Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton gave Israel some good advice yesterday when he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that it ought not to be obsessing about the Palestinians’ attempt to get the UN General Assembly to vote to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Bolton, who says he is considering entering the Republican presidential race later this year, advised the Israelis to ignore the General Assembly’s vote, because only the Security Council has any power to create such a state.
This flies in the face of much of the advice the Israelis have been getting, especially from an Obama administration that would prefer not to have to veto the Palestinian initiative in the Security Council. But Bolton, who said Barack Obama was “the most anti-Israel president in the history of the state,” could make this problem go away with the same ease the first president Bush defused a threat to allow the PLO membership to the world body in 1989: simply threaten to defund the UN. Bolton said all the effort expended on the Palestinians distract both Washington and Jerusalem from the real threat: Iran.
Bolton was blunt in his assessment that neither diplomacy nor sanctions would deter Iran from proceeding toward its goal of a nuclear weapon. Because the Obama administration, which has wasted the last two and a half years trying engagement and weak sanctions, won’t strike Iran, Bolton asserted that Israel would have to do so. The alternative would be learning to live with a nuclear Iran, something Obama foolishly appears to believe could be dealt with via containment. But, Bolton told the Post, “If you think Iran’s behavior is bad now, imagine what it will be if it gets nuclear capability. I think we are all sleepwalking past this.”
The problem for Israel with this advice is that striking Iran now would provoke an even worse confrontation with Obama than the fights the president has picked with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Bolton said the Israelis’ mistake was in not hitting the Iranians in 2008 when their nuclear program was less advanced and when “you had a president sympathetic to Israel.” But Bolton is forgetting it was George W. Bush, the much friendlier U.S. president to which he referred, who turned down an Israeli request for a green light for an attack on Iran at that time. While in 2008 Israel was loathe to cross a good friend like Bush, today Israelis are understandably worried about the consequences of an argument with an antagonist such as Obama.
If Bolton does run, the object simply would be to have someone at the GOP debates who could discuss foreign policy with some authority. The former ambassador has no chance of actually being the nominee. Perhaps such a run should be considered an audition for the job as secretary of state in the next Republican administration. They could do a lot worse than the tough-talking but spot on Bolton when it comes to appointing a foreign policy guru. Unfortunately, they probably will.