CPAC: Bolton, McCain and The White House

by John Gizzi

 

Posted 02/11/2008 ET
Updated 02/11/2008 ET

 

Bolton To CPAC: “Back MCain”

 

John McCain’s presidential bid got a big boost among conservatives on Friday from one of their most-admired heroes in the Bush Administration: John Bolton, whose spirited salvos on international terror and the United Nations helped keep him from a confirmation vote in the Senate.

 

Recalling how he attended his first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 1975 — the same year McCain attended — Bolton left no doubts that he was for the near-certain Republican nominee for President.

 

Bolton recalled as one of his proudest moments as an assistant secretary of state for international organizations was removing the name of the U.S. as a participant in the International Criminal Court. “And I can’t believe Senator McCain will support the ICC {as president],” declared Bolton.

 

He also recalled the infighting by Senate liberals against getting a vote by the full Senate on his nomination as ambassador. Although he didn’t know McCain well, Bolton told a hushed crowd, the Arizona senator worked hard for him behind for a Senate vote–in part because “he felt I was being treated unfairly. That’s a reflection of his character.”

 

Bolton likened claims by some conservatives that “we would be better off with a Democratic win and a period in opposition” to Lenin’s axiom that “worse is better” because it will be “better for Communism in the long run.”

 

“I don’t think American conservatives should embrace that doctrine, especially at a time of war,” declared Bolton as the crowd stood and cheered.

 

Noting that there is “another year of the Bush Administration,” Bolton then went on to tick off areas in which he has broken with the Administration he served in two major national security capacities: ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty (Bush wants it ratified, Bolton is part of the movement opposing it); a hard-line on Iraq (“John McCain’s policy on Iran is stronger than George W. Bush’s”); and North Korea’s nuclear program.

 

“North Korea loves to negotiate its nuclear weapons program,” said Bolton, who estimates that the “hermit regime” has sat down for negotiations four times in the last fifteen years. The problem with North Korea, he noted is at “performance time–they can’t get to the point of where they actually give up” their nuclear arsenal. Bolton pointed out that the North Koreans now want to have their country taken off the State Department’s list of state-sponsored terrorists ” — a decision he dubbed “the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” — and “the State Department just can’t wait to give it to them.” Although their intentions should be verified, he observed, “the Administration wouldn’t know what to do beause it has no verification [policy]” — a contrast to Ronald Reagan’s admonition of “Trust but first verify” with the old Soviet Union.”

 

Bolton closed with his standard daliance with controversy — suggesting that the September 6 Israeli raid in Syria under the “cloak of secrecy” might well have been a response to the Syrian building some kind of nuclear facility.

 

“We love you, John!” a fan cried out as author Kenneth Timmerman introduced Bolton and, judging by the prolonged ovation his remarks received, the crowd at CPAC confirmed this.

 

White House on Romney’s Exit

 

President Bush was informed of Mitt Romney’s withdrawl from the Presidential sweepstakes before it became official yesterday, but he still won’t endorse likely nominee John McCain. A source close to Romney but not with his campaign telephoned the White House in the morning before Romney made it official and the President learned of the withdrawl of his fellow graduate of Harvard Business School from White House aides Ed Gillespie and Barry Jackson.

 

At the White House press briefing — held at the same time yesterday as Romney was making his dramatic exit speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference — Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto was asked flatly by American Urban Radio’s April Ryan what the Administration thought of John McCain “and the infighting that his nomination inspires?”

 

“I’m not going to get involved in talking about ’08 politics or candidates right now,” shot back Fratto.

 

The inimitable Ryan would not be moved. She started to say to Fratto “ it looks like it’s already been determined almost, to a certain extent, if Romney –.

 

“Oh, “looks like,” “almost,” “to a certain extent., ” quipped Fratto, to laughter, “ That’s so determinative.”

 

Then he got serious again: “This is what I’ll say. We have felt that all of the Republican candidates are on the right side of issues, in terms of protecting the country in the global war on terror, on taxes, on keeping the economy open for trade and investment. And broadly speaking, all of these candidates who have been out there on the Republican side running for President have been in the right place, and we’re very comfortable with the major Republican candidates.

 

“But I’m not going to get involved in commenting on particular Republican candidates in any way.

 

The inevitable interest among White House correspondents was in when the President would give his official endorsement to de facto nominee McCain. Fratto, at least, wasn’t saying: “Like I said, it will be a decision that the President makes on his own when he feels comfortable enough to make that decision — and at 12:46 p.m. today, he’s not quite there yet.”