John Bolton on America's foreign policy, Israel, and globalization

Is foreign aid really cost effective? How important is Israel for America? Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton explains. Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, January 25, 2013 — American foreign policy consumes a great deal of attention and political resources. As we slowly recover from the Great Recession, are the spending on foreign aid and the attention focused on foreign policy really cost effective?

John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, served in several Republican administrations as an Assistant Attorney General, an Undersecretary of State, and as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He discusses here his views on American foreign policy and whether it is driven by idealism or self-interest, the role of foreign aid, the importance of Israel, and the importance of economic globalization. 

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Joseph F. Cotto: The United States spends a great deal of money on foreign aid programs. In your opinion, are most of these programs cost effective?

Ambassador John Bolton: Foreign aid can certainly contribute to advancing American national interests around the world, but only if it designed and implemented with those interests in mind. Too often, however, we allocate assistance as if we had some abstract obligation to engage in “nation building” or international welfare. Especially in times of great budgetary stringency, we should redirect our assistance away from multilateral programs, such as the World Bank, the regional development banks and the United Nations, toward bilateral programs, both military and economic. We should focus particularly on countries that support our efforts against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism.

Cotto: It has been said that a nation should act in its own self-interest when dealing with international crises. Do you believe that American foreign policy today is sufficiently self-interested?

Ambassador Bolton: I think President Obama’s foreign policy rests less on defending American interests and more on his ideological distaste for the projection of American power and values. He is comfortable with a declining U.S. role, whether acting unilaterally or through our structure of alliances like NATO, as reflected by his massive defense budget cuts in his four years, nearing a trillion dollars and his apparent indifference to further cuts of $500 billion through the looming sequestration mechanism. 

The Obama Administration has failed utterly to stem rogue nuclear proliferators like Iran and North Korea, and we have seen al Qaeda and terrorism generally metastasize across North Africa and the Middle East, as the September 11 tragedy in Benghazi and the deaths of 23 Western hostages in the Algeria terrorist attack demonstrate. Obama has made a complete mess of his own “reset” policy with Russia, and he has no China strategy whatever. This is a prescription for real trouble for America going forward.

Cotto: If one thing could be done to restructure our country’s foreign policy, what would you suggest that it be?

Ambassador Bolton: Get a new President. The 2016 election cannot come soon enough. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy was based on the theory of “peace through strength,” whereas Obama’s seems to be almost precisely the opposite.  

The past four years were bad enough, but every prospect is that the next four will be worse. Our adversaries worldwide have sized up Barack Obama, and they see he is weak and inattentive, concentrating on national security issues only when he has no alternative but to put his obsession with domestic efforts to “fundamentally transform” America (his phrase form the 2008 campaign). Accordingly, terrorists, proliferators and others who seek to weaken or harm America have recalibrated their policies to take advantage of our disarray, and I would expect those challenges to expand and accelerate in a second term. 

Cotto: Economic globalization is now a fact of life. How might the U.S. craft a diplomatic policy that deals with this in a constructive fashion?

Ambassador Bolton: Sustained American prosperity at home depends on keeping the globalized economy operating freely. The plain if sometimes unwelcome reality is that whatever order and stability there is in the world is provided by U.S. strength, and the strength of our alliance partners. It is certainly true that others benefit from our efforts, and almost none of them contribute their fair share of the costs and burdens of that stability, but let’s be clear: We are doing this for ourselves, not for the others. And if we continue to reduce our role and our willpower, either disorder will spread or others who do not have our best interests at heart will step in. We should not shirk our role, because without it our own way of life would be at risk.

Cotto: During the years ahead, how important do you expect Israel to be for our nation’s interests in the Middle East?

Ambassador Bolton: Israel is a critical ally in the world’s most volatile and dangerous region. As Iran gets perilously close to succeeding in its twenty-year effort to wield a deliverable nuclear weapon and as the threat of terrorism continues to grow throughout the Middle East. Israel’s vital roll becomes even more vital. Israel will soon face an overwhelmingly important decision about whether to use military force again Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As of now, the most likely outcome is that, given the failure of diplomacy and the inadequacy of international sanctions, Iran will reach its goal. 

Unfortunately, after years of failed U.S. policy, only the use of military force can prevent this outcome, and there is essentially no likelihood that the Obama Administration will act. Should Israel chose to act preemptively in its self-defense, we should firmly support its decision.



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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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