OTR Interviews

Bolton: Pres. Obama missed a huge opportunity in UN speech, mentioned ISIS in 'cursory fashion'

Amb. John Bolton on the hits and misses of president's speech before the UN General Assembly

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 24, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: President Obama at the U.N. today vowing to defeat what he called a "network of death." But some critics say parts of his speech seemed muddled and confusing.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton joins us. Good evening, sir.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. & FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not exactly sure what these speeches are about anyway. We have them every year to great pageantry. What did you think of the president's speech today?

BOLTON: I thought it was a huge missed opportunity. It was a, by and large, very abstract speech, talking about understanding and negotiation and people maturing above religious prejudice, things like that, all of which will happen in about a thousand years.

(LAUGHTER)

And he dealt with the ISIS threat in a cursory fashion, halfway through the speech, and said absolutely nothing new. Now, everybody is saying how he called on the world to come together to fight ISIS. But there was nothing new. There was no news in that speech about ISIS. And I think it was a blown opportunity. With everybody there watching, the world's attention, he could have gone a lot further and explained what we were doing and why, and built up the coalition that he did have something to say about.

So, I think it was more of an indication of how the president will act over the next two years in national security, thick on multilateralism and rhetoric, very thin on substance.

VAN SUSTEREN: I am about to say something that I think you will agree, because you I have listened to you a lot. The thing that I thought he was particularly thin on is Iran and nuclear weapons ambition. Because while we are obviously obsessed with ISIS, and should be, I mean, there is a lot going on there. Iran keeps moving forward with this nuclear weapons program. Israel is obviously very concerned about it, and the whole world should be.

BOLTON: I think President Obama is still chasing after President Rouhani and I think he's incredibly jealous this evening having seen the picture of British Prime Minister Cameron meeting with Rouhani today. I think the president has not given up on the possibility of a meeting here. Remember last year the embarrassing spectacle of Rouhani in a car to JFK Airport to fly back to Iran, our president desperately calling him on his cell phone so they could have a conversation.

I think the president is obsessed with the idea he can negotiate a satisfy resolution to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. They are now proposing else of a deal that would essentially leave Iran's program unimpeded because the president is so desperate to say "I solved this problem by negotiation." I'm very worried about that. I don't think he would do a thing in a speech like this that might in any way impair the possibility of that negotiated deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't see how Israel let's that happen, the nuclear weapon program in Iran. I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very plain about this, that this is the game changer in the whole Middle East if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. I mean, it completely -- they are already threatened.

BOLTON: I would think so, too. I think Israel should have struck Iran's nuclear weapons program five years ago, frankly. Because every day that goes by means more of the program is hidden, more of the program might be in North Korea. It gets more and more difficult for the Israelis, or perhaps even for us to use a preemptive military strike. But I think Netanyahu is under enormous pressure, explicit and implicit, by the Obama administration. And for whatever reason they haven't struck, I think the moment may be slipping away.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let's talk about the whole idea of these speeches. I love watching them. I know all these presidents speak. But what really is gained by this? I'm not saying we should stop it but what's the point of all of this?

BOLTON: Well, New York's economy benefits. That's one concrete accomplishment. Really, this opening of the General Assembly, there is a lot of pageantry. There's some substantive speeches. The real work occurs in private meetings all over New York among presidents and prime ministers, foreign ministers and the like. It's an incredibly efficient way to do a lot of business with everybody gathered together in one city. And not much is made of that in public. I don't think that's a reason to jam up traffic in New York for a week. But that's really what happens. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations. I would have thought that the president would have taken advantage of that, too, to make some more announcements but so far he hasn't.

VAN SUSTEREN: Behind the scenes, so what are we getting behind the scenes? I have seen the public speech. You know, what are we getting out of this behind the scenes?

BOLTON: Well, it's not clear because we have been spending our time on climate change as a threat to national security. Tomorrow, we are going to talk about the Ebola virus as a threat to national security. And the real threats to national security, like the Iranian nuclear weapons program, have kind of slid by. It's -- I just think overall we will see this week as the beginning of the president in his last two years implementing his belief that the United States is safer in the world with a strong United Nations, strong multilateral institutions, and less reliant on an assertive national defense.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, I think a lot of these topics are important. I happen to think Ebola is really important.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON: That's true, but is it a threat to national security? That's --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Actually the first Ebola patient -- first Ebola person who gets on a U.S. Air or United flight into LaGuardia it begins to become more of a problem. The thing is, I think we are pretty capable. We could probably handle all of it. But I'm trying to figure out what are we actually getting done about Ebola or getting done about other aspects of national security. I just see it as sort of an interesting discussion as we watch these presidents. But I'm not sure it really advances any purpose.

BOLTON: Greta, you sound so cynical. You sound as though the only thing that happens at the United Nations is talking. How would you ever say such a thing?

(LAUGHTER)