In his own words, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton is a neoconservative who was bored at Yale and says aggressors such as Saddam Hussein need not to be just stopped but punished.
The revelations come in writer Burt Prelutsky’s new book, “Portraits of Success: Candid Conversations with 60 Over-Achievers.”
Prelutsky interviewed dozens of actors, athletes, politicians, developers, musicians, entrepreneurs and others who have won Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys – even a Pulitzer and a Cy Young.
One chapter is about Bolton.
“John Bolton always strikes me as a man born in the wrong era.
Everything about him, from his large mustache to his honesty and the blunt
manner in which he voices his often-unpopular opinions, suggests a man
who would have been more at home and better appreciated in, say, the 19th
century,” writes Prelutsky in his introduction of Bolton.
“At times, he even seems like a fictional character, the sort of man little
boys would read about and wish to emulate, both to their own personal
advantage and that of their country. He is the man, after all, about whom no
less an authority than North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, said, ‘He is human
scum, a blood-sucker.’ Iran’s Foreign Minister, lacking Kim’s flair for colorful
language, settled for calling Bolton ‘rude’ and ‘undiplomatic.’ Considering
the sources, high praise, indeed.”
Also interviewed were U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Pat Boone, Carl Reiner, Pat Sajak, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Charles Krauthammer, John Stossel, Gary Sinise, WND founder Joseph Farah, Karl Malden, John Zogby and dozens more.
Prelutsky, a humor columnist and TV screenwriter, has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, “Dragnet,” “MASH,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” Bob Newhart” and “Dr. Quinn. He also has written or co-authored nine books.
Here is Burt Prelutsky’s interview with John Bolton:
Q. What did your father do for a living?
A. He was a firefighter for the city of Baltimore.
Q. Did he want you to grow up to be one, too?
A. Both he and my mother thought it was important to get an education
and to go on from there.
Q. Have you always been a Republican?
A. Always. That’s why I resent being called a neo-conservative. I was working on Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 while I was still a
high school student.
Q. Was your father a Republican?
A. He had tried to register as a Republican, but when the city clerk saw
that he was a firefighter, he told my dad he had to register as a Democrat
because he worked for the city. After a long argument, they
reached a compromise, and he let my dad register as an Independent.
That was life in a big Democratic city.
Q. Where did you go to college?
A. I was an undergrad at Yale and then graduated from Yale Law School.
Q. Did you enjoy life in the Ivy League?
A. I did enjoy my life as an undergrad. But it’s true what they say about
Yale Law. The first year, they scare you to death, the second year they
work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death.
Q. Did you know the Clintons while you were at Yale? And did you ever
dream they would turn out the way they did?
A. They were a year ahead of me, but I knew who they were. But you
have to understand that everyone at Yale Law thinks they should be
president. Make that everyone but me. Knowing what I knew about
politics, I was never interested. I wanted to be in the foreign service,
but I was pretty certain being educated in law would be beneficial
whether or not I ever practiced.
Q. I have read that although you supported the Vietnam War, you joined
the Maryland National Guard in the hope that you wouldn’t be
drafted. Why the apparent inconsistency?
A. By the time I was graduating, the anti-war Democrats in Congress had
made certain that America would not prevail. Therefore, I had no
interest in going over there and perhaps dying in a Vietnamese rice
paddy just so Ted Kennedy and his cronies could give everything back
to the people I had been fighting. And to answer your next question.
My dad, the firefighter, did not pull any strings so that I could get in
the National Guard.
Q. And some people claim you don’t have a sense of humor. How does a
person go about becoming a diplomat?
A. Once Reagan became president, I got into government. I had known
his chief of staff, James Baker, and he got me a position at the State
Department. I had always had an interest in foreign policy.
Q. You have worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both of
the Bushes. How would you compare them?
A. I think how you best define a president is how they deal with foreign
affairs. Reagan had a very clear vision of what he wanted to do about
the Soviet Union, and he had an absolute genius for rallying the
American people to his mission. The first George Bush was very successful
when it came to putting together a coalition to drive Iraq out
Q. Did you think he was right in not getting rid of Saddam Hussein at the
A. At the time, I thought he was right. But with the advantage of 20/20
vision, I now think it was a mistake. The original mission was simply
to remove Hussein from Kuwait and that was successfully accomplished.
But I have come to believe that simply ending aggression isn’t
enough. I think it is also essential that the aggressor be punished.
Q. How would you evaluate George W. Bush?
A. I think he was right to invade Iraq.
Q. When I say that it’s hard to imagine you as a diplomat, no insult is
intended. It’s just difficult to think of a diplomat without picturing a
fellow adept at the art of mincing words.
A. Too often that’s the case. There are some diplomats who seem to think
that their only function is to make nice. I think it’s essential that our
diplomats further America’s interests. I think most of the people
who dealt with me at the United Nations found me to be pretty low
key and polite. But people shouldn’t confuse being nice with being
Q. I agree that compared to, say, King Kong, you’re low key. In addition
to your calling Kim Jong-il a “tyrannical dictator” and describing life
under his regime as a “hellish nightmare,” you’ve had equally memorable
things to say about Cuba, Iran, and Syria. And no matter how
true it is, most diplomats would not suggest that if the U.N. building
lost ten of its thirty-eight stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of
A. I really meant that as a metaphor, but I guess it came out sounding
more violent than I intended. I just happen to think that all government
bureaucracies and international agencies are far too big and
should be trimmed down.
Q. The United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget and 27 percent of its peacekeeping budget, whereas China and Russia pay
roughly 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Inasmuch as our annual
bill runs to well over one and a half billion dollars, I’d like to know
who made that decision.
A. The General Assembly makes the budget decisions.
Q.Well, it sounds to me like China and Russia, as usual, are getting
away with murder. Why do we continue to belong to an organization
that is filled to capacity with scoundrels representing rogue
nations. The U.N. is the place where they allow Syria to chair the
Human Rights Commission; vote resolutions against Israel, but never
against her enemies; were bought off by Hussein’s Oil for Food
scam; and have failed to really take up arms since Korea. Wouldn’t we
be better served if we started a world organization populated with
A. It’s been suggested that a League of Democratic Nations be established,
but our European allies don’t seem to be interested. I do think
the U.N. can be an efficient instrument of American foreign policy,
but we mustn’t ever let it limit our national interests.
Q. Why are the Europeans so enthralled with the U.N.?
A. I don’t think there’s a rational explanation. It’s more like a religious
belief with many of them.
Q. Have you ever considered running for public office? Say the presidency.
A. No. To be the top guy, you have to go through an awful lot of elections,
although Barack Obama seems to have managed to skip that part.
Q. What book has most influenced you?
A. I prefer biographies and autobiographies, so I’d probably say Dean
Acheson’s “Time at the Creation.” It was very insightful. I thought he was
an outstanding secretary of state.
Q. Even though he was a Democrat?
A. It happens.
Q. In terms of individuals, who have had the greatest influence on you?
A. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had several mentors. At the
forefront, I would say James Baker, Edwin Meese, and Jesse Helms.
Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?
A. James Baker was fond of saying, “Keep your eye on the prize.” He meant
that you should always concentrate on your goal and never be distracted
by inconsequential matters. I’ve tried to follow his advice, not
always successfully. I also got a good piece of advice from Senator Kyl during the confirmation hearings. He said that I had to think of myself
as a big gray battleship that would take a lot of hits but had to keep
Q. Speaking of hits, you took a lot of flak for demanding the resignation
of Jose Bustani when he was the head of the Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons just a short time after he had been
re-elected with America’s support. What brought that about?
A. He was re-elected at the end of Clinton’s administration, and it was
a terrible mistake. His incompetence was ruining the organization
and leading to an inevitable crisis. I spoke to Secretary of State Colin
Powell, and he agreed that we had to get rid of him.
Q. Just curious, but have you ever run into Bustani since then?
A. No, I think he went back to Brazil and got an ambassadorship somewhere.
Perhaps to London.
Q. How much autonomy do you have as an ambassador to the U.N.?
A. You get instructions, but Secretary of State Rice gave me a great deal
Q. How would you compare Secretary Rice to Secretary Powell?
A. Colin Powell saw his job as being the State Department’s representative
to the president. James Baker, on the other hand, said he was the
representative of the president to the State Department. In the beginning,
I thought that Rice was more in his mold, but I think she wound
up using Colin Powell as her model.
Q. Because of the Democrats and a fair number of Republicans, you
never did get Senate confirmation. Instead, you were George Bush’s
interim appointment made during a congressional recess. Were you
embarrassed by some of the remarks made about you during the confirmation
hearings? One of the kinder remarks was Joe Biden’s comparing
your being appointed to the U.N. with a bull’s being sent into a
A. I don’t embarrass very easily. I do wish my wife and daughter hadn’t
had to go through the ordeal. The worst thing about confirmation
hearings in this day and age is that I believe it keeps a great number
of worthy individuals from even considering public service careers. I
think decent people look at the process and decide that you’d have to
be an idiot to go through all that just to get a government job and a
Q. Speaking of salaries, how important has money been to you?
A. It plays a role, but I guess not an all-important role or I wouldn’t have
worked so long in government service. But I’ve done fine as a lawyer,
and I’m in good shape.
Q. Why did you quit when you did?
A. The Democrats were never going to allow my appointment to be
voted on, but I could have received another recess appointment from
President Bush and continued on at the U.N. But I decided to leave
because by the end of Bush’s first term, I was disagreeing with the
administration’s direction on several foreign policy matters, including
North Korea and the Middle East.
Q. What do you believe should be done about Iran?
A. I believe regime change is called for.
Q. Are you suggesting we bring it about militarily?
A. Not necessarily. Iran’s economy is in shambles. The young people
know they could enjoy a better, freer life, and they would very much
like to see the current regime tossed out.
Q. We’ve been hearing that for many years, but nothing seems to be happening,
except that Iran must be getting ever closer to having a nuclear
A. Well, I would recommend the targeted use of military force against
their nuclear program, but I would also find covert ways to support
Q. What is your all-time favorite book?
A. I enjoyed “Atlas Shrugged” a lot.
Q. What about your favorite movie?
A. I always liked “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” with John Wayne.
Q. What was it about those two that struck your fancy?
A. I liked the way the heroes in both remained so true to their basic
Q. Have you any hobbies?
A. I enjoy reading. When my daughter was a little girl, as a school project,
she made a t-shirt. On the front of it, she had me reading a book,
and on the back she had me mowing the lawn.
Q. No wonder you’re known far and wide as Mr. Excitement. I understand
your daughter is about to graduate from Yale. Is she planning to
follow in your footsteps, either in law or public service?
A. No. After graduation, she’s going into investment banking with Morgan
Q. Smart girl. Do you have any pets?
A. We have a cat named Cleopatra. She’s a pain because she demands to
be fed at an appointed hour, a very early appointed hour, and she’s
very noisy about it. We also have goldfish.
Q. Do you like them?
A. I like the fact that, unlike Cleopatra, they’re very quiet.
Q. If you could invite anybody who’s ever lived to a dinner party, who
would they be?
A. Edmund Burke, John Locke, Dean Acheson, Teddy Roosevelt, Churchill,
Disraeli, Jefferson, and Washington.
Q. You are presently involved with a think tank, the American Enterprise
Institute. Aside from thinking, what do you fellows at a think
tank do all day? And does anyone ever get booted out for not thinking
A. Basically, the main emphasis is on the written word. We’re expected
to write books and articles. And while there isn’t a quota involved, we
don’t get tenure, so if you don’t produce anything after a certain
amount of time, you will be asked to leave.
Q. But that “certain amount of time” is uncertain?
Q. I like the sound of that. And I bet the hours are good.
A. Not bad.
Q. Would you let me know when the next opening comes up?
A. You bet.
Q. Hmmm. Maybe John Bolton is more diplomatic than I thought.