John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tells Newsmax that the military's seizure of power in Egypt is "of course" a coup — but insists that America should continue to provide aid to the ravaged nation.
He also declares that the Obama administration has "badly mishandled" the situation with NSA leaker Edward Snowden, and asserts that its policies on Afghanistan have been a "tragic mistake."
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Bolton served as U.N. ambassador from August 2005 to December 2006. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a frequent contributor to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Tuesday, Bolton says Egypt is "very close" to exploding into a full-scale civil war as happened in Syria.
"The difference is that the army in Egypt is so much more powerful than Assad's forces in Syria. And at least as of now, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't have the kind of clout that the opposition has.
"The army did the only thing it could do. The Muslim Brotherhood was engaged in a creeping coup after their election. With millions of people on the street demonstrating against the Muslim Brotherhood and with the Brotherhood on the street demonstrating in favor of [Mohammed] Morsi, it was only a matter of time before the civilians started mayhem against each other.
"From the evidence we have, it looks to me like the Muslim Brotherhood provoked it, that they wanted the army to react the way it did. The Brotherhood was looking to create martyrs for its cause. And for well or ill, there are plenty of people in the military who'd be just as happy to help them reach that objective of martyrdom.
"We've got to find a way to keep this calm. Showing a signal of support for the military will certainly keep our leverage where it is now. And the military, sad to say, is the only institution in Egypt that's capable of restoring peace and getting stability into the equation, which has important ramifications not just in Egypt domestically but for us internationally — keeping the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel in effect, and keeping the absolutely vital Suez Canal open.
"Morsi's single-minded pursuit of radical Islamic political theory alienated a lot of the Egyptian people. But if something isn't done to turn the economy around ... then you're going to have potentially serious humanitarian problems, shortages of food and the like, and enormous political instability, because of people not having jobs, not having incomes."
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A big point of debate right now is whether or not to call the Egyptian military's action a coup, which by U.S. law would require the suspension of American aid. The White House has stopped short of using that word.
"We need to cut through the semantics," Bolton says.
"Of course it's a coup. Look at the reality on the ground. The army overthrew Mohammed Morsi. Case closed.
"There is a law that prohibits American assistance in such circumstances. The president, typically, is trying to reinterpret the law to mean something that it doesn't say. The more honest, more direct approach is for the president to say, 'I need a congressional fix to this. I need it immediately.'
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"We shouldn't let a technicality stand in the way of protecting American interests. We need to get this done. And then I would make sure that the assistance, which is primarily military assistance to the army, keeps flowing."
A Russian official has claimed that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has accepted an offer of asylum from Venezuela, although there is some doubt as to whether that's the case.
If the report is true, Bolton says, "it certainly is intended to show Venezuela's continued defiance of the United States, even though Hugo Chavez has departed the scene.
"It's a mistake on [President Nicolas] Maduro's part because whatever possibility there might have been, even for the Obama administration, to try to chart a new course with a different administration there, this now makes it impossible."
Snowden "is a man without a country as far as I'm concerned," Bolton said.
"[He] can spend the rest of his days in Venezuela, but he better hope that Maduro at some point is not replaced by a democratic government that might be amenable to shipping him back to the United States."
Bolton goes on to say: "Whatever country takes him should feel some pain from the United States. The Obama administration has badly mishandled this. If the intelligence community is right that Snowden has an enormous quantity of very sensitive information with him, either on laptops or in documents or inside his head, it's very important to get him back to the United States so he can't spill any more of it to our adversaries or out on the public record where everybody can look at it.
"We should have made it clear to China, we should have made it clear to Russia. The president's remark, about some 29-year-old hacker he's not going to scramble the jets for, says to other countries exactly the wrong thing. It gives them the impression that, really, the president doesn't care that much, so either the president isn't aware of what his own intelligence officials are saying, or he doesn't understand that his remarks seriously undercut any diplomatic effort to get Snowden back."
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The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama is threatening to pull American forces out of Afghanistan early, and the relationship between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly completely broken down.
Asked if the White House announcement will change anything in Afghanistan, Bolton responds: "Unfortunately it may advance in time to the point where the Taliban and al-Qaida resume control of the country, and all of our sacrifice, the brave men and women who died over the past 10 years, that sacrifice will have been wasted by a mistake by our president.
"It was wrong to talk about withdrawing essentially all NATO combat forces next year, and this mistake compounds that. I understand why the president and Hamid Karzai may not be the best of friends, but personal pique is not a reason to conduct foreign policy.
"The fact is, we're not in Afghanistan for the benefit of Hamid Karzai or the Afghan people, for that matter," Bolton says. "We're there in order to defend America at a distance from the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11."
Obama "seems to have this idea in his head, as he said in the speech at the National Defense University a few weeks ago, that it's time for the Afghan War to end. I don't think the Taliban got the memo," Bolton said.
One side, such as the United States — the victim on 9/11 — cannot unilaterally make the decision the war is over unless it admits defeat "and this whole policy the administration has pursued these last couple of years in Afghanistan has been a tragic mistake," Bolton said. "Sadly,'' he continued, "I very much fear [it is] one that we and our friends around the world will pay for later."
As to whether there is anyone representing the Taliban with whom the United States can negotiate, Bolton declares: "No. Absolutely not. The Taliban only want to negotiate the terms of our surrender and withdrawal."
He adds that negotiating with the Taliban "violates a decades-long American policy through Republican and Democratic administrations: We don't negotiate with terrorists. So this whole effort and the miscommunication between Karzai and Obama is attributable largely, not entirely, but largely to Obama's own complete misunderstanding of how you handle threats like Islamic terrorism against the United States."
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