John Bolton, the man with one of the most famous mustaches in modern American politics, is perched to become President Trump’s 3rd National Security Advisor in 14 months. This extremely powerful role is critical in terms of our national security and foreign policy. This individual is often the first, last, and most influential voice to the President. However, it is not a position requiring Senate confirmation. John Bolton is fairly described as intelligent and well spoken. However, over the years, as a U.S. representative to the United Nations, commentator on Fox News, etc., Bolton has shown himself to hold some extreme views. Thus, Bolton’s appointment is a shocking and precarious development in the Trump revolving door administration, ill-defined foreign policy, and strained relations with our friends and allies.
John Bolton’s aggressive and hawkish foreign and national security policies are alarming. When President Bush 43 determined to invade Iraq, Bolton was among the key architects of that strategy. As an Iraq War veteran, I remain proud of all U.S. forces achieved on the ground. However, while tactically sound, it is widely believed that the strategic policy was flawed. John Bolton is among very few strategy “experts” who cling to the fallacious notion that the policy was sound, correct, and effective. President Trump campaigned heavily against U.S. Iraq policy, repeatedly and forcibly claiming the war was among the biggest mistakes in history and the continued policy was wrong. Why would he appoint Bolton to such a critical position when he holds a diametrically opposing view? President Trump is replacing anyone on his team that dares to offer the slightest disagreement in favor of even more sycophants who support his need for aggrandizement and dare not speak truth to power no matter how important. Bolton may be the exception, as he is not a shrinking violet, and because President Trump has largely focused on other issues, mostly ignoring Iraq policy.
The President likely wants John Bolton on his team because he needs someone knowledgeable moving forward on priorities including North Korea, Iran, et al. Questions loom about what John Bolton will advise and advocate to the President on these issues and the Senate has no opportunity to inquire prior to Bolton assuming this critical role. Bolton’s writings include a piece laying out the legal justification for a preemptive attack on North Korea to prevent their nuclear capabilities. Critics argue this was evidence of an extremely aggressive policy that likely leads to war on the Korean peninsula. Supporters assert this was an intellectual piece demonstrating strong knowledge and grasp of complex issues, not a statement of support for war. Bolton produced similar writings concerning Iran and likely conflict with that regime. While very few here hold any support for the reign of the ayatollahs, most options come with incredible cost. Bolton clearly opposes the deal signed between Iran and a coalition of nations including the U.S. While controversial and incomplete, there is evidence suggesting the approach was working. However, President Trump has been itching to withdraw from the agreement and Bolton will likely deliver him that option. Generally speaking, Bolton disfavors international, multilateral agreements (e.g., Paris Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran). He will quickly endear himself to President Trump while steering U.S. policy in a significantly different direction.
In addition to policy concerns, Bolton’s detractors raise issues about temperament, judgment, personality, advocacy style. He has not always played nicely with others or been willing to engage in genuine debate over policy differences. This is important because as National Security Advisor, he would traditionally coordinate with multiple sources and synthesize multiple approaches to present to the President. While advocating his own preferred course of action, he is responsible for serving as honest broker for the intelligence community that may hold different views. It is not clear whether Bolton has the ability or willingness to present any ideas or recommendations that he does not himself espouse. If accurate, the consequences are serious – the President will make crucial decisions without all of the facts or analysis necessary to ensure he makes knowing, informed decisions. President Trump has already created enough concern about whether he can understand these complex issues or review materials provided for his study. This would exacerbate the problem.
There is too much at stake to our national security. Republicans in Congress should use this opportunity and put the administration on notice. They may not be able to block John Bolton from serving as National Security Advisor, and perhaps that is not the right goal. However, Congress has oversight, budgetary, and other responsibilities that it may use to hold the administration in check and ensure proper deliberative processes and avoid a reckless degradation of U.S. policy. The country simple cannot afford further reckless, unnecessary engagements or further abandonment of our friends and allies.