Whenever the American diplomat John Bolton Watching the news of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, he is filled with a sense of anxiety and remorse. “This is a terrible tragedy for the United States and its allies, and especially for the Afghans,” he says. And if the Taliban allow terrorist organizations to re.establish themselves in the country and continue to plan attacks against the West, as they probably will, the situation could be even worse. That is unbearable. “
Bolton has a unique perspective on Afghanistan: During the 9/11 attacks, he served as Deputy Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. He played a key role in planning the American invasion of Afghanistan and the political moves that accompanied its implementation.
Bolton was at a State Department meeting this morning when the first reports came in of a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. A few minutes later, all the participants in the meeting were shocked to learn that another plane had hit the Twin Towers. Not far away, Ron Proshour, then a political delegate at the Israeli embassy in Washington, also tried to obtain every bit of information about that morning’s events in order to pass it on to his government. “I remember watching the news at our embassy and saying to myself, ‘This is the end of the world as we know it,'” Proshour recalls.
Since then, Bolton and Proshour have crossed paths many times. After the United States declared war on global terrorism and launched prolonged military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel served as its closest ally in the Middle East. Both served as ambassadors to the United Nations, at various times. Bolton later served as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
Prior to his arrival at the UN Headquarters in New York, Proshaur served as Director General of the Foreign Office and as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and is currently chair of the Abba Even Institute for International Diplomacy at Reichman University.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the two experienced diplomats met virtually to analyze how the world, and the global status of the United States, has changed since that fateful day, especially in light of recent events in Afghanistan.
Proshor: “John, we planned to talk about the events of September 11, but in the face of developments in Afghanistan, we must start with the topicality: what will happen to the international status and image of the United States after the withdrawal from Kabul?”
Bolton: “The collapse in Afghanistan, as it is more accurate to call what happened there, is already doing significant damage to the credibility and credibility of the United States among our allies. In addition, our rivals are already looking for ways to exploit all the weaknesses that this retreat has revealed. In the near term, it will undoubtedly spur extremists to step up their efforts to push us out of Iraq and Syria. In the long run, it will cause our allies to doubt our determination and commitment to them, and may push them into our rival arms. I am very concerned about the harm to our national security.
“We arrived in Afghanistan 20 years ago with two clear strategic goals: to overthrow the Taliban regime and destroy al.Qaeda. We have remained there all these years to ensure that terrorism against the West cannot rise again. This retreat, which leaves billions of dollars worth of advanced American military equipment In the hands of terrorists, you will undo almost everything we have achieved in the last two decades. “
Proshor“Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush addressed Congress and told the world, ‘Either you are with us – or you are with the terrorists.‘ To describe countries that provide shelter to terrorists and seek to obtain weapons of mass destruction, here in Israel, and in my opinion in many other countries, they hoped it would be a turning point – that the world would finally understand that the regimes mentioned in that speech should be curbed. “What could the United States have done differently to change their behavior after 9/11, and do you think it was a missed opportunity?”
Bolton“I think we did miss an opportunity. See, we had to make a lot of decisions about the threats we faced immediately after the attacks. The top priority was to respond to al.Qaeda attacks, which brought us to Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime. But we had no doubt that One way or another, the combination of terrorism with the proliferation of unconventional weapons will continue to threaten the United States in the long run. The original members of the “axis of evil” – Iran, Iraq and North Korea – were the countries we feared most in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, although chemical and biological weapons also worried us. And despite what everyone said after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Saddam Hussein still had some 3,000 scientists and technicians with the knowledge and expertise to set up another nuclear program for him. He called them his ‘Nuclear Mujahideen’.
“On the other hand, even after more than 20 years of efforts to thwart it, North Korea now has nuclear weapons, although we can not say whether it can already launch them using ballistic missiles. And we know from the amazing raid by the Mossad in Tehran (in 2018) that “Iranians have everything they need in terms of expertise to produce nuclear weapons, if they have not already done so.“
Proshor: “Despite the fact that no one is saying this officially, especially after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is clear that the US has almost completed its disengagement from the Middle East, where it began its global war on terror following the 9/11 attacks. Recent governments have dealt mainly with Russia, China, cyber threats and other challenges. What do you think is the main threat to US security and world peace today, and where is terrorism in this ranking? “
Bolton: “The answer to this question concerns two levels of threat: the first – wide.ranging strategic threats, and the second – tactical threats, which pose a tangible and immediate danger, albeit on a smaller scale.
“At the strategic level, the main threats (to the US) still come from China and to a lesser extent from Russia. But the tactical threats of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism still exist. “It is quite clear that the withdrawal of the United States and its allies from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover will in all likelihood mean that we will soon see al.Qaeda, ISIS and terrorist organizations we do not yet know relocate there and renew their efforts to strike the West.“
Proshor: “Since we discussed Afghanistan earlier, I want to move on to the strategic level and ask you about China, which is now considered the US main rival in a number of arenas. Israel also finds itself increasingly trapped between Washington and Beijing. When I served in the American capital in the early 2000s, I remember you, along with a few other people, warning of the intensifying Chinese threat. In retrospect, do you think the West’s preoccupation with the war on terror in the first decade of this century has prevented it from properly preparing for China’s rise? “
Bolton“Well, as a global superpower, the United States must be able to deal with a variety of threats. If we can not go, chew gum and say the alphabet at the same time, we’re in trouble (laughs). I think the main reason we missed the growing threat from China was not a lack of attention, but that we believed – despite the accumulating evidence – that if we opened up to it, it would open up to us.
“The processes that began in the 1970s led us to adopt two optimistic theories: The first was that tightening economic ties with China would lead it to adopt international norms in order to enjoy the benefits of international trade. According to this line of thinking, China would eventually be very similar to Japan or Korea. Southern, or perhaps even France and Germany; the second optimistic theory assumed that China would become more democratic as its standard of living rose, and would soon begin to resemble the other ‘Asian tigers’ who led democratization in parallel with economic development.
“Both of these theories have failed. Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, and recent events in Hong Kong illustrate his position on democracy.“
Proshor: “It seems that the Biden administration is meanwhile advocating the same policy towards China as its predecessor. In fact, this is one of the few issues in American politics today that has the support of both parties. Do you agree?”
Bolton“I do not believe that Donald Trump ever had an orderly policy regarding China; what really motivated his relationship with Beijing all along was his desire to sign the ‘largest trade deal in history.‘ When people began to realize that the Chinese were not transparent or honest about the origin of the corona virus, Trump eventually got on the wave of change in public opinion, but that did not help him in the 2020 election. And saying, ‘Let’s talk about the trade deal again,’ Trump would have jumped on the bargain without hesitation.
“The Biden administration’s approach so far reflects the fact that American public opinion about China has changed dramatically. Can the president translate that feeling into effective policy? We’ll have to find out. Joe Biden and many of his men served eight years in the Obama administration, whose default approach was that everything “OK with China. It was a huge mistake. In the meantime, the new administration seems to be doing better than expected, but I do not want to draw conclusions at such an early stage.“
Proshor“Let’s address the second strategic threat you mentioned: Russia. In June, President Biden convened his European partners at the 7G summit so that he could present a stable Allied front in his meeting with President Vladimir Putin a few days later. Despite all the bad blood following the Trump era and cyber attacks The recent US attribution to Russia, it seems that Washington can not cut off relations with Moscow completely. Israel also has an interest here, as Russia plays a vital role in the nuclear deal with Iran – Moscow has signaled that it is willing to negotiate the absorption of used nuclear fuel rods from Iran. How do you think the new administration can build a positive relationship with the Kremlin, if at all? “
Bolton“I am very pessimistic about the prospects for cooperation with Russia, as Putin has done nothing to improve relations with us. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East – and in fact, all over the world. “Bottom line, although I believe it is worthwhile to find ways to cooperate with Moscow, it is very difficult to find such at this stage.“
Proshor: “If President Biden really joins the nuclear deal again, how can Israel work in cooperation with other elements in the region against Iran?”
Bolton“The Biden administration has an almost religious zeal to return to the superpowers ‘agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. In contrast, I and many others see it as a cry for generations, because it is impossible to simply go back to 2015. They say:’ The fact that the Iranians began to enrich 60% only after Trump Left the agreement – proves it worked. This is clearly not true: they only published it publicly after 2018, because they no longer had to hide anything. In fact, this line is beneficial to the Iranians, because now everyone knows they have the ability – and as I said First, it is impossible to go back.
“I expect that Baidan will return to the agreement soon and that Iran will benefit immensely from it. Such a move will strengthen not only its nuclear program, but also its support for terrorism and its traditional military activities through Quds Force (of the Revolutionary Guards) outside Iran. In the end, it will undermine more More the stability in the area.
“However, despite recent developments, I believe that more Arab and Muslim countries will soon recognize Israel. The fact that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are increasing economic cooperation with Israel will greatly benefit all parties involved, and from the perspective of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or even Qatar or Oman, The question is – why allow only your two neighbors to enjoy the fruits of these agreements? “
Proshor“I think the Iranian threat has led to the public disclosure of relations between Israel and Arab countries, which were once secret. As Iran gets closer to nuclear weapons, they understand the need to form a united front against Tehran, and the ‘Abraham agreements’ promoted by the Trump administration “But what can other Arab countries do to stop Iran, if they fear they will not get support from Washington?”
Bolton“This is definitely the moment when Israel can take advantage of the uncertainty regarding the United States to get even closer to Arab countries. In my opinion, they are not really interested in closer ties with Moscow or Beijing, which would make them their protégés – they would like better relations with Washington. But in the Iranian context, they know that Israel is determined and right to do the right thing, even if the United States is not ready. “I think that fact can change the picture.“
Proshor“The Gulf states certainly do not want to bind themselves to Chinese interests, and Washington certainly has an interest in giving them incentives to avoid it.“
Bolton“True. It is also important to remember that no matter what the Biden administration does, in Congress it is clear to everyone that we must continue to make sure that Israel can defend itself and that Iran can not threaten us. The Republican Party supports it almost unanimously, except for one or two exceptions. “There is a significant minority of Democrats – even if they are silent and a little threatened at the moment – who support this approach. It is important that everyone remembers that as well.“
Proshor“This leads us to my last question, which deals with American politics: Who do you think will be the Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election – and what are the chances that it will be Trump?”
Bolton: “It’s hard to say. Personally, I do not believe Trump will run in 2024, and I believe deep down he knows he lost in 2020. He has this narrative about the elections ‘stolen’ from him, but this card cannot be used twice. I think he Would like to be the ‘King of Kings’, but in 2024 there will be open competition in the Republican Party.
The full talk was published in the “Arena” magazine for diplomacy and foreign relations published by the Abba Even Institute for International Diplomacy at Reichman University