Iran in Chaos: Has Obama Taken a Strong Enough Stand?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SHANNON BREAM, FOX NEWS GUEST HOST: There is blood on the streets in Iran, violent, deadly clashes exploding between police and anti-government protesters. Information coming out of Iran is scarce. Media access, as you know, is strictly controlled. But YouTube videos show new demonstrations turning bloody and vicious. People are being killed. Many others are being arrested. And the government is cracking down. But is the Iranian regime really losing control? What should President Obama be doing?

Joining us now is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Ambassador, thanks for coming in tonight.


BREAM: After the elections, we saw a lot of opposition in the streets. It went on for quite a lengthy period of time, a lot of people arrested, some deaths there. It seemed to die out, but it's back. What's behind that?

BOLTON: Well, I think the opposition has grown in -- both in scope and the intensity of feelings. This regime remains extremely unpopular. These demonstrations show it. I think, if anything, in the past day or so, the demonstrators themselves are being more aggressive. The problem is that the determination of the regime has not wavered in the slightest, and they're the ones with the guns. They're brutal. They're fully prepared to use force. They have, deadly force. So I think this is likely to continue to escalate, but I wouldn't read from this that the government is in danger of falling.

BREAM: So how does this play out? Because we know that officials there have admitted to at least five deaths. Protesters are saying more. They're sending out videos. They want the world to see what's going on there. And of course, with social networking, we have advantages we didn't have in the past to get a bird's-eye view. But how does this play out?

BOLTON: Well, I think what's happened over the past couple of years is that power has flowed away from the ayatollahs, from the religious leaders of the revolution toward the military, toward the Revolutionary Guard and its militia allies. So what that means is even though people associated with the Ayatollah Khameini himself have come out against Ahmadinejad's actions, his supporters in the military really now have the upper hand. And until you see splits in the Revolutionary Guard commanders, I think it's very unlikely the unarmed demonstrators are going to prevail.

BREAM: I mean, Ahmadinejad has everything to lose here. I mean, can there be any conciliation, any kind of compromise? I mean, can he afford to give anything?

BOLTON: Well, I'm sure that some of the religious leaders are trying to find a way out of this. This is obviously detrimental to the regime and to its sources of legitimacy. But that's why I say I would not underestimate the will to stay in power of Ahmadinejad. Just because there are people in the streets doesn't mean that they're in any way intimidated by it. I think if what we've seen is borne out in the next several days, they'll simply increase the use of deadly force until they suppress the demonstrations countrywide.

BREAM: OK, so what kind of reaction should we be seeing now from our administration? We know they were very careful in responding to what happened immediately after the elections and certainly not wanting it to be seen that the U.S. was in any way fueling or directly supporting the opposition. What should our administration do now in walking (ph) this delicate dance?

BOLTON: Well, I think our objective should be the overthrow of the regime. And I don't mean just Ahmadinejad, I mean the entire Islamic revolution of 1979. The notion that we can calibrate our remarks to indicate support for the demonstrators but not give the regime a chance to criticize us or them I think is just misguided. Even right after the June elections, the -- the regime said that the British and Americans were responsible for the chaos in the streets. In other words, it doesn't matter what we say. They're going to blame us anyway.

But I would say that mere rhetorical support for the demonstrators, for the opposition is not enough. I don't think we want to be in a position of saying, You go into the streets, we're with you to the last drop of your blood. If we're going to support them, we should support them tangibly, with financial support, communications, perhaps other support, as well. I don't see any chance, however, that the Obama administration is prepared to do that.

BREAM: OK, with this flaring again, with the admission of at least five deaths, does it quash the demonstration at this point or does it refuel it?

BOLTON: Well, I think the best you can tell from the limited information we have is these demonstrations are going to grow and escalate. So my prediction, unfortunately, is there's going to be more violence. And the real issue is will the Revolutionary Guard fragment? Will some of the guns go to the side of the demonstrators? If they do, there's a chance the regime could fall. If they don't, I think the disparity in power between the government and the opposition is simple too great, and so the most likely outcome is Ahmadinejad and the regime stay in power.

BREAM: All right, one of the dead, we've heard, is the nephew of the opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Does he resurface at this point and take a more vocal role?

BOLTON: Well, they've also today, according to reports, arrested some of Mousavi's top advisers, top political advisers. So I think the direction the government is moving in is ultimately to arrest Mousavi and charge him with treason or subversion and they're kind of building up to it. That obviously would be a huge step by the government, one they've been reluctant to take. But members of -- supporting the government in parliament are now calling for that, so I don't put it beyond the realm of the feasible.

BREAM: Ambassador, always great to have your insight. Thank you so much.

BOLTON: Thank you.

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