In 2014, American foreign policy was dominated by challenges from ISIS, Iran, Russia and other adversaries around the world, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the next two years could be even more volatile because of how the Obama administration is handling these current crises.
Bolton has long seen Iran and it’s advancing nuclear program as the greatest threat to U.S. national security. In November, talks for a long-term nuclear deal broke down but the U.S. pressed for talks to continue. Bolton says that weakens American leverage and Obama administration actions toward other bad actors suggest it is always prepared to take a bad deal.
“If you’re an American adversary watching what has been happening in the case of Cuba, Iran is saying to themselves, ‘There are more concessions there for us to get. Let’s just keep these negotiations going. They’re desperate for a deal. They want what they would consider another foreign policy success.’ So I think it only gets worse as the new year unfolds,” said Bolton, who alleges Obama still operates from a deeply flawed impression of the United States and the rest of the world.
“It’s consistent with their ideological predilection and the belief that really it’s America that’s the problem. We were the problem in Cuba with our colonialist policy. We’re the problem with Iran because if we just explained to Tehran that we don’t have designs against them, they’ll calm down and give up their nuclear weapons program. The same applies to North Korea. It’s a badly, badly distorted view of the world and what countries are actually the source of instability and danger,” said Bolton.
The biggest foreign policy headache for the Obama administration in 2014 came through the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Obama dismissed the radical Islamists in January as Al Qaeda’s jayvee team. ISIS subsequently captured Fallujah and Ramadi. By summer, Mosul fell into ISIS hands and soon Baghdad was in range. It was after the gruesome beheading of American hostages that Obama ordered air strikes to slow the ISIS advance and assist the Kurdish Peshmerga. At the same time it vowed to train moderate rebels in Syria to fight against ISIS there.
Bolton calls the American response “inadequate” and believes ISIS is on the verge of establishing it’s own state in the Middle East that will be a magnet for jihadist sympathizers and is already attracting thousands of westerners who have valid passports and could wreak havoc in their home countries. He says Obama’s instincts on ISIS were all wrong.
“I just don’t understand what he thinks his strategy is. At the time of the Russian Revolution, Winston Churchill said, ‘We should have strangled Bolshevism in its cradle.’ That’s what we should have done to ISIS. If it’s allowed to continue to build up its control, bring new adherents in, train new military personnel, it it simply going to make dislodging or overthrowing them – as the president himself said ‘degrading and destroying’ ISIS – it’s going to make it incalcuably more difficult and I’m afraid more costly in terms of human life,” said Bolton.
Before the ISIS threat burst into the headlines, most international attention was aimed at Russia and Ukraine. With tensions rising even during the Sochi Olympics, Russia subsequently annexed Crimea to itself through a symbolic vote among Crimeans. Russia is also arming and supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine. Bolton says American and European sanctions never bothered Russian President Vladimir Putin but other factors are hurting Russia and could make it more dangerous on the world stage.
“The fall of oil prices has hurt Russia badly. That doesn’t mean that Russia will necessarily behave in a more responsible fashion internationally. It may behave more recklessly in order to divert public opinion, to blame the United States to focus attention overseas. As we go into the new year, we’re actually looking at a more dangerous relationship, potentially, with the Russians (and) more instability in Eastern Europe, not less,” said Bolton.
After watching the Obama administration engage with governments in Iran and Cuba that have traditionally been isolated, Bolton suspects there could be more of that as the final years of this presidency unfold.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the North Koreans try and open discussions to legitimize their nuclear weapons program, get diplomatic recognition from the United States. The possibilities are endless. I think we’ve got to worry about China and its designs in the east and the South China Sea,” said Bolton.
“It’s going to be a long two years remaining in the Obama administration, unfortunately,” he said.