Editor’s Notes: Bolton’s warning

By David Horovitz June 29, 2007

The former US ambassador at the UN castigates his administration’s failure of will on Iran

I asked John Bolton if he accepted the comparison often made in these parts nowadays between Ahmadinejad’s Iran and Hitler’s Germany. He didn’t hesitate. It’s 1936, he said. Hitler has invaded the Rhineland, and it’s up to Britain and France to thwart him or let him flourish. A decade later, there were millions no longer around to rue the opportunity missed.

It’s 1936, said Bolton, interviewed six months after he ended his term as George Bush’s ambassador to the UN, but it won’t be 1936 for long.

Bolton only served his president at the UN for 17 months, but he’d spent the previous four years as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, years of experience to underpin his warnings here about the failure of European will – and, he says firmly, of American will – to stop Iran’s march to nuclear weaponry.

Official Israel, it must be said, begs to differ, with government sources responding to a Tuesday news story in the Post with excerpts of this interview by branding Bolton as overly pessimistic, and one deriding his ‘verge of Gog and Magog’ perspective.

Bolton spoke by telephone from Washington, where he is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Our conversation, brief and damning, went as follows:

How far is Iran along the path to nuclear weapons?

From the publicly available evidence that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has gathered, it is pretty clear that Iran has mastered all the technical problems of uranium enrichment… It means that [attaining the bomb] is only a matter of resources and available equipment.

None of the sanctions so far has been effective. It may well be that we have passed the point of Iran mastering the nuclear fuel cycle. So the question of how long it takes – three years, five years, 10 years – is not the point. If they have mastered the process, the pace is up to them. Even if they were not to go as rapidly as they might, that would not give me any grounds for optimism.

I cannot see circumstances in which Iran gives up its capability, and therefore the current approach of the Europeans and the Americans is not just doomed to failure, but dangerous.

How widely shared is this assessment?

There’s no debate about whether Iran has mastered the technological issue. There’s a variety of estimates on when it may get to weaponization. There is no sign that the Iranian regime has made a decision to give up.

In the absence of any clear sign that they’re turning away, dealing with [the Iranians] just gives them what they want, which is more time.

So what should be done?

Diplomacy and sanctions have failed after four years of the EU trying. We have to look at: 1, overthrowing the regime and getting in a new one that won’t pursue nuclear weapons; 2, a last-resort use of force.

Of course there is a theoretical possibility that Europe would turn 180 degrees and impose sanctions [that bite], but that is only a theoretical possibility from my experience with the Europeans. Essentially, we have passed the point of sanctions having an effect.

How viable is regime change?

There is enormous dissatisfaction in Iran with the government. Iran is short of gasoline in a country awash with oil. The economy is in bad shape. The younger generation is very dissatisfied and they can see for themselves how they could have a different life without Islamic law. In short, the regime is more susceptible to overthrow from within than people think, but it may take more time than we have.

That seems to leave only the use of force?

We have fiddled away four years in which Europe tried to persuade Iran to give up voluntarily. Iran, in those four years, mastered uranium conversion from solid to gas and now enrichment to weapons grade… We lost four years to feckless European diplomacy and our options are very limited.

Does the Bush administration recognize this?

The Bush administration still believes that sanctions will work, even though Resolutions 1737 and 1747 were full of loopholes. The US is still seeking another sanctions resolution and [EU foreign policy chief Javier] Solana is still pursuing diplomacy.

Why is the US in this frame of mind?

Because the State Department has adopted the European view [on how to deal with Iran] and other voices have been sidelined. This is Condoleezza Rice’s policy. She is overwhelmingly predominant on foreign policy.

Where does this leave Israel?

Israel’s options are as limited as those of the US, except that you are in more danger in that you are closer. I hate to say that.

What do you think Israel is going to do about this?

It’s up to Israelis to decide, but the same logic applies – except more so because of the geographics.

Israel could hardly help foster regime change in Iran?

I don’t think the US can institute regime change. Only the Iranians can, and there are lots of people there who are dissatisfied – and lots of ways to aid them.

But is it your sense that this will end with military action?

I hope not. I hope we can find a way that avoids that. Regime change can avoid that. But if, as President Bush says, an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable, how do you propose to translate that unacceptibility into reality?

Practically, can military force stop the Iranian program?

There’s a paper by two academics that describes the [procedures] Israel would take. [Bolton is referring to ‘Osirak Reduk? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities,’ a 2006 study by MIT doctoral students Whitney Raas and Austin Long].

I don’t think [military force] is desirable. I say it’s a last resort. But life is about choices and if the choice is a nuclear Iran or the use of military force, as deeply unattractive as a military force is, with enormous repercussions, the worse outcome is Iran with nukes.

How do you think this is all going to end?

I don’t know. I don’t know where Bush is on this. This is not the same Bush administration as three years ago.

Is that why you’re no longer part of the Bush administration?

I left for a variety of reasons.

And the handling of Iran was one of them?

That was part of it.

You were being sidelined or not heeded?

I felt we were watching Europe fiddling while Rome burned; it’s still fiddling.

There are people who have drawn parallels between Iran now and the rise of the Nazis. Do you see that historical echo?

You look back at significant moments in history when decisive action might have changed the course of history and failure to act has had dire consequences. When Hitler marched into the Rhineland in 1936, had the United Kingdom and France opposed him and forced Hitler out, that might have changed the course of history.

And today we’re still in 1936, or that moment of opportunity has passed?

We’re still in 1936, but not for long.

How do you feel about Israel’s well-being?

I’d be very worried. I’d be pushing the US very hard. I am pushing the US [administration] very hard, from the outside, in Washington.

Is it too late to hit the Iranian facilities without such an attack, itself, having a nuclear impact?

That depends on what is being struck. But no, I don’t think it’s too late.

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