Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump did an excellent job of identifying and confronting the greatest threats to national security in 2017, but warns those threats still persist and Trump will likely have to make a fateful decision in the coming year.
Trump is the first president in U.S. history never to hold prior public office or serve in the military. Nonetheless, Bolton says Trump quickly got his “sea legs” and emerged with a foreign policy that should be recognizable to most Americans.
“I think it has been very much in the mainstream of conservative Republican thinking. That may upset some of his supporters and some of his opponents, but the fact is it’s been a responsible foreign policy. It’s corrected so many mistakes from the Obama administration,” said Bolton.
“In particular, I think Trump’s view of the threat posed by Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs is probably the most important,” added Bolton. “Decertifying the Iran nuclear deal and the very tough line he’s taken with respect to North Korea are very important.”
The North Korean nuclear threat reared its head many times in 2017, with the Kim Jong-Un regime firing off numerous missile tests that performed competently enough to convince top U.S. intelligence officials that the window of opportunity for diplomacy is quickly closing.
“CIA Director Mike Pompeo said sometime back that North Korea could be within months of getting the capability to hit the United States with thermonuclear warheads carried by ballistic missiles,” said Bolton.
As of now, Bolton says the U.S. still has multiple options for dealing with North Korea, but none of them appear very attractive. He says Trump will have likely have to make the toughest decision any president has to make sometime in 2018.
“I don’t think there’s any serious dispute that in the next 12 months we’re going to have to make a very important, very hard, very unpleasant decision over whether we allow North Korea to have this capability to threaten us from now as far as the eye can see, threaten Japan, threaten South Korea and sell that capability to anybody with enough money to pay,” said Bolton.
He says Iran, ISIS, al-Qaida and other bad actors could well end up as customers of the North Korean regime. He says the other option will be using military force to achieve Trump’s demand for the denuclearization of the communist state.
“This isn’t a choice President Trump wanted to make. Nobody wants to make it. It’s unattractive whichever option you pick. But it’s a consequence of 25 years failure on the part of American foreign policy,” said Bolton, a clear criticism of the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations in dealing with the emerging threat.
Bolton stresses the decision is not just limited to North Korea. He says failing to check Kim now could have massive worldwide consequences.
“We’re very nearly at the stage where our ability to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons will have failed irretrievably and that’s not a happy place to be. It’s going to be in the Trump administration where these key decisions are made. So in the new year, all of us are going to have to be thinking about what we think is best for the country,” said Bolton.
Another major accomplishment in recent months is the rout of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria at the hands of U.S. air power, American coordination on the ground and the fighting of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Bolton is dumbfounded at how little coverage this accomplishment gets in the mainstream media. Regardless, he says the impact of the military success is significant.
“It’s a very significant victory. It was critical to eliminate the physical caliphate that ISIS had set up,” said Bolton. “To deny ISIS that base of operations. It’s very, very important. It just means the war on terrorism into a different phase.”
“The next question in the region is how to deal with Iran, making sure that they’re not empowered by the defeat of ISIS to extend their control as they’re trying to do with some success through Iraq, through (Bashar) Assad’s regime in Syria, through Hezbollah in Lebanon, all the way to the Mediterranean,” said Bolton, who also urges Trump to scrap the Iran nuclear deal once and for all.
The former ambassador to the U.N. also weighed in on the recent uproar in the General Assembly as 128 nations voted to approve a non-binding resolution declaring America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “null and void.” Just nine nations (including the U.S. and Israel) voted against the resolution and 35 countries abstained.
Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. would take note of those countries looking to strip our nation of its sovereignty. And Trump has suggested those nations might see less foreign aid in the years to come.
Bolton likes the American response.
“For two long, countries had a completely free hand at the United Nations. They could denounce the United States. They could attack our allies. They could vote against us. It was all cost-free to them. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to us that their behavior in many respects was purely irresponsible,” said Bolton.
“I think if the president follows through and says we’re going to make sure there are consequences, it’s a potential game-changer, and not just directed at the countries that vote the wrong way but to use this as a wedge for substantial change in the way we fund the United Nations itself,” said Bolton.
But as 2018 dawns, Bolton says the far more immediate priorities are what to do about the emerging nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.
“I expect 2018 to be a year of considerable activity,” said Bolton.