Cultural Psychology

Correct transcript of Ambassador Bolton’s remarks on Obama’s Nobel Prize speech

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On December 10, in Oslo, Norway, President Obama gave his acceptance speech for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Fox News host Greta van Susteren later asked the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, for his analysis.  The careless transcript of Bolton’s remarks currently found online at several blogs is very rough and filled with errors.  I’ve made and supply below a more accurate transcript, taken directly from the video:

Greta van Susteren, Fox News:  Good evening, ambassador.

Former US Ambassador to United Nations, John R. Bolton: Good evening.

Greta: So what do you think of the speech?

Bolton:  I thought it was a pretty bad speech.  I thought it was turgid, repetitive.  I thought it was analytically weak, sort of at a high school level.  It’s like he didn’t have any lead in his pencil left after his speeches at the UN and the speech on Afghanistan.  So all in all a pretty surprisingly disappointing performance.

Greta:  What would you have expected him to say?  Because it’s rather awkward for a couple reasons.  Number one is he was nominated just a few days into his presidency and there’s been a lot of controversy over whether or not that he’d achieved — and even he says his accomplishments at this point are slight compared to others who’ve received it.  Secondly, he had just called up more troops to go to Afghanistan.  So it’s a completely awkward situation for the man.

Bolton:  Well, in circumstances like that, one alternative is not to say very much, is to thank the Nobel Committee for the honor of the award and accept it in humility and then sit down. Sometimes when people don’t have much to say, they don’t say very much.  Other people say it four times as long, which seemed to be the way he did it.

Greta:  Why do you think he was awarded this prize.

Bolton: I think that this was a conscious effort by the Nobel Committee, which has been over the years a very highly politicized body, to try and affect the American political environment, to try and send a signal of what they wanted from the Obama presidency.  I think that it’s a big mistake on their part.  I think our own political polls show that.  And I think that it will turn out to be a millstone around the president’s neck, but that’s obviously not the way the Nobel Committee saw it.

Greta:  How do you compare and contrast the speech that he gave about a week or two ago at West Point, the one when he announced to the nation that he was calling up troops.  Because a lot of the same sorts of themes about Al Qaeda and about Evil in the world.  But, still, very different speeches.

Bolton: Well I think you have to look, as I said, back as well to the speeches at the United Nations.  And what was striking was how little new there was in this speech.  But I think it’s important in looking at how Obama addresses national security, not to try and parse his speeches too carefully, not to say, “well I like this paragraph, but I don’t like this paragraph.”  You have to look at the speech whole, just as you have to look at the man behind the speech whole, and I think that’s where he runs into difficulty.

This speech today in Oslo is filled with some of the most amazing misconceptions about everything from human nature to the role of the United States in the world.

Greta: So, I’ll bite.  What are the amazing misconceptions that you say?

Bolton:  Let’s start near the beginning of the speech.  He says, that “We have to acknowledge the hard truth we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.”  Well, no kidding.  You know, homo sapiens is hardwired for violent conflict and we’re not going to eliminate violent conflict until homo sapiens ceases to exist as a separate species.  And the whole notion you could even think about eliminating it, not just in our lifetime but soon thereafter, I think reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature.  And when you start from that kind of position it only gets worse from there.  And I’ve got other examples, too.

Greta:  Go ahead.

Bolton:  Okay, then, just a few paragraphs later, he says, talking about the setting up the role of the United States, which many people said was a positive to the speech, he gets to it by saying that stability after World War II was brought about, quote “Not just treaties and declarations that brought stability, but the fact that the United States helped underwrite global security.”  As if to say it’s the treaties and the declarations that were the centerpiece and that the United States made a small contribution here or there.  In fact, it was the American nuclear capability after World War II and the strength of the military alliances, led and dominated by the United States, that brought stability and defeated the Soviets in the Cold War.  That didn’t seem to make it into this speech.

Greta:  Ambassador, thank you, sir.  Always nice to see you.

Bolton:  Okay, thank you.

Personally, I found the first half of Bolton’s remarks accurate, but the second half strangely peevish.  I think he should have stuck with what he initially said:  that you shouldn’t try to parse Obama’s speeches too closely, but rather should look for what they reveal overall.


Written by John Uebersax

December 14, 2009 at 5:10 am

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