Less than two weeks ago, President Trump removed Gen. H. R. McMaster from his position as National Security Advisor and replaced him with former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton served under the Bush Administration where he was a leading cheerleader for the Iraq War, an advocate for the “Axis of Evil” worldview, and proponent of military force over diplomacy.
Whether labeled as "neoconservative" or "warmonger," John Bolton represents a significant shift in the Trump administration. Despite campaigning on the populist notions of withdrawal from foreign entanglements and unnecessary wars, Trump has felt the gravitational pull of the hawkish wing of the conservative movement. The appointment of John Bolton solidifies that evolution.
Having John Bolton as National Security Advisor at this time in our history is a massive risk. The National Security Advisor has an office in the West Wing and is in charge of shaping foreign policy options for the President to consider. Today the United States deals with three major foreign policy issues, among a myriad of others: the Iran nuclear deal, the conflict in Syria, and the North Korean nuclear program. On all three of these crises, considering John Bolton's ideas is like throwing kerosene on a fire.
On Iran, Bolton has repeatedly advocated war since his days in the Bush Administration. Most recently, Bolton wrote an op-ed in 2015 in the New York Times advocating bombing Iran to prevent them from pursuing their nuclear program. It is unlikely that his opinion has changed in three short years, and with Trump toying with recertification of the agreement, Bolton’s voice can now be added to those advising the President on how to deal with this issue.
On Syria, Bolton’s history with the Iraq War may serve as a template for his viewpoint on the Syrian conflict. Despite the widely recognized disastrous consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton has never accepted responsibility. In 2015, Bolton stated he still believed the war was worth it. When refusing to learn from our mistakes, a war in Syria seems all the more likely.
On North Korea, Bolton wrote in February of this year an op-ed laying out his argument for a legally justified first strike on North Korea. As with his previous efforts, there is a danger that Bolton might attempt to scuttle diplomatic talks in favor of a military option on the Korean peninsula. This crisis has the greatest potential to breed disaster. With missiles loaded with weapons of mass destruction pointed at millions of South Koreans and American alike, the world cannot afford even the smallest slip-up in diplomatic relations on the Peninsula.
The question arises as to why Trump decided to drop McMaster and bring Bolton on board. The “populism” of Trump's campaign, as contradictory as it was, did maintain a similar thread: a desire to appear “tough”, the insatiable need to show off military strength. In this regard, John Bolton fulfills the President’s desire. A Fox News personality for years, Bolton has certainly come across Trump’s vision during his “executive time” in front of the television. Populism mixed with militarism, a Trump brand with a Bolton guiding hand.
Appointment to National Security Advisor is done by the President alone: there is no Senate confirmation hearing or oversight. As such, it is incumbent on the Secretaries of Defense and State, Gen. Mattis and recently-nominated Pompeo, respectively, to wrestle the President’s ear away from Bolton and towards less militaristic advisors such as themselves. It is also incumbent on the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives to make it clear that the American people do not desire war, on any level, with any state.
Photo credit Michael Vadon, Creative Commons