DES MOINES, Iowa - Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton said Saturday that President Barack Obama isn't qualified to lead the country.
Bolton was among the featured speakers at a conference of conservative Republicans in Iowa. Bolton was nominated for the ambassadorship in 2005 by President George W. Bush.
Bolton told the crowd that Mr. Obama doesn't care enough about national security issues and doesn't view the world as a threatening place. Bolton also says the U.S. could have made a big difference in Libya, but Mr. Obama couldn't make up his mind on which steps to take.
Several potential GOP presidential candidates also spoke during the event in Des Moines. Iowa Congressman Steve King says he organized the event to allow conservatives to shape the debate as Republicans begin seeking an opponent for Mr. Obama.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, a favorite of the conservative, anti-tax tea party, got the noisiest reception when she told about 500 people that voters are ready to overturn the federal health care law and oust President Barack Obama during next year's election.
"The ultimate arrogance, in my opinion, is Obama-care," the Minnesota congresswoman said. "That's why I am so absolutely confident in 2012. Americans have made the decision that we're going to take our country back."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain also spoke during the event.
"We need to take this nation to the next level of its destiny," King told the crowd. "You can shape that destiny."
Iowa's caucuses traditionally launch the presidential nominating season, and the sharply conservative rhetoric Saturday reflects an Iowa Republican Party that has drifted to the right. Polling last year showed more than 60 percent of Republican Party caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelical Christians.
Gingrich and Barbour insisted that most Americans agree with their conservative values. Gingrich said the 2012 election would provide a chance to end the "domination of the left and move this country back to the center-right."
Barbour dismissed suggestions that Mr. Obama has moved to the center in preparation for next year's election. He said the president's proposed budget "calls for spending to go up, it calls for the deficit to go up."
The governor also said Republicans can win next year if their candidates stay focused on key issues -- health care and balancing the federal budget -- without getting distracted by arguments about personality.
"What is important to us is to have a new president," Barbour said. "This election needs to be about policy."
That theme appeared to be in play Saturday. The speakers focused on criticizing Mr. Obama and Democrats, and made little effort to find differences with each other, though Gingrich did note that he "helped balance a budget for four straight years" while House speaker.
Gingrich briefly drifted from the event's mostly domestic theme to attack Mr. Obama's handling of the air strikes in Libya. He ridiculed Mr. Obama for consulting the Arab League and the United Nations, but not Congress, before getting involved. Gingrich said he wouldn't have approved the air strikes, but "once you get involved, you put on the pressure and you win quickly."
Cain, who didn't speak about the federal health care law, said the conservative movement is gaining strength and will help Republicans take back the government. He said the U.S. has "an entitlement spending crisis" that must be reformed in order to solve the nation's financial woes.
"We don't like the radical socialist agenda that is being shoved down our throats," said Cain, who lives in suburban Atlanta.
Bachmann, meanwhile, said the effort to repeal the health care reform law has created a strong tide of support for Republicans positioning themselves for next year's election.
"It's never gone below a majority of Americans who want to see Obama-care repealed," Bachmann said. "This is, I believe, the greatest power grab that I have ever seen."
The stakes in next year's election are enormous, she added.
"What we are going to determine together, here in Iowa, is quite frankly whether we will pass the American Dream on to the next generation," Bachmann said.