Book World

John Bolton
John Bolton ((Threshold Editions))
  Enlarge Photo    
John Bolton
Former. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and Author, 'Surrender Is Not An Option'
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; 12:00 PM

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton will be online Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Noon ET to discuss his book, Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, which is reviewed in Book World.

A transcript follows.

Bolton was appointed by President Bush as ambassador to the U.N. He was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for playing a major role in exposing Iran's secret plans to develop nuclear weapons. He is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Read this week's Book World roundup: Best Books for Young People

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book World section.


John Bolton: I am glad to be here today to respond to questions about my new book, "Surrender Is Not an Option," and look forward to the exchange.


Wheaton, Md.: I'm currently reading your book and it is quite interesting. You are among a very few who take an honest approach to the U.N., exposing its incompetence and corruption, along with its obvious anti-U.S. and Israeli bias. Thank you for telling the truth and exposing the U.N. for what it really is.

John Bolton: One of the reasons I wrote the book was to provide the actual behind-the-scenes details of what happens at the State Department and the United Nations. Too many biographies or histories, in my view, do not give a flavor for what actually happens, concentrating instead on broader critiques of policy. I felt that the blow-by-blow account would help explain better for those who have never experienced it how we arrive at the policy outcomes we do. Readers can agree or disagree with my conclusions, but those who disagree will have to reckon, sooner or later, with the factual history the book provides.


New York City: Mr. Ambassador:

Are our carrots big enough with North Korea? It seems this on again off again willingness to "sorta" work with the U.S. and her neighbors is a game. Is there a move that we can make to end this game, or will a non-nuclear, non-threatening N.Korea only come about through internal strife, and then regime change?

John Bolton: I do not believe that North Korea will voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons capability, no matter how many carrots we provide. This is a fundamental flaw in the Administration's current approach, which I try to explain at greater length in my book.

Today, I think it is critical that Congress and the public insist on public disclosure by our government about the extent of North Korea's involvement in the Syrian nuclear facility destroyed by Israel on September 6, 2007. I think the facts about this matter would demonstrate, yet again, that North Korea is playing a shell game.

_______________________ Surrender Is Not An Option (Simon and Schuster)


Rockville, Md.: John:

I was in Vietnam and saw how a reasonable settlement we achieved was given away by Congress when they refused to enforce the treaty. Had they done so it would have turned out like Korea -- in my opinion. And I had three tours in Vietnam.

But my question is why do we have so many in the USA who think surrender is the first option and that any difficult operation as to stop immediately? They keep talking about a "Tet" offensive to chase us out of Iraq. Actually the Battle of the Bulge was a counter attack and we won. The Tet offensive effectively destroyed the Viet Cong.

You say surrender is not an option and Lincoln would agree. But why so many who do not agree? What have we lost?

John Bolton: I too am concerned about the view shared by many Americans and far too many Europeans that we have passed beyond history, with no further remaining existential threats except global warming. The threats, especially the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical and biological -- remain all too real. This is one reason why I think the 2008 presidential election will be so consequential for our national security, and why I wish there were a heavier emphasis on foreign and defense policy in the campaigns.


Sterling, Va.: I purchased your book because of your appearance on The Daily Show. You and host Jon Stewart may have disagreed, but the discussion was civil, informative and interesting. Was going on The Daily Show a good experience? I know it's the reason I purchased your book.

John Bolton: Thank you for purchasing the book. I have to say that, when I agreed to write the book, I thought that was my my responsibility. Little did I know that I would also be the book's chief marketing officer.

On "The Daily Show," I think I have been treated fairly, and certainly have always been given a chance to state my positions. I enjoy the give-and-take.


Woodbridge, Va.: During your recent interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stewart seemed surprised by your honest criticism of how this administration has handled the Middle East situation. I only saw a bit of this show but was wondering what your take was on Stewart and what you thought were some of the key take away points made.

John Bolton: As I indicate in several places in the book, especially on Iran and North Korea, I think the Bush Administration has diverged from its initial policy premises. In other cases, I think the Administration has taken an excessively Wilsonian view of international relations. Accordingly, I do not think that Bush Administration policies are necessarily synonymous with a "conservative" foreign policy, or certainly not consistent with my views. That analysis may have surprised some interviewers, but that's just my speculation.


New York: For the record, do you support or oppose Russia's plan to provide nuclear power plant fuel to Iran?

John Bolton: I oppose this plan because I do not think Iran can be trusted with any significant aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. It is one reason why I worry about the current Russian fuel shipments for the Bushehr reactor, and what could happen when fuel rods are inserted into the reactor and it comes on line. Even if Iran agrees to allow Russia to take back the reactor's spent fuel, that spent fuel cannot be shipped immediately. That means that, after a few years of normal operation, Bushehr would likely have at least one load of spent fuel in cooling ponds, one load of fuel in the reactor, and, per standard reactor operating procedures, at least one load of fresh fuel waiting to be used. If Iran were to confiscate just those three loads of fuel and run them through the reactor, U.S. government experts estimated that Iran would be able to extract enough plutonium from all of the spent fuel for perhaps 50-60 nuclear weapons. Thus, even if Iran never developed its own uranium enrichment capacity, but relied on Russia for fuel, its "civil" nuclear program would still constitute a serious proliferation risk.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the argument that Islamic terrorism is to some extent a response to U.S. foreign policies in countries with Muslim populations? Bin Laden has said this multiple times, but I only hear President Bush describe Islamic terrorism as a response to free societies.

John Bolton: I think the causes of Islamic terrorism are fundamentally ideological, supported by extensive expenditures of funds for "education" and propaganda in the Islamic world. "Blaming America first" is always a convenient excuse, but take just one of Osama's complaints, that American forces have been present in Saudi Arabia, thus deling the holy places of Mecca and Medina. First, many Muslim clerics flatly disagree that there was anything wrong theologically with the Saudi decision to invite in U.S. and other forces for purposes of self defense against Saddam Hussein. Second, our forces were present to help liberate Kuwait, a Muslim state, from the unprovoked aggression from another Muslim state under the control of the secular Ba'ath Party. That should appeal to religious Muslims, but Osama somehow misses that point. Third, our forces accepted numerous constraints on their own behavior in Saudi Arabia out of deference to Islamic sensibilities, constraints that at least show our presence was far from intended to defile Islam. Many Americans thought it was outrageous that we accepted these constraints in the first place. The bottom line, in any case, is that we can't apologize about ourselves forever. We are entitled to exercise our right of self defense, and to come to the aid of others doing so, as we did by expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.


South Bend, Ind.: Mr. Ambassador:

Vice President Cheney has dramatically altered the role and power of the vice presidency in this administration. Is this a positive change? Do you see future administrations retaining a more useful role for the VP, and who in current politics has the strength of character, in either party, to follow Mr. Cheney's lead in wielding even a part of that power in what can be an essentially unaccountable role?

John Bolton: I think that Vice President Cheney's role reflects a continuing evolution of his office. It is true he has more responsibilities that any prior Vice President, but his immediate predecessor, Vice President Gore, had more responsibilities than any of his. I think this is entirely a positive development.


Woodbridge, Va.: Being a graduate of our public school system...with limited memory of President Wilson...can you explain what you mean by "excessively Wilsonian view of international relations".

John Bolton: Mainly, I mean an excessively naive faith in the immediately beneficial effects of democratization. I certainly don't mean to imply that the Bush Administration is wholly Wilsonian, but only that it has tendencies in that direction from time to time.


Houston, Tex.: How can you surrender that which you have not won? How can you surrender that which was taken illegally?

John Bolton: You should read the book!


Arlington, Va.: Is there a difference between the U.S. and the Israeli positions regarding having a regime change in Syria? From what I am reading we would like to replace the Assad regime but that Israel prefers the Assad regime fearing the unknown.

Also, why do not we support our allies in Lebanon with much more money to counter the support of Iran? It seems our support is just enough to maintain an even balance and not enough to counter the anti U.S. forces.

John Bolton: I think that the Administration would be much better advised to support the fragile democracy in Lebanon and to eliminate Syrian influence there than to expend time and effort on the Annapolis "peace process." Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are directly threatening the freedom of the Lebanese people, and have been systematically before and after the "Cedar Revolution." Success for the people of Lebanon in preserving their freedom would be a very important signal around the world, and the Lebanese deserve more support from the United States.


Arlington, Va.: How can you disagree with the president, do not you think he has more access to intelligence reports and world leaders than you do? With all due respect, do not you think being the president is more complex than being an ambassador? Thanks

John Bolton: Sure it is, but I don't worship any political leaders, even on my own side.


Lyme, Conn.: Now that you have observed up close and participated with the United Nations, I am wondering: what do you see that the United Nations does that you believe they are effective at doing? How do you believe they could build upon what they do well and become an even more effective organization?

John Bolton: As I explain in my book, I think the most effective UN agencies, by and large, are those that are financed through voluntary contributions by members governments, rather than through the system of assessed contributions in place in most UN agencies. The singly most important change we could make would be to move toward a system of fully voluntary contributions for UN agencies, which would allow us much more flexibility in where we provide funding and where we do not. It would also provide an incentive within the UN for better performance, which is basically absent under the "entitlement" system of assessed contributions.


Rochester, N.Y.: The mustache....why?

John Bolton: Habit


Boston, Mass.: Have you no sense of decency sir?

Almost anyone else whose ideas when put into action caused so much damage to his nation would have slunk away from the tribe to fade from memory. Obviously there are a few people in modern history whose paranoiac beliefs have led to such a terrible fate for such a proud country, you Mr. Bolton are one.

John Bolton: I'll just let readers contemplate that question, and the attitude it represents.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Are you aware of Peter Earley's book that claims that Georgi Amedov, Russian Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister, claims that a high level American advisor was "an extremely valuable intelligence source." Is this the Russians attempting to cause confusion in our diplomatic circles or what is that all about, in your opinion and observations?

John Bolton: I know Mamedov well, and negotiated with him frequently during the first Bush term, as I describe in the book. I wish I knew who he was talking about!


John Bolton: Thanks you all for joining this conversation. I am sorry that time did not permit me to answer all of the questions. For those of you who buy the book, I hope you enjoy it.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company