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Posted at 2:10 PM ET, 02/12/2011

John Bolton focuses on what 2012 frontrunners ignored: Egypt

By Rachel Weiner

Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Live Coverage of CPAC 2011: Day 3

Updated 3:11 p.m.:

While most Republican presidential hopefuls speaking at CPAC barely mentioned the situation in Egypt, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton devoted nearly his entire speech to it.

Bolton, who is toying with the idea of a presidential campaign, filled a foreign policy void at the conference. Many speakers attacked Obama by saying he was weak in the face of our enemies. But few gave detailed critiques of the president's foreign policy. Only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) devoted much time to Egypt, and his isolationist message is outside the Republican mainstream.

Bolton's message was less controversial - namely, that President Obama is naively courting the Muslim Brotherhood, which could lead to an Islamic dictatorship in Egypt. Obama's approach is "hesitant, inconsistent, confused, and just plain wrong," said Bolton. He lobbed a reliable attack line - that Obama does not think America is "an exceptional nation."

"I don't think the president cares much about foreign affairs," Bolton said. "We need focused attention on these critical national security issues."

Bolton did not, however, offer much in the way of policy prescriptions. "We have to have a careful and prudent approach" to Egypt, he said. He also spoke out against the new START Treaty, the White House relationship with China, and cuts to the defense budget. But his speech was a rebuke of Obama's approach, not an alternative proposal.

Bolton ended by imploring the crowd to "work to return national security to the center of our political debate over the next two years, and thereby help to make Barack Obama a one-term president." If he runs for president, Bolton has said, it would be with the goal of
doing what he did here at CPAC: making sure foreign policy is part of the Republican conversation.

Asked after his speech whether he felt there had been enough discussion of Egypt at CPAC, Bolton demurred. "I don't want to comment on the other speakers," he said. "I saw Governor Pawlenty last night and I thought the points he made were right on target." However, he reiterated his call for more national security debate. "I think all of the Republican candidates basically share the same broad principles and it's a very well-qualified field," he said. "What I want do is have a more intense national debate to flesh their positions out."

As for his own presidential ambitions, Bolton said he's "still thinking ... it's a huge decision for me. I've never run for national office." As he has before, he declared that he is "not like a duck placid on top and paddling furiously underneath" -- meaning, he isn't actively preparing a bid. He's just thinking.

"I don't feel under time pressure," he added. "I think the field is wide open, I think that the possibility of an entry even late this year is still possible. I think it's doable politically."

By Rachel Weiner  | February 12, 2011; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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