Beware the Coming of Bolton
Sources said Trump fired Tillerson partly because Tillerson opposed Trump’s oft-stated desire to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal—Trump even mentioned their disagreement when speaking to the press. And three sources told me that the next official likely to go is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who, like Tillerson, had advocated for remaining in the deal.
Last Tuesday, Trump met with ultra-hawkish former U.N. ambassador John Bolton in the Oval Office to discuss a potential job offer. Bolton has for years argued that the United States should pre-emptively attack Tehran. In 2015, he wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” and last month, he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining the legal case for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.
According to a person who spoke with Bolton after the meeting, Bolton recalled that Trump said he wanted him to join the administration: “We need you in here, John.” Bolton responded that there were only two jobs he’d consider: secretary of state and national security adviser. Trump said, “O.K, I’ll call you really soon.”
Much like replacing Tillerson with Pompeo, appointing Bolton as McMaster’s replacement would be going from bad to worse. Bolton’s name has been floated for top jobs in the administration before, but I get the sinking feeling that this time it might really happen. Bolton is more than willing to work for Trump, he and Trump seem to share the same hard-line worldview, and the president seems even more eager than usual to surround himself with flatterers and enablers. He is getting rid of the people that have opposed him on some issues and replacing them with yes-men, and picking Bolton would be consistent with that. Even if Bolton isn’t the next National Security Advisor, the fact that Trump keeps seriously considering him for important positions in the administration is further proof of the president’s appallingly bad judgment.
The biggest problem with Bolton isn’t just that he always prefers aggressive policies and endorses preventive war all the time. That ought to be enough to disqualify him, but unfortunately in this administration they are probably the reasons why he is being considered. The real danger is that he is such an ideologue that he would keep information from the president that contradicts his views and prevent Trump from getting the best available advice. Trump is poorly informed to begin with, and having Bolton as his main adviser on matters of national security and foreign policy would make sure that he stays that way.
Bolton has repeatedly advocated preventive war against Iran, and he has argued for preventive war against North Korea. His op-ed on North Korea called this pre-emption, but that is an example of how Bolton twists language and concepts to suit his purposes. A Bolton appointment wouldn’t necessarily mean that either of those wars will happen, but it would mean that Trump will have a dedicated warmonger urging him in that direction every day. Taken together with the Pompeo nomination, a Bolton appointment would send the clearest possible message that the Trump administration has absolutely no use for diplomacy.