“If you run for the presidency,” whispered Ken Klein, a producer of biblically themed television shows from Boynton Beach, Fla., “we’d like to help you.”
“Thank you,” Bolton said. “I’m still thinking about it.”
The only reason Bolton, who, practically speaking, has little to no shot at the nomination, is even entertaining a run as a protest candidate is his frustration at the lack of serious foreign-policy thinking in the presumptive Republican field. Although Bolton happily joins fellow GOP hopefuls in bashing President Obama’s response to the recent upheaval in the Arab world, that turmoil has revealed another political reality: The Republicans are all over the map.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said he largely approved of the administration’s calls for a transition in Egypt, then, on the day that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, failed to mention Egypt when he told a gathering of conservatives that Obama’s foreign policy had made the world “more dangerous.” Former House speaker Newt Gingrich agitated for a no-fly zone in Libya before criticizing Obama for instituting just that. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour questioned Republican orthodoxy by suggesting defense-spending cuts and troop reductions in Afghanistan. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is calling for action in Syria.
“I don’t necessarily see patterns developing in the foreign policy debate,” Bolton said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m considering running. I think it’s important not to have sound bites and bumper stickers but to have a sustained political discussion. Because there will come an evening in October of 2012 when there will be a debate between the Republican nominee and Barack Obama on national security issues.”
Bolton is not exactly an arbiter of mainstream foreign policy. Judged so extreme that Democrats blocked his appointment as ambassador (President George W. Bush responded with a recess appointment), Bolton supported Bush’s war in Iraq as a projection of American power. That operation didn’t shake out as planned.
A decade later, when a democratic movement swept through the Arab world, Bolton, more than any other Republican, stood firmly with Mubarak’s regime. Sometimes, he argued, American- and Israeli-aligned autocrats are preferable to unpredictable democracies, and he warned against free elections in Bahrain to avoid spreading the influence of Iran, which he isn’t entirely against bombing. He also advocates a more aggressive campaign to rid Libya of longtime leader Moammar Gaddafi.