Resistance by partisan ”shadow warriors” at the Department of State has limited the president’s options and is bringing us dangerously close to a military showdown with Iran, former Bush administration official John Bolton told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice initially had planned to provide significant aid to the pro-democracy movement in Iran, as a means of giving the president more policy options, Bolton said. But resistance by the State Department bureaucracy crippled the programs and rendered them ineffective.
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“[T]he outcome has been no overt program of support for democracy and no clandestine program to overthrow the regime,” Bolton said.
“This is a classic case study why diplomacy is not cost-free. If we had been working on regime change effectively over the last four or more years, we would be in a lot different position today,” he added.
The State Department emphasis on European-led negotiations has allowed Iran to buy time and to perfect the technology it needs to make nuclear weapons, Bolton argued.
Even if President Bush decided to reinvigorate the pro-democracy programs tomorrow, Bolton believes we probably don’t have enough time for them to be effective before the Iranians get the bomb.
“I think we are very close to a decision point,” Bolton told Newsmax. “And if the choice is between nuclear Iran and use of force, I think we have to look at the use of force.”
Bolton said that the CIA shared the State Department’s opposition to doing anything overtly or covertly to undermine the Iranian regime, and faulted Secretary of State Rice for getting “co-opted” by the bureaucracy.
“Secretary Rice has adopted the prevailing view within the bureaucracy, which have been reflected in our deference to the Europeans and the exclusively diplomatic approach for four years,” he said.
This approach is particularly dangerous because the U.S. intelligence community has almost always been wrong in its estimates of when Iran could acquire nuclear weapons capability, Bolton said.
One of reason for the inability to get Iran right is an unwillingness to talk to Iranian defectors. “Since World War II, the Intelligence community has disliked exiles and dissidents, claiming they are unreliable because they have a political agenda. This is just self-blindness,” he said.
As a result of such prejudices, “[o]ur lack of reliable intelligence inside Iran is substantial… Every day the military option is postponed makes it riskier that we will actually use force but fail to achieve our objectives.”
Bolton worries that bad intelligence, coupled to wishful thinking by bureaucrats who tend to downplay the threat, could lead to strategic surprise by Iran or North Korea.
“I personally do not believe in just-in-time non-proliferation,” he said.
Bolton has long been an advocate of muscular diplomacy.
When he served as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Nonproliferation during the early years of the Bush administration, he frequently crossed swords with arms control advocates who were viscerally opposed to imposing sanctions on proliferators.
In his recent book, “Surrender is Not an Option,” Bolton names one such official, Vann Van Diepen, who refused to act on direct orders to apply nonproliferation sanctions.
As Newsmax revealed on December 4, Van Diepen was one of three former State Department officials who authored the much-disputed recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.
The arms controllers are also trying to rewrite history on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Bolton warned.
During negotiations in 2002, the North Korean government admitted that in addition to its plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon, it also had a clandestine uranium enrichment program.
For once, Bolton said, “all of the intelligence community agreed that North Korea had embarked on procurement for a uranium enrichment program.”
And yet today, the arms controllers are trying to walk back that conclusion and “rewrite history” in order to cover-up North Korea’s lies and dissembling, Bolton said.
Bolton also was critical of the Bush White House for not doing more to name and retain strong conservatives in the administration.
When his nomination to become the permanent U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was submitted to the Senate, for example, the administration ran a confirmation battle, whereas the Democrats engaged in a full-fledged political campaign. “Given that, the outcome was predictable,” Bolton said.
The consequences of allowing the shadow warriors run the government instead of Bush loyalists have been dramatic, since they have succeeded in “turning the President’s policy in effect in a 180-degree U-turn” in North Korea and other areas, Bolton said.
Bolton said he planned to continue “hawking” his book until Christmas, then would take off January while he mulled future opportunities.
He said he eventually planned to join one of the Republican presidential campaigns, but hadn’t yet chosen his candidate.
Excerpts from the interview:
NEWSMAX: Do you think we are heading for war with Iran.
JOHN BOLTON: I think there is little doubt that Iran has mastered the Science and technology it needs to enrich uranium. That means that the time and the manner in which it acquires a nuclear weapons capability is entirely within its discretion. It’s only a matter of resources, and with oil at 90 dollars a barrel plus, Iran doesn’t lack for resources. That means that if the president follows through on his view that Iranian nuclear weapons are unacceptable then we are at a decision point very quickly on whether to use military force.
My preference would be regime change in Iran. I think there is a real possibility that the different democratic regime would make the decision that pursuing nuclear weapons is not really in Iran’s interest. But that’s nothing you can turn on or off like a light switch. So because of the wasted time allowing the Europeans to try to negotiate Iran out of nuclear weapons, I think our options are very few. And if the choice is between nuclear Iran and use of force, I think we have to look at the use of force.
NEWSMAX: Why do we have so few options now?
BOLTON: Because by deferring to the EU 3 these last four plus, almost five years. we have limited our ability to do other things to see if we can get effective sanctions at the Security Council. I don’t think sanctions are going to have a chance of being effective any longer. Especially not UN sanctions. And this long period of time has put Iran in a much more favorable position. It’s a classic case study why diplomacy is not cost-free. If we had been working on regime change effectively over the last four or more years we would be in a lot different position today.
It’s not just the nuclear program. It’s Iran’s support for terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza strip, including their activity particularly against our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. So if steps are not taken soon, Iran and other nations in the region will draw the conclusion that we are not serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program, we are not serious about stopping Iranian support for terrorism and they will draw the appropriate conclusions, all of which will be negative to American interest.
NEWSMAX: Why hasn’t [Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice] done anything to help the pro-freedom movement in Iran? Why has the $75 million program to help the pro-democracy movement had so little impact?
BOLTON: I think there is enormous bureaucratic opposition to doing anything overtly or covertly from both the State and CIA bureaucracies. And as on so many other issues, I think, Secretary Rice has adopted the prevailing view within the bureaucracy, which have been reflected in our deference to the Europeans and exclusively diplomatic approach for four years.
NEWSMAX: Do you think she is convinced we can do nothing to help the pro democracy movement? After all this was her program.
BOLTON: This is completely inexplicable to me. On the overt side she announced it with great fanfare, but as we can see with the recent resignation of the head of the program at the State Department, it has gone nowhere. The argument that identifying Iranian Diaspora groups as being linked to our program makes it disadvantageous for them is belied by the statements of many of these groups who say ‘we need the help and we’re pleased to have it.’ But the outcome has been no overt program of support for democracy and no clandestine program to overthrow the regime. So in effect, we have been doing nothing for getting on to five years now except deferring to the Europeans
NEWSMAX: So this leaves us basically with war, or a nuclear armed Iran--
BOLTON? --Or regime change, if we have the time. The problem is we likely do not have the amount of time that would be required. If we only had been more active over the past several years we might not be faced with the unhappy alternative of having to use force.
NEWSMAX: How do you see this scenario developing? How do we get to the point of using military force? What happens next?
BOLTON: I think we are very close to a decision point. There are all kinds of estimates of when Iran will actually have a nuclear capability. They are all based on assumptions. So if some of those assumptions turn out to be wrong, the Iranians can have the weapons capability much earlier than the estimates would lead you to believe.
I personally do not believe in just in-time non-proliferation. There’s too much of a risk there that intelligence and analysis can be wrong by understating the threat as well as by overstating the threat. Moreover the Iranians are obviously aware of the risk they run and I think every day that goes by gives them more of an opportunity to harden their existing facilities such as at Natanz, the uranium enrichment facility, or to build completely alternative facilities of which we have no knowledge. Our lack of reliable intelligence inside Iran is substantial. That doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me more nervous. Time is working against us. Every day the military option is postponed makes it riskier that we will actually use force but fail to achieve our objectives.
NEWSMAX: I’ve just written a book called Shadow Warriors that talks about people in the CIA and the State Department who have attempted to undermine the president’s policies. Do you think the $75 million that Condi announced to help the pro-freedom movement in Iran was undermined by people who don’t agree with the policy?
BOLTON: I don’t think there is any doubt of it. There are many people at the State Department who simply don’t like the concept of regime change whether done through pro-democracy groups or done clandestinely. They especially don’t like a program that could be said to undercut the European efforts of diplomacy. I think the failure of the $75 million program sends an enormous signal through out the bureaucracy that resistance can work. This is going to have negative consequences not just for the situation in Iran but for a range of other policy issues around the world.
NEWSMAX: So the shadow warriors won this round?
BOLTON: I think there is no doubt about it. I don’t profess to know everything that went on, but you can tell when the director of the program resigns and basically says, ‘I can’t make it work,’ that there is obviously something badly wrong.
NEWSMAX: How is this Administration’s track record on hiring and keeping conservatives in key positions?
BOLTON: I think it is unfortunately not very good. I talk about this in my book, about what happens when Presidential personnel doesn’t focus on the very difficult circumstances appointees face within the State department, which is one of the savviest bureaucracies in Washington experts in co-opting, seducing or subverting political appointees who try to pursue policies it disagrees with. And I think in this Administration, it has had considerable success. I use the example of North Korea, and what’s happened to our policy there. What has happened since I wrote the book is an even more graphic example of the bureaucracy in effect turning the President’s policy in effect in a 180 degree U-turn.
NEWSMAX: Do you think the North Korean have agreed to talk and to shut down the reactor because they have sold off the critical elements?
BOLTON: I think they are doing the same thing they did under the  Agreed Framework. I think they have been planning to cheat on their declaration and their program and hope they get away with it, which they will if we don’t have an adequate verification program.
And I think this facility [in Syria] that the Israelis bombed on September 6 is an indication of yet another alternative, which is either to clone the Yongbyon reactor or outsource some of the nuclear weapons program. How better to hide your North Korean program than to build it in Syria where nobody is looking!
Just this morning there was a story that it may be harder to shut done Yongbyon than people thought. Now this will extend into the next year, which I think is part of North Korea’s pattern of slow-rolling the program. But which also shows something which I and others have been saying for some time, which is that Yongbyon is at or beyond its useful life. Part of the reason they have difficulties extracting the fuel rods that are in there now is that the whole facility is in terrible repair, which means they agreeing to freeze it or even to dismantle it is not such a big concession from the North Koreans. They may already have been able to extract as much plutonium as they were going to be able to. Shutting down a broken facility is hardly a sign of good faith.
NEWSMAX: There is a lot of dispute about North Korea’s uranium program. You write in your book that the North Koreans talked to our delegation in 2002 about the uranium enrichment program. Do you think that is what they transferred to Syria?
BOLTON: It’s hard to say what they’ve transferred. There was no sign of radiation escaping after the Israeli attack [on Syria], which seems to indicate that they proceeded before there was any actual enriched uranium or even unenriched uranium there. Otherwise you would see likely release of radiation.
In my book, I go through this business of what Jim Kelly confronted the North Koreans with in 2002, and what the North Koreans said in response. There was no ambiguity in 2002 about the intelligence. In fact, what happened was that in the early summer 2002, for a change, all of the intelligence community agreed that North Korea had embarked on procurement for a uranium enrichment program. That was what was significant. That after years of disagreement within the intelligence community, they had reached consensus. And there was no dispute at that time. Nor is there really dispute about the North Korean reaction to Kelly’s trip, that they admitted they had a uranium enrichment program. It’s not just my book. Read Jack Prichard’s book, published by Brookings. He says there was no ambiguity, and he was there!
I think this is significant, because people are now trying to rewrite history, to help excuse why the North Koreans are not dissembling when they say they have no enrichment program. They are trying to lay the groundwork that there never was a program, so when the North Koreans say they don’t have one it’s not another example of dissembling.
NEWSMAX: Would their uranium enrichment program have come from Pakistan, or would they have had access earlier to the technology?
BOLTON: My guess is in part they had some technology from AQ Khan. But I think it was more of them acting as a general contractor building their own program, using AQ Khan for pieces of it, as opposed to Libya, who said to AQ Khan, you are the general contractor, you create the program for us.
NEWSMAX: It really astounds me the lack of information on the Iranian nuclear program, and the unwillingness of the Intelligence community to talk to Iranians, even to Iranian exiles.
BOLTON: Since World War II, the Intelligence community has disliked exiles and dissidents, claiming they are unreliable because they have a political agenda. This is just self-blindness.
Not only has our human intelligence capability declined dramatically over the last several decades, there doesn’t seem to be much inclination to want to build it back up.
Look at Joe Wilson: the best our intelligence community can do is send a former ambassador to Niger to have tea with officials that say, ‘ so, what’s up on the uranium front?’ That’s our intelligence community? Forget everything else about Valerie Plame. That whole story is unbelievable!
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