Trump’s announcement that he will replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national-security adviser, effective April 9, while disquieting, cannot come as a much of a surprise. After all, John Bolton had already famously auditioned for a high administration appointment. Shortly after the November 2016 election, he was interviewed by Trump for the position of secretary of state, but was reportedly denied the job because the president did not quite like the cut of his jib (or, more precisely, his mustache).
One anonymous source told The Washington Post at the time that Trump, an obvious vulgarian, is actually “very aesthetic. You can come with somebody who is very much qualified for the job, but if they don’t look the part, they’re not going anywhere.” And so Bolton was forced to bide his time, and for the next 14 months re-auditioned for the administration from his perch at the Fox News Channel.
The Bolton appointment comes soon after Trump’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his subsequent nominations of Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State and Gina Hapsel for the top job at CIA. These three will soon join hardline Secretary of Defense James Mattis to comprise something of a War Quartet within the cabinet and will almost certainly maneuver the US military into more needless conflicts abroad. This comes at a time when, by some estimates, the United States is waging at least nine (yes, nine) undeclared wars across the globe. Still more, Brown University’s Cost of War project estimates that between 2015 and October 2017 the US military conducted air and drone strikes on seven countries and had combat troops deployed in 15 more.
And now into the mix comes John Bolton.
Even a cursory look at some of Bolton’s pronouncements on a number of high-profile foreign-policy challenges should be cause for grave concern.
On Iran: Bolton has long been one of the most outspoken and occasionally unhinged opponents of the landmark Iranian nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, calling it “a strategic debacle for the United States.” After UN Ambassador Nikki Haley attacked the JCPOA in a much-covered speech at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute last October, Bolton remarked: “The Iran deal may not have died today, but it will die shortly.” In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in January, Bolton wrote: “America’s declared policy should be ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its 40th anniversary. Arab states would remain silent, but they would welcome this approach and might even help finance it…. Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019 would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for 444 days. The former hostages can cut the ribbon to open the new U.S. Embassy in Tehran.”
On North Korea: In February, Bolton penned another op-ed for the Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First” in which he wrote in favor of preemptive war. “Pre-emption opponents,” wrote Bolton, “argue that action is not justified because Pyongyang does not constitute an “imminent threat.” They are wrong. The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times.” Echoing Condoleezza Rice’s “mushroom cloud” argument in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Bolton argued that “Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation.” Trump is scheduled to participate in trilateral talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May.
Arms control: In his memoir, which bears the none-too-subtle title Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, Bolton takes credit for the US withdrawal from 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, dismissing it as “a Cold War relic that essentially precluded both Russia and the US from developing national missile defense systems.” This comes at a time when the United States and Russia are currently engaged in a new, destabilizing arms race that stems, in large part, from that decision. Still more, Bolton has called for the United States to pull out of the 2010 New START Treaty. According to a report in The Weekly Standard, Bolton told the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference: “The next step in the bilateral relationship with Russia is for this administration to abrogate the New START Treaty so that we have a nuclear deterrent that’s equal to our needs to prevent future conflict.”
As mentioned, the administration’s new War Quartet means that Trump has stocked the top echelon of US national-security establishment with the most reckless and militaristic candidates he could find.
Can things get any worse?
We may soon find out.