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July 12, 2012

The Further Delights of John Bolton
Posted by David Shorr

Bolton-BushYou have to read John Bolton's latest Weekly Standard column, "The Negotiation Delusion," on Iran to see how bad it is. And you have to read it closely to see how truly atrocious it is. So consider this the second in a series of dissections of John Bolton, the extremist gift that keeps on giving. 

This attempt to undercut the entire premise of reaching a diplomatic solution could be my new favorite Bolton leap of illogic:

Moreover, what would a negotiated deal look like? Our goal is to deny Iran nuclear weapons; Tehran manifestly wants the opposite. What is the compromise? Iran gets to keep a small nuclear weapons program? Not even the most effervescent Obama supporters (publicly) endorse such a result.

See how he uses his view of Iranian intentions to take a swipe at his political opponents? Translation: letting Iran have a nuclear weapons program is a position too radical even for Obama supporters -- but then, maybe secretly that is their position. [Just saying.]

Actually Bolton has trouble deciding what President Obama's position is. The first couple paragraphs of the piece are really whiplash-inducing. First Bolton says diplomatic efforts by the last two administrations are based on the "erroneous premise that Iran could be talked out of" its nuclear weapon ambition. This is a helpful reminder that Bolton's primary role in the Bush administration was to resist any discussions with the Iranians. Next he says the Obama administration itself doesn't believe negotiations can succeed. And then a couple sentences later he says President Obama believes a nuclear-armed Iran could be contained and deterred.

With this containment canard, Bolton is basically calling President Obama a liar -- given that the president said the following to the AIPAC policy conference in March:

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Anyone who wants to argue this threat is hollow should please explain President Obama's attacks on Osama Bin Laden and others in Pakistan, something he said he'd do early in the 2008 campaign.

But what really struck me in the Bolton piece was his strong line on the futility of economic sanctions. By his telling, Iran has inured itself from feeling any impact by accumulating massive currency reserves and even obtaining the updates it needs for its energy infrastructure. Oh and Chinese, Russian, and European cooperation is all an illusion, Stuxnet and other sabotage doesn't make any difference something something something. By the way, if anyone in Democracy Arsenal's razor-sharp readership has time, maybe they could research whether Ambassador Bolton has been consistent in his skepticism toward sanctions. What's his position been on all the congressional sanctions bills?

My second favorite passage is the following:

Instead, Obama surrogates argue that Iran would renounce nuclear weapons if permitted to keep a “peaceful” nuclear program under international monitoring. In theory, such a deal should be easy, since Iran already loudly contends it has no weapons ambitions. But both Bush and Obama erred by conceding that Iran has any right even to “peaceful” nuclear activities without fundamental regime change. No nation that has so egregiously violated its treaty obligations (as Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by seeking nuclear weapons) has a right to claim benefits under the same agreement. Tehran has no credibility here. The mullahs will never agree to an intrusive verification mechanism that could actually detect systematic cheating; indeed, they reject it for a more fundamental reason: Exposing such impotence against foreign governments could spur Iran’s domestic opposition to challenge and endanger the regime itself.

It has something for everyone, including more lumping together the Bush and Obama administrations as both being too soft. Even more interesting, though, is the tacit admission that sufficiently intrusive inspections could actually constrain a nuclear program from building a bomb.  Hmmmm.

Bolton's bottom line, of course, is that the Iranian leadership is implaccable and our real aim should be, "replacing the mullahs with a regime that would truly forswear nuclear weapons." Apparently there's a preferable alternative set of leaders who could ste  Wait, this sounds familiar.

I do want to give Bolton credit for following his premises to their logical conclusion: if diplomacy and sanctions are futile, then the only alternative is military action. His presidential candidate, on the other hand, only talks about the futility part.

White House photo - Paul Morse

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