John Bolton is not a savvy analyst of global affairs with a record of smart thinking on the diplomatic and defense challenges facing the United States. He’s the opposite of that. Bolton’s not even a credible conservative veteran of the diplomatic corps. He’s a right-wing political hack whose electoral machinations go back to his days as a 15-year-old Students for Goldwater organizer and extend through his dramatic interventions on behalf of the George W. Bush campaign to shut down recounts of Florida’s 2000 presidential vote.
For his record of thuggish and unthinking partisanship, Bolton has been rewarded with positions of power and influence. But he has always made a mess of things—so much so that his “thanks-for-what-ya-done-in-Tallahassee” selection as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations was cut short by the fact that he could never muster sufficient support from a Republican-run Senate to gain an initial confirmation or extend his recess appointment.
It was a Republican senator, Ohio’s George Voinovich, who in 2005 warned the chamber that giving in to Bolton’s nomination would “put at risk our nation’s ability to successfully wage and win the war on terror.” An even more conservative Republican, South Dakota Senator John Thune, said he rejected Bolton because the United States should “take our diplomatic posture just as seriously as we take our defense posture”—which was not something he imagined Bolton was capable of doing.
Bolton did nothing to ease concerns about his extremism during a brief yet chaotic tenure at the United Nations, or during an ensuing decade when he occupied himself by raising money for his political action committee and attempting to stir interest in 2012 and 2016 Republican presidential bids that both ended before they began. Indeed, he traveled in such nefarious international circles that one of the top Senate experts on foreign-policy concerns, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, has questioned whether Bolton will be able to obtain a full security clearance for White House work.
Shortly after the 2016 election, there was reason to believe that Bolton’s experience as a hyperventilating Fox News personality had impressed Donald Trump sufficiently to put the former UN ambassador in the running for a high-level State Department position. But that fantasy was abandoned after Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced that he would organize Republicans to vote with Democrats against Bolton. “I’ll do whatever it takes to stop someone like John Bolton being secretary of state,” said Paul. “He’s opposed to everything Donald Trump ran on: that the Iraq war was a mistake, regime change made us less safe in the Middle East, including in Iraq…. I don’t know how a President Trump could appoint someone who’s diametrically opposed to everything Donald Trump ran on.”