Former U.N. ambassador and FOX News contributor John Bolton
Smoke rises from an Israeli missile strike on a target in Gaza City,Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008
This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: And for more on the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip, we are now joined by former ambassador to the U.N. and FOX News Contributor John Bolton. Ambassador, thanks so much for coming on. What should happen now? What should happen next?
JOHN BOLTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think this depends on what the government of Israel wants to do. I must say, I have flashbacks to the summer of 2006. The Israeli rhetoric is pretty intense. Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying this is going to be a fight to the death with Hamas. Much as government leaders in 2006 said they were going to eliminate Hezbollah. It's a risky proposition for Israel not to carry through on that because Hezbollah in the view of many emerged as the victim in that war simply by surviving, and Hamas might well do the same thing here.
COLMES: We have 6,500 reservists called up. We have 180 security forces dead, 51 civilians, 330 in three days, including seven children under 15. Is Israel overreacting?
BOLTON: No, I don't think so. I think Israel has a perfectly legitimate right of self-defense. Hamas has been firing rockets from the Gaza Strip for years, even during a so called cease-fire that lasted six months until Hamas itself said they weren't going to carry it on. And when you have a right of self-defense, it's not simply a tit-for-tat right of self-defense, it's a right to eliminate the threat. If that's what Israel is in fact choosing to do, I think they're perfectly legitimate in so doing.
COLMES: When they say they want to fight until the end as you've quoted Ehud Barak as saying, when he says this is just the beginning, it's going to get a lot worse, and they vow to eliminate Hamas, is that a realistic goal?
BOLTON: Well, I think it's going to be a very difficult goal, but having set that as the bar, Israel is going to be judged by whether they achieve it or not. That's why you have to fit the rhetoric to the action. It would have been one thing for Israel to say this is going to be a retaliatory raid and it's going to be limited and defined, and then do that, that's one thing. But when you say you're going to eliminate Hamas, I think you're prepared to do it, or if you're not, you have to accept the consequences of that too.
COLMES: If you overreact, and you say you don't think Israel is, but if it's a disproportionate reaction, Turkey's prime minister says it's a crime against humanity. Sarkozy of France condemned the provocations, but he also said Israel is using a disproportionate use of force. Can you create a bigger problem if the response is disproportionate?
BOLTON: Well, I think this is the customary rhetoric that occurs every time Israel acts in self-defense. Look, the fact is it's not disproportionate use of force to eliminate the threat itself. You're not required only to fire as many rockets into Gaza as Hamas fired into Israel. That's what Israel says it's trying to do, but, as I say, the real judgment will be whether they're effective or not or whether they're seen as reaching farther than they're able to go.
COLMES: What should be the role of the United States? President Bush is on vacation staying in Crawford, he's had his spokespeople out front. He's not personally said anything. Should he be more involved? The impression is he's just leaving it all out for the next administration? Should he be more proactive at this point?
BOLTON: No, I don't think so. In fact, I think the administration made a mistake over the weekend at the United Nations in agreeing to a statement by the Security Council president that called for a cease fire. That can only mean stopping the Israeli military action. That's really what's at issue here, so I think the administration has already given away a lot of important ground.
COLMES: The president in Annapolis last year, about 13 months ago vowed that he would be fully involved, proactive, fully involved in a peace process. This seems not to be the case especially now that he's kind of laying back, seems not engaged here.
BOLTON: Well personally, I thought the launching of the Annapolis process was a mistake when it was started. There was no chance there was going to be real negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians don't have anybody that can really speak for them. The Palestinian Authority has broken probably into two irreconcilable pieces, so I think the Annapolis process was a mistake from the outset.
RICH LOWRY, GUEST HOST: Hey Ambassador, it's Rich Lowry. Thanks so much for being with us.
Let's go back to this idea of a disproportionate Israeli response because it's a key part of the world reaction to this. Can you elaborate on this a little bit? Because I think there are a couple of key points. One, there's zero moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is a terror group with a maximless goal of exterminating Israel. And as you pointed out in one of your responses to Alan, a strictly proportionate response would mean Israel randomly firing rockets into Israel. That would be absurd — sorry, into Gaza. That would be absurd and immoral in itself.
BOLTON: Yes, well this whole idea of proportionate force is just something that's been dreamed up in U.N. and academic circles. Let me give you another example. Was the United States limited after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to a proportionate response? We sink as many aircraft carriers and battleships as they sank, and we have to stop our use of force at that point? Of course not. We were entitled as a legitimate exercise of the right of self-defense to eliminate the threat, and that's what we did.
LOWRY: And Ambassador, why is it that Israel seems to be the only country in the world that evokes this kind of condemnation when it simply defends itself?
BOLTON: Well I think it's not only Israel, and this to me is one of the really important parts about this debate about the right of self- defense and this argument about the proportionate use of force. Because while the focus is certainly on Israel, Israel in a sense is a surrogate for the United States.
God forbid another attack comes against us, and we have a president who decided to respond to it, we will be criticized for the disproportionate use of force. We weren't criticized for overthrowing the Taliban, although, that was certainly a much larger operation than even the September attacks, but we were criticized for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
The notion of proportionate force is something that can easily be turned against the United States. So the way this debate turns out over Israel has implications that go well beyond this current clash in Gaza.
LOWRY: That's an excellent point. And Barack Obama over the summer, he visited southern Israel, and his reaction to these rocket attacks was to say if people are rocketing my house, I would do absolutely everything I could to stop them, and I wouldn't blame Israel for doing the same. That seems a pretty good gut reaction, don't you think?
BOLTON: Well, that was one gut reaction. He's had other gut reactions during the campaign. I mean, I think, we don't really have a clue what an Obama presidency is going to do, and that could be a factor in the Israeli calculation of when and whether to launch these operations in Gaza right now before he takes office.
LOWRY: All right, Mr. Ambassador, stay right there.
LOWRY: Welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes." I'm Rich Lowry in for Sean Hannity tonight. We continue now with John Bolton. Mr. Ambassador, tell us a little bit about the relationship between Iran and Hamas and what Iran's long-term strategy is in this conflict?
BOLTON: Well, Iran is one of Hamas' main funders, and it's been a supplier of arms and equipment and training over the years. And this is important because Hamas is basically a Sunni Arab group, and Iran obviously is Shia and Persian.
This is a demonstration of the reach, the scope, the power that Iran has in the Arab world, and why we're looking at potentially a multi-front war here, not just in the Gaza Strip, but potentially by Hezbollah, the terrorist group in Lebanon attacking Israel from the north as it did in the summer of 2006. And indeed, the continuing Iranian quest for nuclear power. So while our focus obviously is on Gaza right now, this could turn out to be a much larger conflict.
LOWRY: Now Mr. Ambassador, in your view, how does the equation change if and when Iran acquires a nuclear weapon? If the region's inflamed now and in conflict now, how is it different when Iran acquires that extra bargaining power if you will?
BOLTON: Well, I think it gets much worse. Their ability to threaten and intimidate Israel and the Arab states in the region, obviously substantially increase. Every problem in the region that we have now gets worse once Iran gets nuclear weapons, and I am afraid we are ever closer to that point.
I think sad to say the Bush administration's efforts following the lead of the European Union have entirely failed, and I don't think there's anything at this point standing between Iran and nuclear weapons other than the possibility of the use of military force, possibly by the United States, possibly by Israel.
I don't see the Bush administration doing it, so it could well come down to Israel, and that's why the role of Iran here in citing this Hamas violence could be important because I think we are playing on a larger chess board.
LOWRY: In your estimation, does Israel have the capability to take out Iran's nuclear program in a way that would be enduring enough to make it worth the price and the risk?
BOLTON: Well, I think it's a very, very difficult question. The use of military force against the Iranian nuclear program is a very unattractive option. It's risky, it's going to provoke a reaction. The reason it's on the table is because the alternative of Iran with nuclear weapons is much worse.
I think Israel could destroy enough of Iran's program to give us three, four years, which puts time back on our side to look for a longer term solution. But it's a very, very unhappy situation to be faced with.
LOWRY: What does all of this tell us about the power of negotiation in the Middle East, Mr. Ambassador? Because as you pointed out, President Bush kicked off the Annapolis process, we're now on the verge of another war anyway. Bill Clinton twisted Israel's arm and got it to agree to withdraw from a lot of the territories. Yasser Arafat launched the intifada anyway. It doesn't seem as though it gets you very much when you're dealing with such an applicable foe.
BOLTON: Well, here's the thing for people who think negotiation is the solution to everything. Sometimes nations or groups have irreconcilable objectives, and I think in many cases, that's what we see here. In terms of negotiation with Iran, for example, our friends in Europe have been negotiating for over five years to try and dissuade from giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and they have failed. That's why we are in the desperate position we're in. As far as Hamas goes, I don't know how Israel negotiates with a terrorist group? How do you get them to live up to their commitments even if they're willing to make them? They had a so called cease-fire with Israel for six months that they routinely ignored.
COLMES: Are they going to solve it militarily?
BOLTON: Well, I'm not sure that they can solve it militarily at their current rate of speed. I don't know what Israel's real objective here in the Gaza Strip here. I think that this is a circumstance where the pursuit of the so called two-state solution has come to the end of the road. I think the one thing we need here is for countries like Egypt to take up their responsibility and perhaps reassume sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and try and bring some order there.
COLMES: You said you don't flow what President Obama will do. If it were up to you, would you go out and take out Iran's nuclear facilities right now?
BOLTON: I would use military force against Iran's nuclear program, yes, because I think that the world gets a lot more dangerous once Iran has nuclear weapons, and not simply because of what Iran might do with them, but because of the very nature of proliferation. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, other countries in the region and the wider world will judge they need them as well.
COLMES: You would strike Iran right now?
BOLTON: I would have done it before this. I think we're in a very dangerous position. I think at this point, as I say, there's nothing that stands between Iran and nuclear weapons, and if they get them, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, possibly Turkey, others in the region will get them, and the risk of somebody using nuclear weapons will rise dramatically.
COLMES: Is there a risk — if we were to do what John Bolton, Ambassador Bolton is saying what he who do, is there a risk in pushback in that by going after Iran, we introduce an even broader powder keg in the Middle East?
BOLTON: Well, I think you've got a much worse situation with Iran with nuclear weapons. I'll say it again. I think the use of military force against Iran's program is very unattractive. But compared to Iran with nuclear capability, I think you have to look at it.
COLMES: So if we do that, they strike back, are we then in danger of creating a broader war?
BOLTON: I think in many Arab states in the region, although they wouldn't say it publicly, they'd be doing the equivalent of popping champagne corks because the Arab states don't want Iran with nuclear weapons any more than Israel does. What Iran could do is what's already happening in the Gaza Strip or what might happen if they unleashed Hezbollah, terrorist attacks on Israel. That's why the calculus for Israel's leaders at this point is so difficult and so complex and so risky, but whatever their circumstance is now, they are far worse with Iran with nuclear weapons.
COLMES: All right, Ambassador, we thank you for coming on tonight, we thank you for your time.
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