OTR Interviews

The disintegration of Obama's foreign policy: How could Yemen's fall take US officials by surprise?

White House's top counterterrorism official admits overthrow of Yemen's government by Shiite rebels caught US intelligence off guard. Amb. John Bolton responds

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 13, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now to another very dangerous spot tonight, Yemen. The White House chief of counter-terror admitting the overthrow of Yemen's government by Shiite rebels caught U.S. intelligence off guard. Nick Rasmussen making that horrifying admission to a Senate panel. Republican Senator Roy Blunt also noting at the same hearing that President Obama recently touted Yemen as a successful counter-terror partner.

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

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's rather disturbing if our intelligence branch is caught off guard for something so profoundly important as the fall of Yemen, which was our partner in fighting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

BOLTON: I think it's worse than an intelligence failure. Certainly, in a narrow sense, it was. It's been admitted by the administration. But it goes beyond that. Intelligence is only a piece of overall state craft and foreign policy. You don't have to be an intelligence analyst to have an opinion about what's happening in Yemen. And it's been clear for a year that the country has been disintegrating. You can sit and wait for a tactical disposition of where the al Houthi fighters are in any given day.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON: That isn't really going to tell you the big intelligence picture, which is the country is collapsing.

VAN SUSTEREN: If it was so obvious -- as you look back now, it seems quite obvious -- that makes it worse if the intelligence says they didn't see it coming if it's so obvious. That makes it even more disturbing.

BOLTON: It is. Because it's not simply an intelligence failure. Facts don't tell you what your policy ought to be. Facts don't tell you what the future is. That's the job of statesmen, to look out, not intelligence analysts. And the statesmen here were looking the wrong way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Actually, it almost looks like negligent.

BOLTON: That's exactly right.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: It's neglect. If you see a country disintegrating and all the signs are there and you sit there until it happens.

BOLTON: It's happened in other countries, too. How many times do we have to go through this? It's happened obviously in Syria and Iraq. It's happened in Libya. Now it happened in Yemen. It happened earlier in Somali. It's not like this is suddenly something we have never seen before. So I think it makes it more inexcusable. It goes to the point that if the White House, if the State Department, if the Pentagon, if all of the agencies of the U.S. national security apparatus are blind to what's happening, you have to ask yourself, why? They are not suppressing information from the intelligence community. They're suppressing reality, because their policy leaders are saying, "Yemen is a success."

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. We only have 30 seconds left. What do you make of ISIS in Libya?

BOLTON: Well, I think ISIS is spreading throughout the region. I think, in the competition with al Qaeda, it's winning. Whether it's in taking hostages in Libya or getting with Boko Haram, in Nigeria, and other things, it's getting worse. Nobody should blink that reality.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think ISIS is hooked up with Boko Haram?

BOLTON: I think they talk to each other. I think they are rivals in ideological sense. In a territorial sense, they are far apart from each other. But I would be surprised if they weren't talking.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ambassador, thank you, sir.

BOLTON: Thank you.