U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

By: Harry C. Blaney III

March 26th I opened my New York Times as usual and low and behold there was an op-ed by former Ambassador John R. Bolton of Iraqi war renown with the title “To stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”, and its sub-headline “Tehran can’t be trusted on a nuclear deal. Force is the only option.” Besides being very wrong on a host of other issues like his view of the United Nations in the past, which having been sent there by a right-wing  Republican president, he straightaway aimed to undermine its authority, cut it resources, and tried in every which way to eviscerate. Now it seems he wants us to go to into a senseless and costly war again with his other neo-con crazy co-conspirators.

At the moment the fate of the nuclear negotiations are still not fully known, and least of all what will follow in the event of an agreement or a failure at this effort. But one thing is certain, and that is that preemptive war is mad and disastrous for all sides.

The only conclusion one can reach from this Bolton essay in fantasy is how crazy we have all become when we fall again into the “war hawks” dead end traps. These traps will bring such destruction to not only Iran and its many anti-regime and pro-American citizens, but to exacerbate more conflicts in the whole region and any hope for a peaceful and diplomatic region wide accommodation that has any hope to batten down the upheavals that have created the current chaos in the first place.

Bolton’s proscriptions, contrary to his flawed conclusions on the behavior of nations in the region, would create those dangerous things which he says bombing would avoid sooner and with more force. Further, most strategic experts including most of the analysis by our own government finds that such a military attack would create such horrific added conflict to an already unstable region and still not a long-term stop to a possible Iranian weapons program.

Bolton says it would do so for 3 to 5 years, but an agreement would stop Iran from just such an effort for at least 10 years and it just might mitigate the existing corrosive Shia-Sunni warfare that it at the real bottom of the existing instability.

Besides poor, almost non-existent analysis of outcomes of war actions, Bolton’s assumption is that Iran will not negotiate away its “nuclear program.”  I am not sure exactly what he means by “nuclear program.” They certainly will not be dissuaded from a civilian nuclear power and research effort that they have invested billions of dollars into, but the reality is that a nuclear weapons effort should be seen by the Iranian leadership as the worst possible outcome for their own security.  It is a course of societal and governmental suicide in the end. That does not mean that the Iranian leaders are fully rational and are acting fully in the interest of the well-being of their people, since if they were they would not be in the current situation.

Yet the likely reason for the present negotiations, contrary to Bolton’s assertion, is that they have decided that sanctions hurt, that having the bomb may be more dangerous to their security than not having it, and that they need to rebuild their failing economy and society. What they want however is clearly a best deal to keep their options open and not be seen as “giving in” to the West.

The key flaw of Bolton’s article is he did not mention the real cost and consequences of his war proposal. The reason is simply it would totally undermine his whole argument and expose its wrong assumptions about the dynamics of the actions he proposes…

Bolton and his Republican neo-con affiliates have argued in the past for (unnecessary and costly) war – in Iraq.  But he still seems to think that indeed war is the answer to anything, but does not want or can’t honestly think through his myopic ideological lenses and truly evaluate the cost of such action, deaths, and risks on all sides of the consequences of his policies.

Secretary John Kerry has been right to test diplomacy and indeed the agreed temporary accord already has inhibited any further push towards a weapon. Nothing in diplomacy in this messy world is easy. The time has come for an end of costly and unnecessary war making which ends mostly in disasters for all. Let’s all hope that in time there will be a “good” agreement since that would be a “win-win” for all sides, for the region, and the world.

We welcome your comments!


George W. Bush administration Appointee to the U.N. and Right Wing Think Tank Stalwart John Bolton’s Criticism of Obama’s Foreign Policy Shows Again Disregard of Reality and Judgement.


 Harry C. Blaney III

John Bolton’s “Ukraine’s drama, Obama’s weakness” (LA Times December 12, 2013), seems to be mostly an opportunity to take cheap potshots at Obama’s foreign affairs leadership via attacking America’s handling of the complex and fast changing situation in the Ukraine. The op-ed is wrong on both its general evaluation of President Obama’s stewardship of American interests abroad as well as the situation and American response to the events in the Ukraine and beyond.

First, the current American foreign and national security team headed by President Obama and Secretary John Kerry have accomplished much more for America than Bolton and his Bush league team of recent Republican presidents. Earlier, Obama accomplished the New START Treaty that reduced nuclear weapons of both Russia and the United States and with a system of verifiable inspections which otherwise would not have existed. Least we forget, Obama also got us out of the quagmire of Iraq which was based on a lie about “weapons of mass destruction” and cost America thousands of lives. Bolton would have us still there. We need to remember this is the same person who wanted to decapitate the U.N., supported the Iraq attack, and often urged military action over diplomacy and multilateral cooperation with others. 

In his second term, President Obama initiated a staged withdrawal now planned for Afghanistan in 2014 which will save countless American lives and resources into the billions in a land led by leaders more interested in plundering their nation than in protecting their citizens. That leader was picked by Bolton’s comrades in the his beloved “war hawk” Republican administration.

To recap the many accomplishments and initiatives of the Obama/Kerry/Hagel team includes the move towards a diplomatic negotiated understanding in place of war with Iran over its nuclear program. The first interim agreement was a clear win for Obama and for putting a check on Iran’s nuclear military ambitions. Further, Obama and Kerry are now committed to trying for a key difficult agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He has gotten in Syria a path to rid that nation of chemical weapons. He has unilaterally taken steps to reduce greenhouse pollution to save our planet from existential climate disasters. And not least, he has proposed a groundbreaking set of Atlantic and Pacific trade agreements that will act as a stimulant to trade and investment on a grand global scale.

With respect in the Ukraine, where Bolton seems fixated on sophomoric criticism, he is demonstrably wrong that we are not engaged, rather we have a diplomatic full court press that rightly must have the EU in the lead as its focus is its relationship agreement with the Ukraine. This is a key reason for the upheavals we are seeing. That is why we have supported the EU efforts to calm the situation. But President Obama himself, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Kerry have all been actively engaged in this issue, and not to forget my former foreign service colleagues that are working effectively each hour and each day to formulate a path towards Ukrainian stability, democracy, and engagement with the West. This is a time when Western leaders need to be acting with care and is not a way to exacerbate an already volatile situation. The country is divided and the West can best act quietly to ensure that the Ukraine has options to integrate with Europe but that will given the situation in Ukraine not be done overnight. But we must remember it is the Ukrainian people that will have the final say.

In sum, in my 40 years of active engagement in diplomacy and foreign policy issues I have rarely seen a more competent and more active and indeed successful American foreign affairs leadership in what can only be described a daunting and difficult time. What is needed from Amb. Bolton and his neo-con and “war hawk” colleagues is serious workable options and an examination of the pros and cons of any given action and who should pay the price of their policies.  Those who’s main aim is to attack President Obama on partisan grounds rather than support wise policies in difficult times and seek, as we have decades earlier, a bipartisan stance, and to act for the common good of both America and global cooperation, and a more open world.

Obama’s Inaugural Stance on Global Engagement and Strategic Posture: The Debate is Now Commenced!

The most significant part of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address dealing with foreign policy is the quote:               

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. ………we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends — and we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

It is within this framework that the outlines of Obama’s second term global outlook and policies will be shaped. He further said that these are not rigid positions, but rather the direction he wants to take a nation that has experienced brutal war for more than a decade at great cost in lives and resources. It is a position that is tested by both experience and hard analysis of the strategic landscape America is facing. It is not, as some have suggested, an abandonment of global engagement. In fact, it is just the contrary!

But even before the inaugural address and immediately afterwards, the neo-conservatives and “war party” types, including  in think tanks and the media, accused him of softness and of “cutting [our] military.” Examples abound in the Washington Posts’ two editorials, ‘Obama 2.0‘ and ‘Mr. Obama reboots‘ (January 20th and 22nd respectively). The latter seems to call for continued endless war and engagement in a vast array of dangerous places with armed troops. The same can be said for the article by Richard Cohen in the paper’s January 22nd edition or the article by Jim Hoagland from January 18th. These views are backed up by others from the far right like John Bolton of AEI in his speech to the Chatham House recently. We can expect more of this from those who think sending our troops to fight their wars seems to be their main passion in lock step with the military industrial sector’s push for more and more weapons (and large profits) that are of no real use to those who have to serve in hard places in asymmetrical warfare conditions.

Obama set forth an ambitious and broad foreign affairs agenda yesterday, including in the mix the critical climate change, which in reality will have a far more devastating impact on our nation and the globe in the coming decades than any foreseeable act of terrorism. He has already made the “pivot” to Asia, which is the opposite from “withdrawal.”

Obama also heralds a more judicious use of our military might and a redeployment of our defense assets towards present and future threats. He furthermore challenges the buying of expensive and unneeded systems, rather than a mindless continued escalation of these useless purchases for the dangers of the old “cold war” and past conflicts. As we have posited from this blog, the basic forward strategy is the use of what many call “smart power” and “soft power”  This means especially early significant multilateral preventive intervention in emerging areas of unrest and conflict before military force is needed.

A statement by defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on the ABC’s Martha Raddatz show said, “I think it does mean that we’re going to have to work with other countries to develop the kinds of alliances and partnerships that bring other countries into the challenge of how we preserve peace. It just can’t be the U.S.”

The same must be said of the active involvement of international organizations like the UN and even NATO/EU in empowering these institutions, and perhaps new ones that build the capability of civic society, humanitarian intervention, and economic development, as well as peace making: this includes peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy.  Much of this has to be on the ground conciliation and negotiations involving neutral parties and NGOs. It also calls for more funding for our international development programs, for support of international peacekeeping efforts, for public diplomacy, and, as noted, for old-fashioned early intervention diplomacy.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!