OTR Interviews

Bolton: The Obama administration's theory of Middle East appears to have 'broken down completely'

Amb. John Bolton responds to White House belief that widespread riots are in response to obscure, Anti-Muslim film


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 14, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And of course, we've been watching the disturbing images for anti-American rage all week, protesters ripping American flags in U.S. embassies and burning our flags, many chanting, "Death to America."

So how can White House Press Secretary Jay Carney say the protests are not directed at the United States?


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to United States policy, not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people, it is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.

That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protests directed at the United States.


VAN SUSTEREN: Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton joins us. The press secretary says this is not directed at the United States, United States policy, this is about a movie.

JOHN BOLTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, he's an embarrassment! That's really one of the silliest things I've heard from the White House podium in a long time. Of course, it's aimed at the United States.

The administration's entire theory of the region is now seen to have broken down completely. Their belief was that the Arab spring would bring sweetness and light and democracy and provide an alternative to terrorism. In fact, the Arab spring has simply unleashed these radical forms of Islam that we see being demonstrated in the streets all over the region and manifested again in the terrorist assassination of our diplomats in Libya.

These are not separate. These are closely connected.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I mean -- I mean, what we're seeing today -- I mean, to say it's not against the United States -- The Cleveland Leader has a picture of a black flag of Islam flying over the American Embassy in Tunisia. This is really -- this is violent directly at the United States.

BOLTON: Yes. What's -- what's happened here is that the post- colonial wave of Arab nationalism, which was secular, socialist and anti- American, has been replaced by another wave of Islamic fundamentalism, which is also anti-American.

And by ignoring it, by pretending it wasn't there, we've left our people vulnerable. I mean, there may have been an intelligence failure not to see what was going to happen in Egypt and Libya on September the 11th, or it may have been caused by the administration's own mistake that they were operating in a benign environment and didn't have to take adequate precautions.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we not know that they hate us? I mean -- I mean, how do we not know that this was...

BOLTON: Ask the president. Ask the president! Look at that speech in Cairo in 2009, where he said, you know, We're going to start respecting Muslims, which implicitly, we didn't do for the past 200 years or so because he's now the president. They look at that and virtually every other step he has taken in the Middle East since then -- the withdrawal of our forces...

VAN SUSTEREN: But why is that -- why is -- why is that...

BOLTON: Because it shows weakness.

VAN SUSTEREN: But why is that the catalyst? I mean, like, the Arab spring that everyone started in Tunisia -- I mean, what -- was there anything that we could have done to sort of change the course of history?

BOLTON: Well, I think what we saw there was the risk to Mubarak. And instead of supporting a loyal ally who had upheld the Camp David accord, after vacillating three or four times in the course of a month, we threw Mubarak over the edge. And he had said for years, If I go, the Muslim Brotherhood's taking over.

Oh, no, said the Obama administration. Oh no, said many people in America. The Google guy is going to emerge in Egypt. He's going to be the new leader. People who tweet will be the new leaders. Do you see them anywhere today? They are off the stage.

VAN SUSTEREN: So now with over 20 countries with protests against the United States -- and very violent in many areas -- what would -- what would you do right now? Because we are now in a very precarious situation.

BOLTON: Well, we're in a deep hole and you can't correct it overnight. The first thing is the president needs to make clear, which he may finally have gotten around to doing yesterday with President Morsi, there can be no more breaches of our embassy perimeter security. There can be no more attacks on American diplomats. And there better not be any attacks on private American citizens in the region.

Now, today was another bad day in the Middle East. It may get worse. Who knows? I think this will go up and down. But if people think that the Americans are weak, won't respond and simply sit back and watch this happen, if they're defensive about their own society, which we are still being, they will continue to push!

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you act tough in a phone call and say, you know, You better not have this happen again? I mean, like, why should anyone believe us?

BOLTON: Well, I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean -- I mean, and what -- and what is -- and what is our follow-up if they -- if they do ignore it?

BOLTON: Cut off foreign aid. Look, if a government -- if a host government can't meet its basic obligation of protecting American diplomats, they can do without our money. And that point needs to be made very quietly behind the scenes. Doesn't have to be done in public, but it needs to be made unambiguously.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you bring any of our people home? I mean, these are very dangerous places. And I suspect all these Americans, not just tourists but these people who work for our embassies, that they're -- I know we've sent Marines to protect them, but their life -- it seems rather -- seems dangerous to me.

BOLTON: The Marines will perform incredibly bravely. But when you're in a country of 70 million people and you have a couple platoons of Marines, you can see what -- what the calculus is. I think you've got to look at it case by case. But I would have everybody except the essential personnel removed from almost all these countries.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would a Governor Romney, if he were president -- you know, how would he get us out of (INAUDIBLE) differently? I mean, because...

BOLTON: Well, I think he demonstrated it, and he was jumped on by the White House and the media. The first thing that you do is defend our system of government. You don't apologize for some crank who makes an offensive film. That's just not the way you defend democracy.

By dignifying that film, as if it were the real cause of this, you simply feed the beliefs of those who think we're a corrupt and declining society. It's not the function of the American government to comment on every exercise of free speech by American citizens. They do that in countries where the armies wear the jackboots. They don't do it in this country.

Perpetuating the myth that it was the film that was the problem, rather than the radical ideology of the rioters, is the first mistake that the administration has made. Romney tried to correct it, and the media go wild.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ambassador, thank you, sir.

BOLTON: Thank you.