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Bolton says Bush made mistakes about Iraq

Published: Wednesday, May 23 2007 12:47 a.m. MDT

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks Tuesday to the Deseret Morning News editorial board. (August Miller, Deseret Morning News) John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks Tuesday to the Deseret Morning News editorial board. (August Miller, Deseret Morning News)
The Bush administration has made a number of fine decisions in international politics — including overthrowing Saddam Hussein — but the president's Iraq foreign policy and war tactics have also suffered from many mistakes, according to Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
Bolton, in Salt Lake City to speak at a business conference, met with the Deseret Morning News' editorial board Tuesday to discuss his controversial tenure at the United Nations.
Facing a recalcitrant U.S. Senate, Bush made what's known as an interim appointment of Bolton in August 2005 to the U.N. post. But when Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections, the Senate refused to even consider Bolton's nomination, forcing him from office in December.
Bolton has returned to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and is writing a book that will be published Nov. 6 — Election Day.
Titled "Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad," Bolton said his memoir will make the case that basic U.S. foreign policy in a number of areas — especially concerning North Korea and Iran — was really the only proper approach considering all of the external adversaries facing America today.
Yet even so, Bolton said the United States has to be "stronger" against terror states seeking nuclear weapons. Diplomacy simply has not worked against states like North Korea and Iran, he said.
While not intimately involved in decisions on Iraq, Bolton said his close observation of the situation leads him to some tough conclusions.
"It is what has happened in the last four years that's made our involvement in Iraq unpopular" throughout the world, said Bolton, "not the original overthrow of Saddam Hussein."
"If we had said shortly after that statue (of Saddam) came down in Baghdad, 'Here are the keys to the Green Zone, Iraqis — you have our best wishes and whatever support we can give as we are packing up and leaving, or at least moving out of Baghdad,' then I think public opinion in our country might be different.
"Having overthrown Saddam, we had an obligation — it was a short-term obligation — to provide security until some kind of government of Iraqis could have gotten back up, for us to hold the reins for a short time for them to start forming a government," he said.
But the notion that America had to occupy Iraq or guarantee the country's security for a protracted time, or indeed indefinitely: "I just think that's a mistake."
The U.S. properly acted to protect itself from the external threat of Hussein, Saddam, Bolton said.
However, it is the Iraqis' responsibility to decide for themselves what kind of government they will have, even to the extent of whether Iraq should be broken up into two or more countries, he said.
"We didn't have any responsibility to provide tutorage for them," said Bolton, adding that he didn't have a lot to do with Iraq policy because former Secretary of State Colin Powell "excluded me from it, probably the best favor he ever did for me."
The world today is not a very safe place, Bolton said, although we don't face extinction by an all-out nuclear exchange of the Cold War.
And despite the problems in Iraq, America can't ignore Iran's effort to develop a working nuclear weapon and long-range ballistic missiles to deliver that bomb, he said.
If Iran keeps at its nuclear program, it is probably too late for even harsh international sanctions to stop the weapon's development, he added. In which case Western powers will have only two options — regime change and/or strategic airstrikes to take out Iran's weapons program, he said.
Action in Iran "would not involve any troops on the ground" in that country, Bolton said.
Do not assume that the Iranian people in general support or like the theocracy government now in power, he said. There are severe economic troubles, as well as ethnic problems in Iran, he said, adding that a young, well-educated populace knows that its lives could be much better outside of the mullahs. America and the West have opportunities to effect change inside the now-closed culture, Bolton said.
There really is no way to influence North Korea, a "criminal government who will sell anything to anyone for hard currency — including nuclear technology," he said. That government must fall, and China can either bring it down or prop it up, Bolton said.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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