Espreso. Global

Chances that Biden administration will agree with Macron's statements are zero — Ambassador Bolton

3 March, 2024 Sunday

In an interview with Espreso, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor to the 45th President of the US, Donald Trump, expressed his views that, in the lead-up to the US presidential election, Joe Biden does not endorse French leader Emmanuel Macron's proposal to deploy Western troops in Ukraine. Additionally, Bolton assessed Donald Trump's likelihood of returning to the presidency and explained why he believes Trump is currently unsuitable for the position

Ambassador, my first question would be kind of introductory. Why is Ukraine important for the United States of America if at all it is important?

Well, I think it's very important. It's been a core American National interest since 1945 to have peace and stability in Europe. We've gotten through the Cold War and really have excellent prospects for that. But for Russia's desire to recreate the Russian Empire, and even though Ukraine isn't a NATO member, the security of Ukraine is vital to the rest of the continent of Europe and therefore the United States. You know, George W. Bush proposed bringing Ukraine into NATO in April of 2008 at the Bucharest NATO Summit, and frankly, if our French and German friends had agreed to it at the time, we might not have faced the 2014 invasion or the 2022 invasion.

Okay, let's look a little bit about French president Emmanuel Macron's recent statement that we should not rule out that at some point in history, Western troops may be located in Ukraine. President Joe Biden's Administration has already responded to this, and John Kirby, strategic communication coordinator for the White House Security Council said that the only American troops that are stationed in Ukraine right now are those who work for the American Embassy and there will be no other American troops in Ukraine. But over the past few days, there have been different opinions from different Western leaders about this. Some say that there is no way that Western troops will be in Ukraine because it would mean further escalation. But some of them, for example, Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, said that we should not rule out this possibility. What is your opinion on this, given that you are one of the best in the world in security and foreign policies? What would you advise to the President of the United States of America about this if you were his advisor?

Well, it's not all that often I agree with President Macron, but I'm happy to say I would have this time. I must say, though, we're in the middle of a presidential election campaign, and I think the chances of the Biden Administration saying that they agree with Macron are zero. Look, this goes to a fundamental point about the overall U.S. and Western reaction to the Russian invasion two years ago. We failed obviously to deter the Russians from attacking. In fact, I would argue we didn't even try very hard. One way that we might have acted, in addition to several other things we could have done, was to have put more troops into Ukraine, particularly American troops, not to fight the Russians before the invasion, but for more training purposes and just let the Russians worry about what the increased American or increased NATO presence would have meant. As I say, we needed other things, more economic sanctions, more rapid shipment of arms, but the failure to deter the Russians has been mirrored during the two years of conflict by this constant fear of what the White House calls a wider war. It has inhibited the strategic supply of weapons to allow Ukraine to fight the war most effectively and resulted, I think, largely in the present gridlock that we have. So it's been very disappointing to see the White House performance, and I think this hesitation for fear of provoking the Russians gives the Russians what they want for free.

Thank you. And what do you think about the bilateral security agreements that Ukraine is signing with different European and world countries? Do you think that it would be possible or even better to have such an agreement with the United States of America?

It's an inadequate substitute for NATO membership. But until we accomplish what every NATO member says is our objective, which is the full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. NATO practices, we don't admit members that are being occupied by a hostile power because it puts us all immediately in a state of war. Step one here should be to win the current war, and then the next step should be bringing Ukraine into the NATO alliance. We see today that the threat is from Russia's multiplying the Transnistrian Republic. I'm sure at the instance of Moscow has requested some form of protection from the Russians, and if it results in more Russian troops going into Transnistria, that would be a very bad development. We're in a precarious situation here. We need a strategy going forward when right now we don't have one.

Ambassador, there are some world leaders and even European leaders who are still cautious to help Ukraine, to give Ukraine everything we need to fight the Russian aggressor. Is the West really afraid of an asymmetrical response, a possible asymmetrical response of Putin, and that's why they are cautious?

If the Russians want to try and take on NATO members directly in cyberspace or elsewhere, they're taking a huge risk, and they need to know that. The fact is that all of this concern about a wider war assumes Russia has the capability to wage a wider war, and given its failures in Ukraine, I think that's very much in doubt. Even when it comes to nuclear saber-rattling for the past two years, we have never seen evidence of a redeployment of Russian nuclear forces that would threaten Ukraine or the rest of Europe. So I don't think there's much in reserve for the Kremlin. I think their failures militarily in Ukraine have caused them enormous difficulty, and yet the deterrence effect they have had on us, all of us really, has been to Ukraine's detriment, unfortunately.

About three weeks ago, Bloomberg reported, citing its own sources, and I will quote right now, "Donald Trump is considering pushing Ukraine to negotiate to end the war with Russia if he returns to power next year." This is the end of the quote. One of the Trump advisers told the agency that the threat of cutting military aid could push Ukraine to negotiate, while increasing it will only risk provoking Russia. Can we say that Trump has already started doing this in the Congress?

There is disarray in the effort to get the latest installment of aid through Congress. I do think they're going to find a way. The question of the overall budget for this fiscal year has been a problem. I think the past to a solution to that is now visible, and I do think there's substantial majority support in both houses to get this package done. It's hung up by unrelated issues like the Biden administration's failure to have an effective policy on the Mexican border against illegal immigrants. But I do worry about Trump, however, as president, number one, withdrawing the United States from NATO, and number two, he has also said during the campaign he would put Zelensky and Putin in a room together and solve the problem in 24 hours. Now, as Zelensky has said, that's ridiculous. But what I would worry about would be if they tried this and it failed, which it will. Trump won't blame himself, obviously. It wasn't his fault, had to be one of the other two people in the room, and I would worry he would blame Zelensky and not his friend Putin. So a Trump presidency, I think, would be dangerous for the United States and dangerous for Ukraine, too.

Since you already started talking about Trump, I will ask a question about him. What are the chances that he will win the victory in the elections this fall?

Unfortunately, he is in a very good position to win right now. Biden is perceived as too old to be president. He's not going to get any younger between now and November, and the Democrats don't seem to realize it. The ultimate decision, I think, will be made by a large group of American voters who don't like either one, and the question will be in November, which one do they dislike more, and that would mean the other person would win. Now, that's not the best way to elect a president. But I think that's the prospect we have, and it's impossible at the present time to predict who will be the more unpopular in November.

Can the courts prevent Trump from becoming president of the United States of America?

No, as strange as it may seem, even somebody who's a convicted felon could be elected president. It's not clear at the moment if any of the four criminal indictments will go to trial before November. And even if there is a jury verdict against Trump, he would appeal that. I think it would be a significant factor for many Americans who don't want to elect a convicted felon to be president. But even that's hard to tell. Trump's support went up when he was indicted four times.

And he became even richer as far as I know after that. Putin a few weeks ago said, actually, it was a week ago, maybe, said that Russia would be better off if Joe Biden becomes the new president of the United States of America than Donald Trump. Yet, to your mind, which president of the United States actually would be better for Putin?

Well, I think Putin, a former KGB agent that he is, was engaged in an influence operation against American voters to say he favored Biden might cause some people to support Trump. But I have been in the room with Putin and Trump on a number of occasions. I've had a number of meetings with Putin without Trump being there. And I can tell you, I think whether it's Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, America's adversaries are looking forward to a Donald Trump presidency because they think he's an easy mark. And that's one reason why I don't think Trump is fit to be president.

It's an easy mark for the Western leaders, for world leaders. But what is the phenomenon, I would call it so, of Trump's popularity among Americans, among Republicans namely? Why do some of them seriously consider him to be even the god-given president?

It's hard to understand in some respects. But I think it reflects the view of many people who are very alienated by the system. They feel that the Democrats look down on them. Remember, in 2016, Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters the deplorables, and they don't think they are deplorable. They don't like the way they're treated by the educated elites, and they're expressing frustration and dissatisfaction by supporting Trump. And I understand and in fact, in many respects, sympathize with their feelings. But Trump is the wrong vehicle to express those feelings.

I hope that Americans, I mean, Republican Americans will find the right vehicle for them. I really hope so.

We're working on it. We're working on it.

Are there any candidates?

Well, at the moment, no, I mean, I think realistically, Trump is very likely to get the Republican nomination. I don't see who can stop him at this point. But it's still a long way until the convention in July, and it's been a very strange period in American history. A lot could still happen.

How realistic is the threat? I do understand this threat from Trump for not even the United States of America but also for the whole world. But does the American law system have some kind of restraint for the president, in case Trump becomes the new president of the United States?

The law should apply to every citizen of the United States. Trump has claimed immunity, and now a couple of the criminal cases have been brought against him. The Supreme Court has decided they will hear and adjudicate that issue. I think they will rule against him. So there are constraints, but he perceives things through the prism of what benefits Donald Trump, and laws and regulations that bind most people with common sense who are responsible citizens don't really trouble Trump. It's one reason I think why his second term will cause such chaos and confusion.

What benefits him? Can the Congress, for example, restrain him from doing this?

Well, they passed a law that tries to prevent him from withdrawing from NATO without congressional approval. I think that's unconstitutional. The president has the constitutional authority to withdraw from treaties, even very good treaties. And, ultimately, there's no paper document in the world that can restrain somebody who doesn't feel any restraints. It's going to be a test of the American Constitution and our institutions if Trump is reelected. I think we will prevail. I don't think he will be able to do whatever he wants to do, but he will test the limits. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

So just in case he would decide not to help Ukraine, by not giving money to Ukraine, nobody and nothing in the United States of America would push him to do otherwise?

Well, they could try to impeach him again. Remember, the first impeachment was over this question of whether he had tried to bribe Zelensky by withholding military assistance unless he received help on finding Hillary Clinton's computer server and other things like that. So, there could be intense political struggle over many of the things Trump wants to do, and it could rise to the level of constitutional crisis, which is one reason nobody should be looking forward to a second Trump term.

And my last question to you, Ambassador, what are, to your mind, the main challenges the world is faced within 2024 and is the world really prepared for them?

The war in Ukraine remains at the top of the list, the war in the Middle East is another very troubling situation, and I think the threat of what China may do somewhere along its Indo-Pacific periphery while the US and others are preoccupied in Europe and the Middle East remains a very grave concern as well. It's a dangerous world, and I worry that a weak, inward-looking America will only make the world a more dangerous place.

Thank you very much, Ambassador. Thank you for joining me today and thanks for answering my questions.

Thanks for having me.

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