On Friday’s Breitbart News Daily, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton reacted to breaking news that Russia claims to have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an airstrike, then moved on to discuss North Korea’s release of American hostage Otto Warmbier and the current state of U.S. relations with Cuba.
Bolton advised taking everything Russia says with “a grain of salt at this point.”
“We haven’t really had evidence of where Baghdadi is or even that he’s been alive in quite some number of months now,” Bolton told SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam. “I think the whole thing is uncertain. I would be delighted if they had killed Baghdadi. It would certainly be an irony and something they would want to take credit for. But I’ll reserve judgment for now on whether, in fact, it’s happened.”
Kassam noted that many Islamic State leaders seem to have disappeared along with Baghdadi.
“I think there’s no doubt the pressure has increased, although I wish it had increased more in the Trump administration than it has,” Bolton said. “What I have feared for some time, and what I suspect is happening, is that a lot of the ISIS leadership in Raqqa in Syria – their ‘capital,’ so-called, of the caliphate – have over the past year been exfiltrating themselves from the territory the caliphate holds in Syria and Iraq and moving somewhere else.”
He named Yemen and Libya, “which is in a state of anarchy at the moment,” as possible safe harbors for fleeing Islamic State leaders.
“Their plan would be that Raqqa would be defended to the end by people prepared to die for the cause, but that they key leadership, its files, whatever other assets they need to get out would go somewhere else,” Bolton explained. “That means the problem will only continue. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try to destroy the caliphate itself, but we also should be aware that ISIS has demonstrated enormous creativity in a variety of ways over years, sad to say. I suspect we’re going to see that here as well.”
Turning to North Korea’s release of young American hostage Otto Warmbier, who turns out to have been comatose during most of his year in the communist regime’s hands, Bolton dismissed the notion that basketball star Dennis Rodman’s coincidental trip to visit North Korea’s dictator had anything to do with the release.
“We don’t really know why Pyongyang decided to release Otto Warmbier,” Bolton said. “The whole thing, though, I think has been a demonstration of North Korean brutality.”
“Taking the North Koreans at their word on the reason that he was detained, he basically stole a poster, a picture of one of their leaders. It was probably Kim Jong-un, the current leader. You know, a kind of college prank. It’s what college kids do all the time. Maybe he had a couple of beers, who knows,” he said.
“The absolute worst punishment would just be to slap him on the wrist and say, ‘Get out of our country and don’t come back,’ not that that’s much of a punishment. But instead, the North Koreans put him in prison, gave him a kangaroo-court trial, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. It’s barbaric. He was being used as a bargaining chip. There’s no question about it,” said Bolton.
“Now, what actually happened to him? We don’t know,” he noted. “The doctors yesterday said some interesting things. But unquestionably, this young man went into North Korea healthy and came out in a coma that he may never emerge from. Even by the North Koreans’ own medical records, which the doctors talked about yesterday, this traumatic injury that caused the brain damage occurred in the weeks before the first brain scan in April of 2016 – meaning they kept him in this comatose state for over a year before they released him back to his family, for whatever his future may be.”
“The whole thing is filled with inexplicable elements, except for one thing: North Korean brutality and mendacity,” Bolton declared. “This is one incident. It’s the treatment of one human being, but I think it tells you something about the nature of the North Korean regime. They never tell the truth about anything. They say he took a sleeping pill because he had botulism, and that’s what caused the brain damage. The doctors yesterday in their press conference blew that theory out of the water – no trace of botulism at all.”
“So when you look at this one personal human tragedy, you think of the bigger picture. If you can’t trust them to show compassion for one young man like this, how do you expect to trust them on their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs?” he asked.
Bolton said the brutality and duplicity of the North Korean regime made improved relations with the Communist regime unlikely. He described North Korea as “25 million people living in a prison camp.”
“They are prisoners of this regime, and that’s why you have growing numbers trying to escape and take a very dangerous exit route through China down to Thailand or another country in Southeast Asia, just to escape the horror there,” he said.
Bolton argued that inhumanity was so pervasive in the North Korean regime that “it should caution us about believing anything they say.”
“Look, Kim Jong-un, whatever the cause of the injury to Otto Warmbier, in the past few years ordered the assassination of his half-brother in a public airport in Malaysia by having young women smear VX nerve agent on his face, which caused a particularly painful death,” Bolton noted. “He is reported to have ordered the execution of his uncle by lowering anti-aircraft artillery and firing at point-blank range. You never hear anybody say, ‘Oh, that’s not the Kim Jong-un we know! He would never do that!’ This is the way he behaves toward his relatives, toward his bargaining chips, to hostages that he takes.”
“Yet there are some in this country, including a story in the New York Times the other day that said, ‘Well, this is very uncharacteristic of North Korea, treating their prisoners this way,’” he continued. “When you have apologists like that, writing in newspapers like that, it tells you why we are so vulnerable to the further argument that ‘why don’t we just make a deal with North Korea?’ You know, give them some carrots to induce them to give up the nuclear program.”
“It’s delusional!” he exclaimed. “It is delusional. The only way we’re going to solve this problem with North Korea is when that regime disappears.”
Kasam concluded the interview by asking for Bolton’s opinion of the Trump administration’s rolling back some of the Obama administration’s measures to liberalize relations with Cuba.
“I think that regime is an example of a dictatorship propped up by external forces for five decades now,” Bolton replied. “First, the Soviet Union; now, Venezuela. It continues to export its form of revolution around the hemisphere.”
“Really, if you look at the Cubans who are surrounding Maduro in Venezuela, keeping his regime in power, the Cuban government as usual fundamentally violated the terms even of Obama’s deal,” he argued. It was supposed to let up on human rights activists. It’s actually, on net, put more of them in jail.”
“Our policy should be to free the Cuban people from this and free America from the threat of Russia, Iran, and others using Cuba as a base of operations in the Western hemisphere,” Bolton advised. “The Cubans undertook this opening toward the United States because of economic desperation, with Venezuela and its oil supplies descending into chaos. I’d reverse Obama entirely. I’d break diplomatic relations and put them back in the deep freeze.”
He doubted the Trump administration was prepared to go that far, citing media reports that the plan was to “restrict economic transactions with the Cuban military and their intelligence service.”
“Of course, that’s potentially everything that’s important in Cuba, so maybe it will have a dramatic impact,” he mused.
“I just think this is a hopeless, irredeemable government that oppresses the Cuban people. It keeps their economic standard of living well below what it could be. They should just give up. Give him a villa in Vietnam or someplace, and let the people have a representative government,” Bolton concluded, wryly suggesting an unlikely retirement plan for current Cuban dictator Raul Castro, who announced during the weekend that he plans to step down from power in 2018.
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