Bolton and the Iran Obsession
Scott McConnell likes the Tillerson choice, but is understandably alarmed by reports that Bolton will be nominated as Deputy Secretary of State:
As always, one is reduced to making guesses about the Trumpland personalities whispering in the ear of the president-elect: does Trump feel he needs a rabid hawk to keep the right wing of the GOP in line? Does he simply appreciate Bolton as a TV foreign-policy personality? Does he fully recognize that Bolton, in the key State Department managerial position, would shape the department at its middle levels for years to come, effectively ensuring Trump’s own stated views were marginalized and received no bureaucratic support?
It is possible that appointing Bolton is just a sop to hard-liners and the movement conservatives that wanted him in the top job, but I’d guess that it means more than that. Given the anti-Iranian leanings of virtually all other Trump national security appointees, Bolton would unfortunately fit in only too well with the rest of the team. If nominated and confirmed, Bolton would be pushing for scrapping the nuclear deal. Trump’s recent provocations of China may or may not be influenced by Bolton’s own arguments, but here they also appear to agree with each other that taking a more combative approach is desirable. Russia policy may be the only area where Trump and Bolton genuinely disagree, but we will have to see how real that difference is.
Bolton is undoubtedly a throwback to the Bush years, but he is such a hard-liner that he would think that Bush didn’t go nearly far enough in his foreign policy. He comes from the faction that wanted (and still wants) war with Iran, more confrontation with Russia and China, and a generally more aggressive approach to any threat (real or imagined). Like Trump, he is a nationalist, but it is a nationalism defined by exercising U.S. “leadership” and running roughshod over any rules or institutions that get in the way of that.
Probably the most worrisome part of Bolton’s record is his avowed support for regime change and his fondness for the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK). When he talks about providing “vigorous support” to Iran’s opposition, he isn’t talking about the real opposition inside Iran. No credible opposition inside Iran wants anything to do with U.S. interference in their politics, and they certainly aren’t interested in pursuing regime change for us. No, the opposition that Bolton wants to support is the MEK, which is is widely loathed in Iran and doesn’t speak for Iranian opponents of the regime. If Bolton isn’t blocked, we will see U.S. policy towards Iran being shaped in part by someone who is aligned with a discredited exile group of cultists bent on regime change.