The Conservative Curmudgeon
April 5, 2018
John Bolton: An Oxymoron for President Trump?
by Allan Brownfeld
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Alexandria, VA — President Donald Trump places great importance upon keeping his campaign promises. During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq as "the single worst decision ever made." He pledged not to take our country into any more "needless wars."
Yet, he has now named as his National Security Advisor John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq war who still defends it – and who also advocates pre-emptive war and "regime change" in North Korea and Iran.
President Trump has now named as his National Security Advisor John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq war who still defends it – and who also advocates pre-emptive war and "regime change" in North Korea and Iran.
In the wake of the Bolton appointment, Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that America is heading for war with North Korea, Iran or both. "This is the most perilous moment in modern American history," he declared.
During the campaign, Trump denounced every recent American intervention: in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. Now, he talks of abandoning the nuclear agreement with Iran, a position not supported by recently removed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster or by current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but promoted by John Bolton.
Middle East specialists worry that any decision to cancel the Iran agreement would have many ramifications. It would increase the disruptive activities of Iran's Revolutionary Guard throughout the Middle East, making the challenge to Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the region even more difficult. The invasion of Iraq also had consequences which John Bolton, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld did not anticipate – namely, by destabilizing Iraq, Iran's influence in the region was dramatically increased. To the degree that Iran is a threat today, John Bolton's policies helped make it so.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump promoted himself as a non-interventionist who wanted to focus on America. Yet, by appointing John Bolton he seems to have abandoned the positions he advocated during the campaign.
Why the nuclear agreement with Iran, which is being adhered to by the government in Tehran, should be abandoned, is difficult to understand. Many conservatives find this move toward needless conflict difficult to comprehend. Writing in The American Conservative, Daniel Larison states that, "If we judge the nuclear deal on its merits, reneging on it makes no sense as far as U.S. interests are concerned. If the U.S. wants to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains a peaceful one, there is no better way of doing this than remaining in a deal that has done exactly what it was supposed to do. Reneging on one of the most successful diplomatic agreements the U.S. has made in decades is a short-sighted and needlessly destructive action, and it will go down as one of Trump's biggest unforced errors as president...It will be a huge blow to future U.S. diplomatic efforts for years to come."
Abandoning the Iran agreement, argues The Economist, would do "...damage to America's reputation...far beyond the Middle East. Why would North Korea agree to swap its nuclear bombs for an accord that a future American president could simply rip up? The transatlantic alliance would face unprecedented strains. Europe would find itself siding with China, Russia and Iran against America...With an arch-hawk like Mr. Bolton at Mr. Trump's side, expect much rhetoric about America seeking peace through strength. Yet ditching the Iran deal risks war, and is more likely to make America weaker."
Ironically, in 2013, Trump tweeted, "All former Bush administration officials should have zero sounding on Syria. Iraq was a waste of blood and treasure." During the 2016 campaign, Trump promoted himself as a non-interventionist who wanted to focus on America. Yet, by appointing John Bolton he seems to have abandoned the positions he advocated during the campaign.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump accused the Bush Administration of "lying" about Saddam Hussein's alleged "weapons of mass destruction." Maybe he had John Bolton in mind.
John Bolton's history is troubling, beyond his interventionist advocacy. He once attempted to pressure State Department intelligence professionals into accepting the false conclusion that Cuba had biological weapons. He harassed an Agency for International Development whistleblower. USAID contractor Melody Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005 that Bolton chased her through a Moscow hotel in 1994 "throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman."
When President George W. Bush named Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Republicans in the U.S. Senate refused to confirm him. (He served under a recess appointment). It is likely that he would be rejected by the current Senate if he were nominated to a position requiring confirmation. In U.S. Senate testimony in 2005, Carl W. Ford, Jr., a former assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research in the Bush administration, portrayed Bolton as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." Now, he says: "I believed then, as I believe now, he lacks any of the qualities to be a senior government official."
John Bolton, it seems, is eager for military conflict with both Iran and North Korea.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump accused the Bush Administration of "lying" about Saddam Hussein's alleged "weapons of mass destruction." Maybe he had John Bolton in mind. In 2002, Bolton declared: "We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq." This claim, of course, was shown to be false and based upon flawed intelligence.
John Bolton, it seems, is eager for military conflict with both Iran and North Korea. Early in March, he told Fox News that talks with North Korea would be "worthless," and called South Korea's leaders "putty in North Korea's hands." In February, he insisted in a Wall Street Journal article that "it is perfectly legitimate for the U.S. to respond to the current 'necessity' posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons by striking first." Last summer, he wrote in The Journal, "The U.S. should obviously seek South Korea's agreement (and Japan's) before using force, but no foreign government, even a close ally, can veto an action to protect Americans from Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons." Concerning Iran, in a 2015 article in The New York Times, he argued that only military action like Israel's 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor "can accomplish what is required.
How can President Trump keep his promise to voters not to take our country to "needless" wars and also follow the advice of his newly appointed National Security Advisor.
During the years of the Cold War, this writer worked in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The argument conservatives always presented for a strong national defense was that we would be so powerful that we would never need to go to war. To speak of "pre-emptive" war against foes such as North Korea and Iran – something no one ever did with regard to adversaries such as the Soviet Union or China, countries which had the ability to do us serious damage, makes no political, strategic, or economic sense at all.
John Bolton doesn't even seem to recognize how wrong he was about Iraq, as he talks casually about attacking countries which have not attacked us. Let us hope the president remembers that his "base" voted for him to prevent what he called "needless" wars – in part because it is their sons and daughters who would fight in such conflicts.
Clearly, President Trump faces a major dilemma. How can he keep his promise to voters not to take our country to "needless" wars and also follow the advice of his newly appointed National Security Advisor? It will be interesting to see how he handles this challenge.
Copyright © 2018 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. This article may be reprinted if credit is given to Mr. Brownfeld and fgfBooks.com.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby. He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee. He earned a B.A. from the College of William and Mary; a J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary; and an M.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland.
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