Richard Grennell: ‘John Bolton Was Right’ On Iran

Richard Grennell, the Bush administration’s UN spokesperson, writes a love-struck op-ed claiming that his old boss John Bolton was right all along when he said negotiating with the Iranians was pointless:

Someone needs to say it now. John Bolton was right. When the Obama Administration proclaimed victory on October 1st by announcing that a break-through had been reached in Geneva and that Iran had committed to shipping 2,600 pounds of fuel to Russia, expert Iran watchers were appropriately cynical… Bolton, however, was the first to stand up and call the Iranian pronouncement a sham — and he did it within hours of the announcement.

This misses the point entirely and demonstrates a totally one-dimensional view of diplomacy that was endemic during the Bush administration. During the Bush years, figures like Bolton blustered endlessly about Iran, but despite all of this empty rhetoric, nothing came of it. Iran accelerated its nuclear program, leaving the Obama administration to deal with an Iran well on their nuclear way.

Furthermore, the Bush administration’s refusal to engage Iran prevented an international consensus from emerging. Our European allies, Russia and China weren’t willing to support stronger action against Iran as long as we refused to even try diplomacy. And the threats of war from figures like Bolton only served to make the United States look like a hyper-aggressive belligerent power, further undercutting any hopes of gaining a tough international consensus. In the end, Bush left office with a divided international community and with Iran closer to developing nuclear weapons.


The point of Obama’s decision to engage Iran was to put the onus on the Iranians and force them to decide whether they are with the international community or against it. Our willingness to engage in serious talks, and Iran’s willingness to reject them, has made Iran the bad guy and given us the credibility to establish a more robust international response.

Far from being wild-eyed optimists about talks, the Obama administration and progressive foreign policy experts thought it quite likely that Iran would reject talks. Sure, the best case scenario was that Iran would decide it was in their self interest to abandon the prospects of developing nuclear weapons in exchange for improved ties with the west, but this was always the best case scenario. So while Obama has been engaging Iran, he has also been working to significantly strengthen the international community’s stance on sanctions should the Iranians walk away. The US and Europe, which were frequently at odds during the Bush administration, are now largely in sync. This is crucial since any effective sanctions policy requires the Europeans, which have a lot more economic leverage over Iran than we do. Additionally, the improved relationship with Russia has increased the prospects that Russia will support tougher sanctions on Iran.

There is still a lot of uncertainty as to what will happen. But by engaging Iran diplomatically, the Obama administration has laid the groundwork for a much more robust international response to Iranian intransigence than would have ever been possible during the Bush years.