OTR Interviews

Bolton: Obama 'lives in a world of words, thinks his rhetoric really affects reality'

Former US ambassador to the U.N. sounds off on report of Jews in one Ukrainian city being sent notices telling them to register and how volatility in Syria, Ukraine, Iran all illustrate Pres. Obama's weakness


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a FOX News alert. Jewish people in one eastern Ukraine city are reportedly being ordered to register with pro-Russian separatists. Masked men reportedly giving out notices to Jews leaving synagogue on Passover. The fliers telling the Jews to register and pay a special fee or risk being deported and having their property confiscated. The pro-Russian group behind it denies that they had anything to do with the fliers. It says it is really pro-Ukrainian groups putting out that propaganda.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton joins us. Good evening, sir. And when we saw this news, it just sent shivers up everybody's spine. Your thoughts?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: No, absolutely. We don't know exactly who is responsible. My guess is it's pro-Russian elements. Maybe these uniformed militia men, who may well be from Russia itself. But the fact that they would put the Jewish question on the table like this shows that there is enormous trouble ahead in Ukraine. Whatever the outcome over the next few days, whatever the outcome of the agreement negotiated in Geneva today, this is far from over. And by introducing this particular form of racial incitement, it's guaranteeing that the temperature is going to continue to rise.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think probably most Americans feel, you know, it's like never again. You know, when they see something like this. It does change the dynamics if it turns out to be more than a rogue group with something that blows over. But this is such an important issue, you know, to Americans. What should the president say or do or think or what, when he hears this?

BOLTON: Well, I think Secretary Kerry has already condemned it, and that's fine. That's of a piece with the problem with the entire Obama administration policy in Ukraine. It's essentially all rhetoric. You know, we had echoes of 1938 already with the Russian movement of armed troops across an international border annexing part of another country, the Crimea.

And today, in Geneva, again, they come back to this statement that was issued by the U.S., the EU, Russia and Ukraine, no mention of the Crimea at all. That's a done deal. Now, apparently, from the point of view of the west, I think Putin understands that. I think it emboldens him to make more demands from the government of Ukraine, and risks further partition of the country. We are not stopping this aggression. We are facilitating it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ambassador, let's move on to the crisis in Syria. We have all heard it. President Obama repeatedly saying Syrian President Assad must go.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident that Assad's days are numbered.

I'm confident that Assad will go. It's not a question of if, it's when.

The only way to bring stability and peace to Syria is going to be for Assad to step down.

Assad needs to go.

We would have preferred Assad go two years ago, last year, six months ago, two months ago.

I have called for Assad to leave.

A leader who slaughters his citizens and gases children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.


VAN SUSTEREN: But as we all know, President Assad remains in power and does Syria expose President Obama's weakness in the region? Ambassador, it also says one thing, that first sound was from the third presidential debate where he says I'm confident Assad's days are numbered. It's more than a year and a half ago. And now, it looks like Assad has won.

BOLTON: Look, this is classic Obama. This is a man who lives in a world of words, who thinks his rhetoric really affects reality. It's a classic mark of the legislator who thinks that his principle responsibility is to give speeches. It's not the mark of a real president. I think it's that reliance on rhetoric to the exclusion of almost anything else that demonstrates the weakness. It's not coming out in Syria the way he wants it. But he is not doing anything meaningful to affect it.

So, he has got to make up his mind. He ought to match his actions to his words or he ought to remain silent. I think Putin, I think the Chinese leadership. I think rogue states like Iran and North Korea, watch this kind of performance in Syria, watch that collection of statements and say to themselves, "This is a man who is not going to deliver on what he says his policy is" and they, in turn, act accordingly and take advantage of us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, even going back six months ago when he spoke before the U.N. General Assembly, he said he has called for Assad to leave. I think to myself as I read the news today that Assad essentially has won and the rebels are in deep trouble. I think, you know, what was he thinking? They don't even care. What is Putin thinking? What is Assad thinking tonight?

BOLTON: Well, look, Assad knows that the issue in Syria will be decided on the battlefield. It will not be decided bus of Barack Obama's speeches. And Vladimir Putin knows that. Ukraine it will not be decided because Barack Obama calls him up on the telephone and complains that Russia is in violation of international law. The president doesn't seem to understand that between rhetoric and actual armed force, there is a universe of options that he could employ. Take the Ukraine where he says there is no military option. There may not be an option for actual hostilities, but strong capabilities of military deterrence could prevent Russia from going further in Ukraine or could deter them from acting against the Baltic derub biblical. This is part of leadership to match your capabilities and your action to your policy objectives. In all cases to try to achieve them peacefully. The president doesn't do that. He gives speeches and acts like he is done with it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, marry these two issues together. Assad winning in Syria, pretty much won, it's over, and you've got Putin making advancements in Ukraine and doing better there. Where are we six months from now? What do you predict if the president maintains his status quo policy?

BOLTON: Well, I think we have a break of American influence around the world. It is starting with the Middle East. I think the odds now are in Assad's favor. It's not over yet, but it will show that the president's principal policy which is to negotiate with the Russians over the future of Syria will fail. We have seen already it's on the verge of the Israel- Palestinian negotiations breaking down. The negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program have failed. The effort to negotiate with the Russians to keep Ukraine whole and independent are in the process of failing. And I think when all these collapse, the lessons that Russia and others around the world, China in particular, will draw, is that they have got two and a half to three years more of the Obama presidency to press whatever policies that they want that they think that they can get advantage from that the president simply will not resist.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ambassador, nice talking to you. Thank you, sir.

BOLTON: Thank you.