Former UN Ambassador John Bolton believes the security of the United States is at dire risk under the Obama administration. And before a gathering of conservatives in Washington on Thursday morning, he suggested, as something of a joke, that President Barack Obama might learn a needed lesson if Chicago were destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation's largest annual conference of conservative activists, Bolton, one of the hardest hardliners of the George W. Bush administration, spoke at length about Obama's naiveté and how various nations – Russia, North Korea, Iran – will be exploiting the new president. The most dramatic moment of his speech may have been when he cracked a joke about the nuking of Obama's hometown.
"The fact is on foreign policy I don't think President Obama thinks it's a priority," said Bolton. "He said during the campaign he thought Iran was a tiny threat. Tiny, tiny depending on how many nuclear weapons they are ultimately able to deliver on target. Its, uh, its tiny compared to the Soviet Union, but is the loss of one American city" – here Bolton changes his tone subtly to prepare for the joke – "pick one at random – Chicago – is that a tiny threat?"
Bolton wasn't the only one who thought this was funny. The room erupted in laughter and applause. Was this conservative catharsis, with rightwingers delightfully imagining the destruction of a city that represents Obama? Or perhaps they were venting vengeance with their laughter. (Bolton is no stranger to inflammatory remarks. He once infamously quipped, "There are 38 floors to the UN building in New York. If you lost 10 of them, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.")
At CPAC, the Right's most fevered beliefs about Obama live on, with speakers portraying him as a radical liberal who wants to compromise American values, hand hard-earned taxpayer dollars to the shifty poor, and, as Bolton repeatedly pointed out, weaken America's defense.
Bolton was introduced by Thomas Kilgannon, the head of Freedom Alliance, an organization founded by Oliver North. Kilgannon described the United Nations, an organization that Bolton despises, as a place "where anti-Americanism is outdone only by anti-Semitism" and "where American tax dollars are wasted [and] dictators are exalted."
Bolton received a standing ovation and got off to a fast start, declaring that "President Obama is the most radical president we have ever elected in this country." In Bolton's world, Obama's radicalism is matched only by his lack of backbone. The new president, he warned, simply doesn't have what it takes to go head to head with the world's baddest bad actors. And Obama's pusillanimous posture, Bolton predicted, will result in American becomes a "weaker and less safe nation."
One man that Bolton feels has plenty of backbone is the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who Bolton believes can sense Obama's weakness and is already finding ways to test it. In Bolton's view, the problem isn't merely that Obama isn't man enough to take on Putin; it's that Obama desires the United States to become a second-class nation. "The administration wants to return to an arms control relation with Russia that will put us in a greatly weakened position," Bolton maintained.
Russia isn't the only threat that Obama will fail to confront, Bolton said. North Korea, he claimed, is testing a missile that can hit Alaska and "possibly" Hawaii. With "further development," he added, that missile could someday be used to attack the continental United States. And North Korea is small potatoes compared to Iran. "We have lost the race with Iran on the nuclear front," said Bolton. "They now have complete mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle. And while in the long-term, the preferred outcome would be to change the regime in Tehran and get rid of the Islamic revolution of 1979, we don't have time to do that before they get nuclear weapons capability." Bolton expressed disappointment that the Bush administration did not use force against Iran. Judging from the enthusiastic crowd reaction, there are plenty of conservatives who think that Bush's foreign policy failing was not preemptively attacking enough Middle Eastern countries.
Bolton concluded by saying, "I think it's clear that our national security is at risk in this administration." He received a standing ovation. In a brief Q&A session, he was asked if the American people will "revolt" because of Obama's policies. This question about armed revolution was curious, given President Obama's popularity rating is above 60 percent.
The speaker who proceeded Bolton, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, highlighted the conflict that runs throughout CPAC. Ryan's proposals for domestic policy were exactly what one would expect. Supply side theories, good! Government spending, bad! Tax cuts, good! European-style economics, bad! He ended by saying, "With CPAC's leadership, we can revitalize this movement." And that's the problem. This year's CPAC is supposed to begin conservatism's comeback. But can rebirth be achieved when the ideas being spouted by Bolton, Ryan, and others are the same as the ones pushed for the last eight years? But at least this much can be said about Bolton: even as he fades into obscurity, he's not going soft.