It’s not easy to imagine five scarier words in English than ‘National Security Advisor John Bolton,’ and yet that’s about to become reality. He was one of the loudest advocates for the disastrous Iraq invasion under George W. Bush. Later, and much to the chagrin of Democrats and the rest of the world, Bolton became ambassador to the United Nations – an organization he openly despises. In short, Bolton is a neoconservative’s neoconservative.
The Bush years were supposed to be the last we saw of John Bolton. Sure, he went to the American Enterprise Institute and wrote a book about Barack Obama conducting war on the United States. But he was little different from any other neocon washout who’d been thoroughly repudiated by the reality in Iraq. He was done.
Except he kept making appearances on Fox News to offer his foreign policy “insights.” These hits would be wholly inconsequential, if not for the fact that the White House is currently occupied by the network’s demographic archetype of an angry septuagenarian white male. For Trump, simply being on television is its own sort of qualification. And if it’s Fox News, all the more reason to look favorably at someone. Back in 2015, candidate Trump basically admitted as much, saying that on television, Bolton is “a tough cookie.”
This is the only way Trump’s selection of Bolton as National Security Advisor makes any sense whatsoever. During the campaign Trump was the most vociferous (when is he not?) critic of the Iraq war. In the Republican debate in South Carolina – where the Bush dynasty is well regarded – Trump attacked Jeb Bush and his brother’s justifications for the war:
“We should have never been in Iraq. They lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none and they knew that there were none.”
“They” would presumably include John Bolton, who before and during the war was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, and one of the most hawkish men in D.C.
Like George W. Bush, Trump ran on a platform of non-interventionism, and we all know how that turned out for 43. With Bolton on board, Trump may be headed for a similar fate in history. Bolton has already called for the bombing of Iran and just last month laid out a “legal case” for doing the same with North Korea – a nuclear state in a position to retaliate in a devastating manner, if not against the U.S., then an ally such as South Korea or Japan. It is unclear how Bolton’s extreme views will factor into the upcoming talks between the U.S. and North Korea.
In addition to his bad ideas, Bolton is notorious for his coarseness and undiplomatic demeanor. That makes him a nightmare in a foreign policy role, but as far Trump is concerned these are features, not bugs. What makes this appointment especially dangerous is that Trump is beset by political and legal troubles that, as we have seen, have prompted him to change prevailing narratives – or at least try to. With an erstwhile warmonger whispering in his ear, Trump will now be armed with “expert” hawkish foreign policy justifications that could very well convince him that the time for military action against Iran or North Korea (or both) has arrived. And if a war to ensure the security of the U.S. also succeeds in moving Robert Mueller and Stormy Daniels off the front page while the president enjoys a boost in the polls, all the better.