Editor’s Note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.” Miller was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. Follow him @aarondmiller2. Richard Sokolsky is a non-resident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. From 2005-2015, he served as a member of the secretary of state’s Office of Policy Planning. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.
News that John Bolton will be Donald Trump’s third national security adviser in 13 months has caused much hand-wringing, wailing and rending of garments among Washington’s foreign policy elite. And with some justification: Add Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and you have two ideological hawks who seem to prefer shooting first abroad and asking questions later.
Still, what makes these appointments somewhat confusing and odd is that when it comes to using military force, you have a risk-averse President and a similarly inclined secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis.
How this interaction will play out on the looming challenges of North Korea and Iran is both unpredictable and possibly dangerous. And whether the irascible and tough-minded John Bolton will keep his new seat – or is a bright, shiny but temporary fix in the mind and mood swings of a mercurial President – remains to be seen.
Bombs away Bolton?
With the appointment of Bolton and the nomination of Pompeo, Trump has surrounded himself with the toughest and most risk-ready national security team in recent memory. On paper, these appointments go well beyond any we’ve seen in past Republican administrations.
Ronald Reagan, no dove, had his share of hard-line and hawkish conservatives, but all of them were capable of great flexibility and pragmatism. Bush 43 also surrounded himself with a group of pragmatic advisers (minus Dick Cheney, of course); and had it not been for been for 9/11, which brought out their worst instincts and eventually led the United States into a galactic blunder in Iraq, they might have remained that way.