Did John Bolton’s mustache prevent him from being on the NSA? Should the world be more worried about North Korea potentially selling their nuclear technology to other bad actors? What is the general assessment of the Trump’s realist foreign policy agenda so far? Should everyone’s New Year’s resolutions be to avoid non-stories in mainstream media and focus on real-life events happening? Former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton joins Dan and Amy to discuss.
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Proft: Good morning, Dan and Amy. And well, there were a number of interesting excerpts from Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury", which has created a furor inside the Beltway. And among the subjects that were discussed in the excerpts that were released, personnel decisions in the early days of the Trump administration, conversations that were alleged to have occurred between Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes, formerly the head of Fox News, was at the time, about particularly foreign policy and national security posts, including national security adviser. And one of the names mentioned by Ailes was former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. But Steve Bannon worried about his physical appearance... Jacobson: Like Steve Bannon should be talking? I mean, "Sloppy Steve", according to one of President Trump's tweets? Proft: Well, see...I don't think Steve Bannon was up for NSA, but Bannon suggested that one John Bolton didn't look the part, according to the President, because of the signature mustache. Jacobson: The mustache makes the man! Please! Proft: Okay! Well John Bolton certainly thinks that! And we're pleased to be joined by our friend, former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Ambassador Bolton, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it. Bolton: Yeah, and what a WONDERFUL morning, right? Jacobson: Yeah, how are you doing? Proft: Yeah, nobody likes to be criticized about their fashion sense, yours truly included. But, how did you react to that excerpt? Did you kind of laugh at it, or did it ring true to you? Bolton: Guys look, at this point....no, at this point, what else are you gonna do? And I just want to say, for those of you who watch The Kennedy Show on Fox Business Network, comes on normally in the 8 o'clock hour, I was on last night, and Kennedy gave a ROUSING endorsement to my mustache...so I told her I'm sure that would put me in great standing with the president. Proft: Well I mean, if she endorses it, then I say you keep it. Bolton: Right? What else do you need to know, right? Jacobson: But so, I mean...do you think that you did not get the position because President Trump does not like facial hair? We're not dealing... Bolton: I don't think so. You know, people should remember his father had a mustache, so unless you're, you know, deeply into Freudian stuff, I think this is all *Proft laughs over a few words* at this point. Proft: Alright, alright, alright, enough mustache talk. Jacobson: The silliness aside... Bolton: I'll be happy to continue on this stuff. Proft: Yeah, we'll be happy to get to the reason we have you on, and that's what's going on between your ears, your knowledge of geo-political matters. So let's start with Iran, and what you think the prospects are for...to borrow a phrase...regime change, with the protests that are rolling through the streets...and not just of Tehran? Bolton: Well, it's a very significant development, what's going on in Iran, and something that I think is a direct threat to the regime of the Ayatollah is what was called "The Green Movement" in 2009, when they were protesting the obviously fraudulent presidential elections that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office. There, the protests were just which candidate of the regime would take over. There's no opposition to the regime as such, at least none that was publicly visible. What we see now in these demonstrations, which are taking place in over 100 cities across Iran, is they are chanting "Death to Khamenei", the Supreme Leader, "Down with the Regime!" Now, this particular round of demonstrations may end, it may be repressed, but a line has been crossed here. And I think the regime is in trouble, I think it's much more fragile than its international appearance. I mean, you've got decades of economic mismanagement, I think that's where many of these protests get started, you've got nearly 70% of the population is under 30...they know they could lead a very different life. They can see it across the Gulf in Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they can see it on the internet. And there's enormous tension in the different ethnic groups in Iran. Persians are only 50% of the population. So there's a lot going on, and as I say, whatever happens with the current round of demonstrations, I think this is torqued up to a new level of threat to the regime. Jacobson: Do you think that President Trump should have inserted himself in supporting the protesters in his tweets? Bolton: Absolutely! I think that, number one, it was important to show, yet again, that Barack Obama is no longer President. A lot of people in foreign countries that don't know anything about the American political system, no reason that they should, they sort of assume one President's pretty much like another. That's obviously not the case as we understand, but I think it is important for the President to stand up and be clear about where the sympathies of our country lie. And there's a very direct analogy to some of the strong statements that Ronald Reagan made about the Soviet Union during the last days of the Cold War, when he called the Soviet Union "the evil empire", not Natan Sharansky and other dissidents inside prison camps. Many of them inside the Soviet Union said they heard Reagan, they heard other statements like that, and it gave them strength, it lifted their morale, it said "somebody on the outside understands what we're going through here", and it gave them...helped them increase the will to continue, it boosted their courage. So I think it's important that...that he did it, and that it was the right thing to do. Proft: The President's taken some heat this week for a tweet about how big his button is, in respect to Kim Jong Un's button in North Korea. You know, a little bit of hysteria from the DC Press Corps, that's nothing new, suggesting he's, you know, engaged in nuclear brinkmanship. I thought that tweet was kind of a little gratuitous and unnecessary, but the larger point about the Trump administration's position on North Korea consistent with the principled realist approach they are taking to geo-politics. Bolton: Well I think the Trump administration inherited very bad options from its predecessors. North Korea's made tremendous progress towards having the capability to deliver thermonuclear weapons to any target they want, really, around the world, but particularly in the United States. So he's had to try, in a very short period of time to identify policies that will put a lot more pressure on North Korea, whether it's through China, or greater sanctions. I don't think North Korea's ever going to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program, especially given how close it is to achieving something it's been after for 30 years. You know, we weren't able to pressure or talk them out of the program in the last 30 years, why did anybody think in the last six, nine, twelve months, they're certainly gonna say "Oh, well, we got 99% of the way there, but I guess we'll stop now." It's not gonna happen! So, unless you're prepared to see North Korea with nuclear weapons forever, you've got some pretty tough options you've got to look at. Not that anybody wants to see military force used, but just think about what it's like to live in a world where Kim Jong Un DOES have his finger on the button. And beyond that, can sell his nuclear technologies to Iran, to terrorist groups, to other would-be aspiring nuclear powers. So, you know, it's a desperate situation with respect to the threat of North Korea, but it also represents, potentially, the crashing and burning of 50 years or more of American counterproliferation policy, the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Because North Korea's success here would prove that if you just have the determination and the patience, you too can be a nuclear weapon state. That's a very bad lesson to be learned around the world. Jacobson: Well,we've the Olympics, in about 32 days they begin, and that hotline between North and South Korea has been re-opened, and they have a big conversation coming up January 9th. Do you think the Olympics could help lead to any type of denuclearization? Bolton: No, this is complete propaganda! And remember that in 2000 and 2004, the North and South Korea Olympic teams marched together under one flag, as I recall. During the presidential administrations in South Korea, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, two presidents who had the same view, they called it the "Sunshine Policy"...that's sweet...about how to deal with North Korea. And it failed then, and it will fail now. The reason I think the North has opened this up is to distract attention, so that now people talk about "Oh, the Olympic Games!" In the meantime, their nuclear scientists and their ballistic missile technicians are working overtime to complete what they need to do to have that delivery capability. So you know, this is kind of a bait and switch affair for the North Koreans, they've got it in their playbook, they roll it out whenever they need to, and we shouldn't be suckered by it. Proft: Just thinking about the first year of the Trump administration, and they're basically encyclical describing the principled realist approach to foreign policy. You know, essentially...reducing the budget of the UN, pulling back foreign aid to Pakistan, supporting freedom protesters in Iran, marginalizing ISIS, new sanctions on Russia. For all of the talk about feckless foreign policy, or "he's in over his depth in respect to all of these complicated international matters," seems like that there is kind of a consistent thread that's emerging, consistent with how they've described their approach to all of these countries, whether they're allies of convenience or open hostile countries. And I just wonder what your general assessment of the administration and his national security team is, a year in? Bolton: Yeah, I mean there's a long list of things; recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capitol, and the national security statement is, as you mentioned...but all of these things, I think, are in the mainstream of conservative Republican foreign policy. So you get the media that gets its hair on fire each morning with a couple of tweets that come out, when you look at, as you say, almost exactly a year's worth of policy, and it would be hard to distinguish what Trump is doing in the White House from what Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush would have done in the White House. So, you know, it's hard...it's hard not to kind of react when the media gets on a tear, but I'm just steeling myself, I'm kind of working on my self-discipline, just to continue to ignore what the mainstream media say and just actually focus on real events in the real world, not what's in the newspapers or what's on NBC, ABC, and CBS. Proft: A good New Year's Resolution for us all. He is former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, Ambassador Bolton, thanks for joining us, appreciate it. Bolton: Oh, great to be with you, thanks for having me!