It was evident from the first few minutes of John R. Bolton‘s speech to a conservative summit in the District on Thursday that, as harshly as he criticized former President George W. Bush, that was nothing compared with how he will treat President Obama.
“President Obama is the most radical president we have ever elected in this country. That’s the bad news,” said the heavily mustached Mr. Bolton, speaking inside the cavernous Omni Shoreham ballroom to a packed house.
“Here’s the good news: if we get our act together, he is a one-termer,” Mr. Bolton said.
The large crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference cheered lustily, and then something unusual happened. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who usually gives off the air of a reserved, impatient, slightly angry professor waved his arms to the crowd, encouraging them to cheer louder.
“I bet they could hear that down the street,” he said after the applause had died down.
Mr. Bolton was serving the red meat to a receptive crowd, as CPAC organizers expect their largest turnout ever - nearly 9,000 activists and college students - for the annual Washington meeting that is part ideological rally, part networking opportunity and part party. The conference began Thursday and runs through Saturday.
The 60-year-old Mr. Bolton - who grew increasingly critical of Mr. Bush during his second term as the president took a softer line toward Iran and North Korea - didn’t entirely leave behind his Bush-bashing ways.
“We are better off in many ways not having the Bush administration to try and defend,” he said. “Too many people identified the Bush administration with conservatism and we know that was not accurate.”
But his heaviest firepower was directed at the current president, who he said is naive and unprepared for the host of foreign policy problems he’s facing, and has a basic philosophy of governance that “is going to leave us a weaker and less-safe nation.”
“It’s clear that our national security is at risk in this administration,” Mr. Bolton said.
On Iran, he ridiculed what he called a naive “faith in negotiations.”
“The net ‘net’ of six years of negotiations is that Iran is six years closer to a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Unfortunately this is another legacy of the Bush administration.”
He mocked Mr. Obama’s characterization during the campaign of Iran as a “tiny” country that does not “pose a serious threat” to the U.S.
“Is the loss of one American city - pick one: Chicago - is that a tiny threat?” Mr. Bolton said to cheers and laughter as he referred to the president’s hometown.
Mr. Bolton, who was Mr. Bush’s point man at the State Department on the issue of nonproliferation early in the Bush presidency, also warned that Israel is likely to take military action against Iran within the next year to strike at Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
“I had once believed the Bush administration was prepared to use force,” he said. “You can count on this administration not to use force. So the question now is what the state of Israel will do, faced with an existential threat?
“For those who felt the Obama administration would be friendly to Israel, it’s wake-up time, sadly. But Israel will make a decision, one way or another, and if it does decide to engage in military action, that will be a crisis for the Obama administration.”
Mr. Bolton said that the Obama administration has responded weakly to Russian belligerence, and he knocked what he said was a desire to pursue arms control policies.
“The administration wants to return to an arms control relationship with Russia that will put us militarily in a very weak position,” he said. “It will put friends and allies of ours around the world at very great risk as well.”
He also criticized Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her comments on human rights in China, and said that a request from the Dalai Lama for a meeting next month with Mr. Obama at the White House “will tell us a lot about backbone in the White House going forward.”
The White House declined to comment on Mr. Bolton’s remarks.