John Bolton: Either Support an Israeli Preemptive Strike or Accept the Reality of a Nuclear Iran

by Roger Alford

Speaking at a Federalist Society meeting yesterday at Notre Dame Law School, former Ambassador John Bolton addressed what the Obama Administration should do to curtail the threat of Iran. He offered not a single word of praise for the Obama Administration’s foreign policy and not a single word of criticism for the Bush Administration, such as its failure to prevent a nuclear North Korea. Bolton presented a grim picture of the future Middle East faced with a bellicose Iran and a feckless American President.

Bolton argued that the greatest threat to the world today is a nuclear Iran, whereas “President Obama seems to think that the greatest threat to the Middle East are a few Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” He offered no hope that sanctions would deter Iran, and declined to endorse lesser responses (such as another Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities) short of an armed attack.

He concluded that the United States had a stark choice: either support Israel’s decision to bomb Iran or accept the reality of a nuclear Iran. Bolton left no doubt as to his preference between these “two unattractive choices.” He predicted that Israel would engage in a preemptive strike against Iran by the end of the calendar year and that since the United States “will be blamed anyway,” we should stand strong behind Israel.

As for Iran’s likely response to such a preemptive attack, Bolton conceded that Iran would strike back on Israeli territory, either directly or indirectly through Hezbollah. But that risk, he predicted, would not deter Israel, nor should it alter our support for such an attack.

The risk of a nuclear Iran was not simply that it would arm terrorists, but that it would also lead inexorably to a regional nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking nuclear capacity in quick succession.

In response to questions as to the legitimacy of a preemptive strike, he cited historical examples of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osiraq facility in Iraq and the 2007 attack on the Al-Kibar facility in Syria as examples of legitimate exercises of preemptive self-defense. The idea that you had to be physically attacked to engage in self-defense was anachronistic in the modern age of weapons technology. When one of my students asked where you draw the line in asserting a claim of preemptive self-defense, Bolton said he was not interested in theoretical questions. “You must establish that you are actually engaging in self-defense,” Bolton reasoned, “it cannot be mere rhetoric.” But we need not demand an actual armed attack–the limiting language used in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter–to justify a defensive attack.

So there you have it. An unequivocal endorsement by the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN supporting a preemptive strike against Iran in the near term. Bolton never endorsed a U.S. attack on Iran, nor did he detail what he meant by American support for an attack. But he clearly stated that an attack against Iran would be in the U.S. national interest.

“President Obama thinks that American strength is provocative,” he concluded. “while I think American weakness is provocative.”

5 Responses

  1. Chickenhawks are a dime a dozen from the Bush Administration.  Especially Kiss Up Kick Down ones like this guy.  Screw him.  He is insane.  The nuclear Iran is on its way and an Israeli preemptive strike – one magic bullet – is hardly going to shut down the multisite and multilayered Iranian effort.  So if it is going to be the appropriate size let’s call it what it will have to be – a war.  No euphemism like “preemptive strike” – just call it war and that he is calling for war.  Now, I hope you can see why he is insane.  There is nothing hard about being grimfaced and calling for war in the United States.  We are seduced by those crazy uncles in the attic all the time.

  2. ==In response to questions as to the legitimacy of a preemptive strike, he cited historical examples of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osiraq facility in Iraq and the 2007 attack on the Al-Kibar facility in Syria as examples of legitimate exercises of preemptive self-defense.==
    From Wikipedia:
    In a 2003 speech, Richard Wilson, a professor of physics at Harvard University who visually inspected the partially damaged reactor in December 1982, said that “to collect enough plutonium [for a nuclear weapon] using Osirak would’ve taken decades, not years”. In 2005, Wilson further commented in The Atlantic:

    the Osirak reactor that was bombed by Israel in June of 1981 was explicitly designed by the French engineer Yves Girard to be unsuitable for making bombs. That was obvious to me on my 1982 visit.

    Elsewhere Wilson has stated that
    Many claim that the bombing of the Iraqi Osirak reactor delayed Iraq’s nuclear bomb program. But the Iraqi nuclear program before 1981 was peaceful, and the Osirak reactor was not only unsuited to making bombs but was under intensive safeguards.

  3. Response…
    Ben is, of course, correct on the law of self-defense.  UN 51 unavoidably requires an “armed attack.”

  4. The nuclear program in Iran is already too advanced and too widely dispersed not to become a reality.

    Ironically, had we not controlled Iraqi airspace for so many years, starting in the early nineties, things would have probably turned out differently.

  5. Liz,

    Can you clarify your comment about Iraqi airspace?   How would things have turned out differently if we did not control Iraqi airspace?


    Roger Alford

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