‘The Diplomat’?

This story in today’s Times, reporting the State Department’s announcement that a “team of American experts had arrived at North Korea’s sole functioning nuclear reactor and begun the work of disabling the facilities,” reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write about John Bolton’s recent destructive tactics with regard to North Korea and Iran. Bear with me.

If you haven’t been following the Syrian-North Korea story, on September 6 the Israeli Air Force attacked a site inside the borders of Syria that “Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons.” According to the same Times article:

Many details remain unclear, most notably how much progress the Syrians had made in construction before the Israelis struck, the role of any assistance provided by North Korea, and whether the Syrians could make a plausible case that the reactor was intended to produce electricity. In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack.

But “[t]he Bush administration was divided at the time about the wisdom of Israel’s strike, American officials said, and some senior policy makers still regard the attack as premature.” The facility was much farther from completion than the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq that Israel hit in 1981.

There has been subsequent debate (well-documented by ArmsControlWonk) about whether the reactor, if it was a reactor at all, was actually based on a North Korean design and, if so, how recently the Syrians received North Korean assistance. This is clearly an important debate, as it has severe consequences for the U.S. nuclear agreement with Pyongyang.

On October 27, the Times reported on a September 2003 photo that showed the Syrian site to be “well under way” and notes that “[a] senior American intelligence official said yesterday that American analysts had looked carefully at the site from its early days.” If you’ll recall, in 2003, John Bolton’s “testimony on Capitol Hill was delayed after a dispute erupted in part over whether Syria was actively pursuing a nuclear weapon” and that was because “[s]ome intelligence officials said Mr. Bolton overstated the Syrian threat.”

Given Bolton’s certainty in 2003, when he was serving as Under Secretary for Arms Control, that the Syrians had a nuclear weapons program, that “American analysts” had then noted the partially constructed site that Israel would later bomb, and the logical assumption that Israel chose the most advanced site to destroy, it is extraordinarily unlikely that Bolton didn’t know about the site in 2003. And, it is also unlikely, given his role in the subsequent seven years as Under Secretary for Arms Control until 2005 and then UN Ambassador, that he wasn’t aware of what Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-proliferation expert at the New America Foundation, said was surprisingly little progress that had been made at the site since 2003.

In other words, it’s very likely, even if the North Koreans assisted in creating what may be a nuclear reactor in Syria prior to 2003, that the assistance ended then and should have no bearing on our current efforts in North Korea. It’s also extremely likely that Bolton knows all of this.

Therefore it’s unconscionable that he is currently lobbying against the Administration’s agreement with North Korea to end its nuclear program by using the recent public revelation of (and subsequent confusion over) the Syrian site as ideological fodder.

The facts have not changed since 2003. Neither has new proof of North Korean involvement come to light. He’s acting as an ideological opportunist.

This makes the fact that Sunday’s Q&A with Bolton is titled “The Diplomat” (without the quotation marks) all the more absurd. Of course it doesn’t stop there. In the interview “The Diplomat” says:

I think diplomatic approaches are not going to stop Iran from continuing to perfect its nuclear-weapons programs. Our options are very limited and not all that attractive, one being regime change in Tehran, the other being the use of force.


I don’t think the world has a correct temperature. It goes up and it goes down. But even if there is global warming, the notion that you are going to reduce carbon emissions enough to have an impact on it is just — serious people don’t believe that’s true.

In fact, I believe it’s that serious people don’t believe that our diplomatic work with Iran has reached the end of the road. This post has run on far too long, but listening to this interview with Barbara Slavin or watching this Frontline piece (both of which are excellent) should convince you that we have quite a bit of room to maneuver diplomatically with Iran. Even if it doesn’t, what is the other option? Serious people also believe that attacking Iran or North Korea right now is not an option. Neither is it sane considering the clear progress in North Korea.