenes and behind the scenes, it’s fine. But But I would be moving politely but aggressively.


Craig Tiedman  21:34

Yes. And I’ll just give a plug to HJS. We couple of years ago, did some research write a report entitled global Britain?That was backed by a little known, backbencher, at the time, I wouldn’t say little known, but Boris Johnson who endorsed our report, and it’s become this, this idea of what’s what can Britain’s role be post Brexit in the world and in a foreign policy sense in the security sense? You know, they’re Britain’s active members, obviously, in the Five Eyes, what do you think might be Britain’s key opportunity to play from a security perspective in the world?


John Bolton  22:21

Yeah. Well, you know, I think the hardcore pro Brexit elements of the Conservative Party have always understood that, that Britain’s role in the European Union has been less than it could have been and should have been in really global strategic matters. In fact, that’s, that’s one of my principal critiques of the European Union is less than the sum of its parts, certainly in the political military domain. So I think that as Britain comes out, its its immediate role as a key NATO member and a, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council cries out for some initiative and, and taking some steps that I think would be very helpful to all of us, rather than saying foreign policy in this wearing blender of the European Union. Britain can be a voice, I think that will be more important, much more important than it was before. And I think there is an opportunity coming up the g7 meeting and 2021 will be hosted by Britain. I think, perhaps people are forgotten because they’re not necessarily so memorable. But there was no g20. Meeting in 2020, because the US was hosting with the Coronavirus and  Trump didn’t like the g7 meetings or, or the g20 meetings while we’re on the subject anyway. So So Boris Johnson has a real opportunity. After what will be a two year hiatus, take some important steps and I think that would highlight Britain’s role as well. So this is this is a clear moment of opportunity. And and available for the taking.


Craig Tiedman  24:07

And as far as Biden elect president elect Biden, his, what would you advise him on on his policy towards Russia and all of this? You know, we’ve again, with Britain, leaving the European Union looking for to develop a way forward. We’re just finishing the integrated review here, hopefully, come January to look at Britain’s Ministry of Defense and its its role in the world. How would you advise a Biden administration on dealing with Russia?


John Bolton  24:45

Yeah, well, just a footnote, if I could quickly I think Britain’s recent announcement about increased defense expenditures is very important and, and hopefully will be an inspiration to the to the Biden team. You know, we’ve been in this curious inversion. about Russia for the past four years, because Trump never wanted to admit that there was any effort by the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, fearing that that would undercut the legitimacy of his win and and give credence to the Russia collusion. Point. And as I say, we actually did some very tough things with respect to the Russians. But republicans twisted themselves into pretzels trying to say nice things about Russia, which, you know, is was a historical reversal and hit now we’ve had four years of the democrats being tough on Russia, which is against their DNA as well. So I think it’s going to be, I think you could see see here a reversion to the norm. Biden’s very eager to negotiate a successor to the New START agreement. If you look back at 2010, in the Senate vote on new start, as negotiated by Obama, Republicans came close to getting enough negative Republican votes to defeat the treaty in the Senate, it takes two thirds of those president voting, I was against it in 2010. And not a treaty that’s gotten any better with age. And yet the Russians are very eager to get a five year extension to the treaty. And if I were a Russian, I’d want to extend it to so it’s I think it will be a test of Biden to see if he can get beyond the Russia collusion rhetoric of the democrats for years and really strategically thinking in in political military terms, how to protect against a Russia that that has, we’ve just had this report coming out about Navalny. And the really conclusive evidence of, of high level Russian involvement in the assassination attempt, which it clearly was, I mean, I don’t know how much more evidence we need, coming on top of this massive, sophisticated Russian computer attack. I mean, these these are not our friends. What else does it take to figure that out?


Craig Tiedman  27:05

Yeah, it and certainly, I’m mindful, though, I’ll have to open up for some q&a from the audience here in a minute. But I want to squeeze in Afghanistan, something near and dear to my heart, having served there. How do we solve a problem like Afghanistan, I’m sorry to do a switch on you. But we’ve been there for almost 20 years, and has a lot of natural resources. China has its eye on the natural resources, and be a wonderful addition to the Belt and Road initiative. A lot of people speculate, how do we how do we solve this problem? Do we withdrawn? And if so what does that achieve? What might be some of the options for President Biden?


John Bolton  27:51

Right? Well, I I’d say, look, I think the United States did exactly the right thing after 911 to get al Qaeda and to overthrow the Taliban. I think mistakes were made subsequently, and getting too involved in a nation building exercise, we were never going to make Afghanistan, the Switzerland of Central Asia, just not in the cards. So I think we actually spent more money on projects that probably weren’t going to be very helpful than we needed to. And I think we probably overestimated our ability to fuse this very diverse country together, the the amount we’ve spent on the Afghan National Army has not been justified. Now all that said, it would be a terrible mistake, in my view, it is a terrible mistake to think that we can negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, especially one that the Trump administration conducted without the active involvement of the Afghan government. I think there has to be a long term US and NATO presence in Afghanistan for several reasons. Number one, the basic counterterrorism function, but also, you know, if you look to the right and the left of Afghanistan, you’ve got a nuclear power in Pakistan, you’ve got a would be nuclear power and Iran, you’ve got two states with significant terrorist ties. There’s a lot of reason to stay there. Now, a lot of Americans say well, we want an end to the forever wars and we’ve been there 20 years dada da, look, this is this is a concept people in Britain are well familiar with forward defence, I’d rather be there for a long period of time, hopefully detecting and, and, and minimizing threats to the United States in the West as a whole early rather than later. But you need you need leaders in the United States who explain that to the people who do ask, we’ve been there 20 years, how long are we going to stay? You know, the answer to that question in Korean Japan is is 75 years plus ditto Europe. So 20 years looks like a drop in the bucket when you think in those terms United States as a global power, it was wrong to think that we can can retreat and that withdrawing forces from unpleasant places is going to make us safer. That’s not the case, whether Biden can articulate that whether he really believes it or not, or whether he and Trump actually see it the same way. I think we’re going to we’re going to see very early Trump’s decisions to reduce US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before January 20, I think puts those decisions forward to Biden earlier that he wanted to see them, they will be on his plate on January the 20th. And he’s going to need to make up his mind pretty quickly.


Craig Tiedman  30:42

Yeah, thank you for that. Yeah. It’s it’s Afghanistan is a dilemma. And but like you said, if the Chinese certainly take a long term approach to, to international relations, and, and and very, very interesting, that it needs to be explained in, in more clear terms to the American people. And, you know, certainly you’ve got, as you’re alluding to Iran, on the on the on the left side of Afghanistan that’s been involved in Afghanistan, since we’ve been there since 2001. So it’s, yeah, it is interesting dilemma that we’ve got moving forward. I’m just going to take a question from the audience that that is related to this some somewhat. This is from Max Strinkoff. He says, I’m very much enjoyed your book and found it educational, as I did, with what has transpired since the USA withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement, in hindsight, what would you have done? What would you have done differently, if anything?


John Bolton  31:59

Well, I think one of the principal arguments against withdrawing was that unilateral us sanctions could not produce the result that multilateral sanctions had not produced, that is to say, changing Iran behavior and trying to get deliverable nuclear weapons. In fact, US sanctions had a devastating effect on Iran, because of the reach of the the US economic influence people with the choice to do business with Iran or do business with the United States actually made a fairly predictable decision. But I don’t think we applied the sanctions as vigorously as we should have, I think, for the lesson from economic sanctions in a wide variety of context is the way they work best is massively applied very quickly and rigorously enforced. And we gave the Iranian regime some outs in the way the sanctions were applied. They weren’t as comprehensive as they could have been. And I don’t think ultimately, President Trump was willing to accept what I think is the the only logical conclusion to a policy of maximum pressure, which is that means regime change, if you don’t see strategic decision by the ayatollah is to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. And I don’t think they’ve made that decision. I think one of the things we’ll we’ll find out only a long time from now is how much cooperation there is, and has been between North Korea and Iran, and not just on the nuclear side. But on the ballistic missile side as well. We know there’s been a lot on ballistic missiles going back for 25 years. And I suspect that’s true in the nuclear aspect as well. So it would be a mistake if Biden thought he could just revive the deal. I think even the Europeans know the deal was badly flawed. And the the exploration of the Security Council sanctions against conventional weapons sales, particularly missiles was a terrible element of the nuclear deal. And how to get that put back in place is going to be significant. Iran really doesn’t have a lot of incentives to come back into the deal. We gave them in 2015 120 to $150 billion worth of cash on frozen assets. There isn’t a thing left to unfreeze. So that very attractive part of the deal in 2015, for Ron doesn’t exist today. I think I think Biden’s gonna find it a lot harder to have an Iran policy than than he thought.


Craig Tiedman  34:31

Thank you very much for that perspective that that question actually came from one of our donors. So hopefully that will suffice and I’ll give you a cut of whatever he donates to us. So let’s take another question we’ve got this one’s from what Letika Bork from the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. China, she says, has hit Australia with trade tariffs, since it called for an inquiry leaving the door open for countries including Australia, US allies to fill the gap in supply. Is Biden better equipped than Trump to unite the alliances? And how should the Allies respond to China to stop smaller countries being picked off?


John Bolton  35:17

Yeah. Well, look, this is a critical question. Obviously, Australia has key economic relations with China supplying raw raw materials for for Chinese manufacturer, and the way China has treated Australia, in that respect, and a number of other things they’ve done has been a clear effort to intimidate them. And by brute force, get them to back away, it’s very similar to what happened to Canada after Canada arrested, the Huawei CFO Meng wanzhou, the daughter of the founder, at our request, and China’s seized in the middle of the night to Canadian citizens in China on trumped up charges, they’re still held in jail, and it was obviously intended to split Canada from the United States to split Australia from the United States. And and I think I think we ought to see it for what it is, this is the way China behaves now. How are they going to behave when they become more powerful this is this is a sign of things to come. So it does require I think, the West as a whole getting, getting a more unified position. It’s one of the reasons why I think the US needs to resolve its trade disagreements with the European Union. I think we’re done now with Canada and Mexico for a while. But with Australia, with Japan with others, there always going to be trade disagreements, I think the US has gotten bad trade deals in the past, they need to be corrected. But we all have a common interest dealing with China and not just on trade, but geo strategically as well. But certainly, China’s theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfer have affected all of us negatively and provide a very clear basis of common interest to work together. I think, I think Trump was kind of congenitally unable to do that sort of coalition building. I think Biden is probably better at it. But I would just remind everybody what Donald Rumsfeld used to say, which is that the object it’s the objectives that should define the coalition, and not the coalition, which defines the objectives. So I think I think we need to, we need to have some urgent discussion, and I’m sorry, more didn’t take place during the Trump administration, about defining clear common objectives and that this is not a grand strategy to last for 100 years, we’ve got to act now quickly, we’ll have to do more talking later. But we can’t really waste any more time. And again, this is a it’s an opportunity for Biden, but a big test for his new administration, too.


Craig Tiedman  37:55

Yes, yeah. And thank you for giving a shout out to my former boss, Secretary Rumsfeld. The along those lines, China, and you think is still the key to to North Korea. And in your book, I really enjoyed the chapters about meaning the supreme leader, Kim, and you had some some misgivings. So although Trump was a little bit, President Trump was a little bit giddy about the possibilities of, of making some inroads there. And use you saw that that really was a false hope. Do you still think that and what do we do about North Korea? And how do we get China to help him if at all?


John Bolton  38:48

Yeah, well, look, the key and any denuclearization effort is is some indication of a strategic decision by the proliferator that they’re prepared to give up nuclear weapons. That that’s what I have always meant by the Libya model of 2003-2004. Really, which was led by British intelligence because of its contacts with Gaddafi and his regime. And it worked. He got off he saw what had happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq said I’m not willing to take a risk of that I don’t, I’m going to give up this nuclear weapons program. And that’s what happened. Neither Iran or North Korea had made that strategic decision and North Korea is now close enough to having the capability of putting a warhead on an ICBM and hitting targets basically, worldwide. Our options are much reduced. This is part of the cost of four years of the Trump administration added on to eight years of the Obama administration not not taking this threat seriously enough. I think we’ve got to add North Korea to the list of issues that the China is responsible for. I think they’ve got In a way for a long time by saying, Oh, well, we want to help facilitate a deal here to look at China could bring North Korea to its knees very quickly. Everybody knows that. I think they’re happy to have North Korea develop nuclear weapons doesn’t threaten China does threaten Japan and the United States and others. And I think we’ve got to hold China responsible for North Korea’s behavior. Again, this is this is part of the test for Biden, I’m not sure that he’s prepared to do that.


Craig Tiedman  40:27

Interesting. So yeah. Let’s take another question from the audience here shifting to another part of the world. Do you think that the flurry of normalization agreements between Israel or among Israel and certain Gulf states and Morocco will change the narrative with regard to the Israel Palestinian conflict and enable meaningful negotiations?


John Bolton  41:00

Well, I think I think the certainly the UAE, Bahrain, recognition of Israel and the peace agreements there, and they’re, you know, look, there is a lot of complex diplomacy involved in it, but but they are a reflection of the shifts of the tectonic plates in the region as much as anything else. And that is the Gulf Arab states in particular, recognizing that Iran is a threat to them, not so much because of the nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But because of Iran’s hegemonic aspirations, its support for terrorism, and its conventional military forces, which we see playing out now in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and and Lebanon. And that view of the world has brought them to a position very close to Israel’s. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that with that convergence of interest, you see active steps being taken at a public level, to to combine more effectively. But a lot of this has been going on just slightly beneath the surface for a long time. So I think there are more recognition decisions coming. Morocco is a little bit of different story. And I have my own views on that when I’ve just got an article up on the foreign policy website because of my concern for the swari people of the Western Sahara. But leaving that aside, these Sudan is also recognized Israel, futon has recognized Israel, not not an Islamic country, but another country from the quote unquote, third world. I think people are waking up to reality for the Palestinians. You know, I have to say recalling Avi evens famous comment about the PLO. The Israeli foreign minister, once said, the PLO never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And the Palestinian Authority has just missed the earth go by here. As the as the Gulf Arab states, in particular, join Jordan and Egypt and recognizing Israel. I think the two state solution is not workable anymore. there there there aren’t a lot of good ideas, my ideas, what I call the three state solution, give the Gaza Strip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel should divide up the West Bank and Jordan should resume sovereignty, even if somewhat limited over the portions that Israel doesn’t annex. A lot of people don’t like that. Fine. I’m open to other solutions. But if but if you think the two state solution is going anywhere, I think I think that’s not going to happen.


Craig Tiedman  43:37

It’s very interesting. We’ve got a an Associate Fellow, Dr. Simon Waltman. We’re just coming out with a paper here, actually, within a couple of weeks on the fallacy of the one state solution. I’ll have to send you a copy and get your comments on that. Thank you for that. So we’ve got a quite just a short question here from Tim Wellesley. And he asks, What should Biden’s approach be with Pakistan?


John Bolton  44:10

Well, this has been a problem. It’s been been linked in American foreign policy with India and Afghanistan for a long time. And we’ve shifted back and forth. And we’ve basically it’s been, it’s been very hard and and difficult for administrations of all kinds to come up with the right answer. I mean, Pakistan itself is responsible for much of the terrorist activity of Taliban, Taliban and the Haqqani networks and others in Afghanistan as it is for terrorist activity in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. And it’s terrorism that threatens the stability of the Pakistani state itself. And I think I think they recognize it, but they’re not sure what to do about it. To me though, the most important strategic reality is Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state, and one where there’s enormous Chinese influence. And where there’s a risk of a nuclear confrontation with India almost at any moment, we saw that, in fact, in 2019, where a terrorist attack and an Indian response, put it put is very close to open hostilities. I think there has got to be more focus on the risk of the Pakistani state itself falling under the control of terrorist whether it’s Pakistani Taliban or others, and that entire nuclear arsenal coming under terrorist control that would be Iran on steroids, immediately. And, and and this is this is it’s easier said than done, though. I don’t underestimate it all the difficulty of doing it. America’s interests are conflicting. We want good relations with Pakistan to help us in Afghanistan. We don’t want to confrontation with India. But but the Pakistan military basically itself has created the problem through its inter services Intelligence Directorate, and it’s got to figure out a way to solve it.


Craig Tiedman  46:14

I’ll take another question here. I we’re getting close to to the end here. This one comes from Vernon Bogdanor. And he asks, democracies sometimes seem on the defensive in relation to Russia, China and North Korea, Iran, do they need stronger machinery to coordinate a common approach to the problems they face?


John Bolton  46:43

Well, look, I think, there, there’s definitely some thinking warranted about what what’s the best way to handle challenges to Western values that we see for the rest of the century. They come in a variety of different sizes and shapes. But as I said earlier, I think China is number one, two, and three on the list. And people talk about leagues of democracies and things like that. And, and and this is something that’s been discussed for a long time without much without much progress, what I would propose, as a serious step forward, it’s not my idea is Jose Maria Aznar’s idea, former prime minister of Spain, wrote a little essay about this about 15 years ago for NATO, to essentially expand its membership worldwide, to bring in Japan, Australia, Singapore, Israel, a couple of suggestions. And if you consider NATO with the current exception of Turkey, or at least Kwazii exception, if you consider NATO to be what it is today, which is a league of democracies, going global would get you to that point. Now, this brings us head on to the discussion with the European Union about whether they think they have should have a bigger military dimension to the EU than they do. I’ve always thought that was a mistake. I think it’s an EU military capability is a dagger pointed at NATO’s heart. But rather than than think of something entirely new, you’ve got NATO, it will be a stronger Alliance. I think his countries have heeded what Trump said and looked at their commitment in Wales in 2014, to spend 2% of GDP on defense, it’s moving in the right direction. And Jose Maria Aznar’s suggestion is one I think we ought to consider.


Craig Tiedman  48:38

Very interesting. So along those lines with a sort of NATO 2.0, expanded NATO NATO. question came in, but I want to frame it this way. So Bernard Hermann, asks, should the United States guarantee the security of Taiwan in the event of a conflict with China? I’d probably also add to that, should a NATO 2.0 guarantee the security of Taiwan? What do you what do you think about that?


John Bolton  49:07

Well, I think we’re almost there already, given the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. And I’ve said now, for over 20 years that I think the United States should extend full diplomatic relations to Taiwan. Now, in the past, China has said, well, countries that do that we’re going to cut off relations with them. Well, it’s one thing to do that with Guatemala, or Fiji or something like that. It’s quite something else when the US says it, and I think from I would say this to the Biden administration. This is an asymmetric way of responding to offensive Chinese behavior. If they do something that we don’t like we don’t necessarily have to meet them on that ground we can respond asymmetrically to and you know, it’s very important to establish a credible deterrent, I think in the future. Yours for example, people wondered whether he would stand up if China threatened Taiwan. And you’ll recall that he did. He sent to carrier battle groups heading toward Taiwan and the end of controversy. I used to ask during the Obama administration when I was in speaking engagements, do you think Barack Obama would do the same thing? And in dozens of such events around the United States and elsewhere, nobody ever raised their hand. So if we, if we could figure that out, the Chinese could, too. So I think and, and Trump’s disdain for Taiwan was unfortunately well known. So I think this is a critical moment. I think if China senses weakness, I think Taiwan is vulnerable, not that they want military hostilities, they want Taiwan to fall into their hands like a ripe fruit, but but we’re at a dangerous point now, I think.


Craig Tiedman  50:52

Yeah. And along those lines, do you? Do you think that China should be held accountable for the Coronavirus? This, this comes in from Mark Newman says should China actually pay global compensation towards the vaccine costs and repair the damage costs?


John Bolton  51:14

I think there are a lot of ideas like that we can put out on the table and China was responsible and and and nobody should forget it.


Craig Tiedman  51:24

Yeah. Well, I think we are coming to an end here. I know. I’m cognizant, you’ve got another engagement. So I just wanted to allow you any opportunity to if you had to ask yourself a question that that we haven’t asked you. What would that be? And what would your response be? What else might you want to talk about?


John Bolton  51:44

Well, we’ve certainly talked about Iran and North Korea. But I do think that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the continuing threat of terrorism worldwide are things that as we deal with the strategic threats of China and Russia, we shouldn’t lose sight of. And although the nuclear side of proliferation gets the most attention, I think people will recall that biological and chemical weapons are often called the poor man’s nuclear weapon. You don’t you don’t need the investment or infrastructure for them that you do for nuclear weapons. And if the coronavirus pandemic worldwide has shown anything, it’s just how vulnerable complex societies are to what could be biological warfare, the the spread of the pandemic has a lot in common epidemiologically with with the use of biological weapons, or weapons against food supplies, that’s another possibility. So I think I think we ought to be much more focused on this. And it’s one reason that I worry not just about terrorist groups and rogue states, but countries like Russia and China that have made chemical and biological weapons important elements in their own calculation. I think the 21st century is going to be a dangerous place, not because this is an ideological conflict. I think China is this is not Cold War Two. Because I don’t think it’s ideological in that sense. But I do think it’s a clash of systems. I think you can see China’s behavior in Hong Kong, where it’s effectively ending its commitment to the UK to have a one country two systems’ policy that’s disappearing, you can see it’s repression of the Uyghurs and Xinjiang province, you can see it in the field of social metrics where China judges the worth of its own citizens, not a society we want to live in. And I think I think we need to wake up to that civilizationally and find an effective strategy to deal with it.


Craig Tiedman  53:48

Yes. And And certainly, along those lines. I guess the the last question I want to ask you is if if you will, what’s next for you? Has president like Biden contacted you? What’s next for you?


John Bolton  54:13

Well, the answer to the question about the president elect is no and I don’t spend a lot of time sitting by the phone waiting for it. We’ll see what happens. But I think in the post Trump era, the republican party needs a conversation about frankly, how to get back to a Reaganite party, optimistic looking to the future, oriented to its basic principles of limited government at home and peace through strength overseas. The party should not be about personalities, it should be about policy. And so I’ll be spending a fair amount of time on that as well obviously is commenting on the mistakes the Biden administration makes and hopefully offering congratulations when they get it Right.


Craig Tiedman  55:00

Yeah, that’s it and hooray for democracies, because you could do that and in the democratic world. Well, I want to thank you very much Ambassador Bolton for your time. It’s been a real honor and a pleasure to talk with you today. And I hope you’ll come back for another round. Hopefully, when the pandemic calms down a little bit, you can come over to London and, and we can host you again.


John Bolton  55:27

Well, thanks again for having me today. And thanks to everybody for tuning in. And I look forward to seeing you in London in person in 2021.



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