John Bolton promised President Donald Trump that “he wouldn’t start any wars” if he were hired to be the third national security adviser at the White House in just 14 months – a claim that generated skepticism across Washington.
Bolton, a hawkish neoconservative, has advocated war with Iran and a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and remains an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq War despite the flawed intelligence used to justify the US invasion.
So the claim that Bolton would avoid conflict, described to CNN by a source familiar with negotiations between the President and the former ambassador to the UN, raised eyebrows when news broke Thursday that Trump was ousting H.R. McMaster and replacing him with the 69-year-old Baltimore native.
For many, the concern is that the appointment of Bolton – exactly the kind of advocate for US overseas intervention that Trump pilloried on the campaign trail – marks a belligerent turn for the Trump administration that could doom attempts to save the Iran nuclear deal, increase the possibility of a clash with North Korea and ratchet up tensions with Moscow.
Bolton drew praise from some Republican senators, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who said the Yale law school graduate will do “an outstanding job,” but a veterans group called the appointment “frightening” and advocacy groups warned that Trump was assembling a “war cabinet.”
The anxiety is as much about Bolton’s track record – a disdain for diplomacy, a thirst for military adventures and accusations that he manipulated intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War – as it is about the role that he will now play in shaping US foreign policy.
The national security adviser’s job is to act as a synthesizer of security issues across the administration, coordinating and summarizing for the commander in chief the various policy suggestions that come from the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies.
A national security adviser offers his or her own analysis, and then conveys the president’s policy decisions back down the chain and makes sure they’re carried out.
But many express doubt that Bolton is wired to put aside his own views and offer the kind of impartial summary of diverse policy views that would help a president weigh all options, instead of emphasizing the more hawkish positions he prefers.
“I think my long-standing hope for a fix to the Iran deal just died,” Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a longtime critic of the international pact, tweeted Thursday. “Time of death: Afternoon of March 22, 2018. Now what?”
Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said, “Ambassador Bolton’s stated positions on today’s major issues, most notably North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, are overly aggressive at best and downright dangerous at worst.”