America’s former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, speaks exclusively to The Daily Signal about China, North Korea, and other threats to the U.S. He also assesses Nikki Haley’s tenure at the U.N. An edited transcript of the on-camera interview is below.
>>> Update, March 22: President Donald Trump announces that Bolton will replace Army Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser, effective April 9.
Rob Bluey: Your experience in foreign policy brings a unique perspective to a lot of the conversations that are taking place. One of the discussions at the Conservative Political Action Conference was specifically on the threats facing the United States. Can you share with us what you feel, in your perspective, are some of the greatest threats?
John Bolton: The most important strategic fact about the Trump administration is that it faces a range of threats across the entire spectrum. What happened is the country has inherited the consequences of a lot of [President Barack] Obama’s mistakes.
The bills are now coming due on the Trump administration’s watch on nuclear proliferation, the threat of North Korea, the failure of the Iran nuclear deal, the continuing threat of international terrorism, the strategic threats of Russia and China. There are a lot of them out there. They require different levels of attention and response.
The president basically is pursuing a Reaganite “peace through strength” foreign policy. A lot of people thought he might be outside the conservative mainstream; I don’t think that’s correct.
You can agree or disagree with this or that policy, but I think he understands, and that’s why he’s proposed a significant increase in the military budget, just for starters.
Bluey: There was a lot to clean up in the wake of Obama’s eight years. Where do you see the administration as having, so far, some of the greatest achievements when it comes to foreign policy?
Bolton: Certainly things like acknowledging Jerusalem to the be capital of Israel. We’ve discovered after 70 years where the capital is, but the point of it is not simply that it rectifies a long-standing mistake in American policy; it shows that it rests on the real world. It shows when the president says something he follows through on it.
“I think simply saying to the world, ‘Barack Obama’s no longer president,’ is a big step forward.”
This has global significance. The first politician to say he backs Jerusalem being the capital and then to do it. So it’s a big signal in the Middle East, but around the world.
The attack on the Syrian use of chemical weapons after classic Barack Obama saying it would be a red line if he saw chemical weapons activity—and not following through—the president follows through.
Taking a tough line on the Iran nuclear deal, taking a tough line on North Korea. We haven’t solved those problems yet, but I think simply saying to the world, “Barack Obama’s no longer president,” is a big step forward.
Bluey: What’s your message to CPAC attendees on China, another topic that you’ll be discussing?
Bolton: We need a much more comprehensive strategy on China. I think back to the Cold War concept of linkage. We have issues with China on trade, we have issues with them on their aggressive stance in the east South China Seas. Their relations with us are not going to get better unless we have improvement across the board with them, North Korea being another example.
China clearly has its own strategic plan. They think in long terms, they think comprehensively. We’re not so good at that in the United States. That’s one of the perils of democracy. We need a response. We have not had one for eight years under Obama, and I think you can see what the elements would be.
The president’s focused on the trade issue, China’s violations of its [World Trade Organization] commitments, its discrimination against foreign investment, its piracy of intellectual property from foreign investors and traders. But we need to move beyond the economic area; you need it across the board.
Bluey: You mentioned North Korea in the context of China. Obviously, with so much attention on the Olympic Winter Games and South Korea, and North Korea’s role sending Kim Jong Un’s sister, what do you make of all that has taken place in just the last couple of weeks?
Bolton: The entire North Korean involvement in the Olympics was a propaganda ploy. Marching as a joint team, they’ve done that three times before, so there is nothing new in the North Korean playbook, but they are outstanding propagandists.
“The entire North Korean involvement in the Olympics was a propaganda ploy.”
That is why when Vice President [Mike] Pence went to South Korea for the opening ceremony, he had a very difficult assignment. He performed it well to try to blunt the North Korean propaganda initiative, but the purpose of it was to do, unfortunately, what it’s done, which is divert our attention from their continuing progress on their nuclear weapons and on their ballistic missiles.
We will have the closing ceremony; they’ve actually sent North Korea a general who has commanded North Korean attacks against South Korea. This is the real face of North Korea. Forget the lady cheerleaders, now we got the really cynical way to end their participation.
We’re back on the nuclear issue and we’ve got some hard decisions to make. Options are running out. Time is running out before North Korea gets the capability to hit targets in the United States. So our options are very, very limited, unfortunately.
Bluey: You served distinguishably as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Nikki Haley has received many compliments and praise for her leadership there. What advice do you have for her in that job?
Bolton: She’s doing a great job. She is a very effective spokesperson for the United States.
I told her a couple months ago, I was up in New York, I was really envious of her, because she seemed to function without the supervision from the State Department. I wish I could have said the same.
It’s obviously something that gets a lot of attention around the world. She’s stayed close to President [Donald] Trump and reflects his views. In some of these areas like Iran, like North Korea, how it plays out in the U.N. has an effect on us, so you have to take it seriously whether you like it or not, it’s part of the real world we operate in.
Bluey: You’ve been coming to CPAC for a number of years. What do you think of the mood here this year in your interaction with the attendees?
Bolton: People are worried about the 2018 election and a lot is at stake in terms of control of House, control of the Senate, so that’s what this gathering of conservative activists really involves.
Talk about policy, talk about politics, and I think people have their eye on that election coming up this November.
Note: The headline and introduction of this report have been modified to reflect John Bolton’s appointment March 22 as national security adviser, effective April 9.