Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the failure of President Obama to lead on the world stage leaves us more vulnerable and some of the most volatile areas on earth even more unstable.
Commenting on crises ranging from the Israel-Hamas conflict to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) to Russia’s defiance in Ukraine, Bolton says if he were grading the Obama administration on these major global tests, the report card would be rather depressing.
“It would be fail, no question about it. We are becoming more endangered. Our friends are becoming more endangered by the weak and ineffective policies we’re pursuing,” said Bolton.
When asked which of the hot spots should be of greatest concern, Bolton instead chose the nation he believes to be pulling the strings in multiple crises.
“If you look at the Middle East, that’s the most critical because it’s the most dangerous. The center of all of this trouble is Iran [because of its] support for international terrorism, like Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is the most dangerous country in the region, the most threatening to friends of ours, Israel and Arab countries alike, and ultimately the biggest threat of the region to the United States if it were to give nuclear weapons to terrorists,” said Bolton, who says Iran is emboldened because U.S. leadership is lacking.
“The Obama administration has not dealt seriously with the ayatollahs in Tehran. It doesn’t appreciate their threat. It’s trying to negotiate with them in a way that will give Iran the advantage to our disadvantage. We need somebody to stand up in the Democratic Party and say, ‘Mr. President, your policies on Iran are endangering America, Israel and our Arab allies and they need to be reversed,'” said Bolton.
He says the clearest example of Iran’s influence is in the actions of Hamas, as it continues to lob rockets and Iranian-made missiles into Israel while Hezbollah has the same weaponry in Lebanon.
“Between Hamas and Hezbollah, they can cover the entire civilian population of Israel. In a way, the battle that Israel is now fighting and is about to fight with Hamas is a surrogate battle with Iran and really Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” said Bolton.
Bolton says that reason alone should be enough for the Obama administration to be far less condemning of Israel’s actions and start backing away from incessant cease-fire demands.
“I think Israel’s legitimate exercise of its right of self-defense here is something the United States should be supporting, not trying to get a cease-fire that prevents Israel from doing what it really needs to do to protect itself. (They’re saying) all the time they’ve got Israel’s back. That’s not the actual policy they’re pursuing,” said Bolton.
The Israel-Hamas fighting is also revealing some curious loyalties in the region. Just a year after shedding Muslim Brotherhood rule, Egypt is cracking down on Hamas as well, from securing its border with Gaza to demolishing tunnel networks created by Hamas. Meanwhile, longtime U.S. allies Qatar and Turkey are openly hostile to Israel.
According to Bolton, many Arab states want Israel to crush Hamas because it represents a blow to the power Iran holds in the Middle East and uses as leverage against its neighbors. Nonetheless, he believes weak leadership from the U.S. is also playing a role in some of the brazen opposition to Israel.
“It shows who’s isolated here is the Obama White House and how much more support we’d have if we demonstrated a little bit of leadership. Friends like Turkey that go the other way do so because they think they can oppose the United States with impunity. They see a weak, inattentive leader in the White House and they’re performing accordingly,” said Bolton.
Iran is also a key player in the major developments to the north in Syria and Iraq, where radical Sunni militants claim to have erased a border and created the Islamic State. That movement has led to mass executions of Iraqi and Syrian forces and the persecution of Christians to either convert, flee or die in parts of Iraq.
Bolton says it does little good to dwell upon the squandered opportunity in Iraq, although he does say it serves as a lesson into why the U.S. cannot withdraw from the world and leave outcomes to outside forces. Once again, he sees failed policies from the Obama administration.
“We have plenty of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria who oppose ISIS, but they don’t want to be put under Iran’s influence. Yet, by negotiating with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, we’re giving the ayatollahs legitimacy. It just shows, from top to bottom, the Obama administration doesn’t understand what’s at stake in the Middle East or what we need to do about it,” said Bolton.
Another foreign policy headache continues to unfold with Russia and Ukraine. Two weeks ago, Russian-backed rebels shot down a commercial airliner, killing nearly 300 people. This week, President Obama sternly announced new economic sanctions against Russia . However, Bolton says sanctions like these do more damage to our position than doing nothing at all.
“When you put in sanctions that are ineffective, it says to the Russians, ‘That’s all there is.’ So their calculus is they’re getting away with their aggressive, belligerent policies,” said Bolton.
Bolton says it’s not only the case with U.S. sanctions but European Union actions as well, as evidenced by new EU sanctions cracking down on Russian banks but none of their subsidiaries in the European Union.
“There are comparable loopholes in the sanctions the president announced this week that say to the Russians, ‘They’re simply not serious. We can take minor hits and yet continue aiding the separatists in Ukraine and pursuing aggression on the continent of Europe,” he said.