Volume 5 Number 218
It was sure to happen, sooner rather then later. President Trump and his third national security advisor, John Bolton, have parted ways. He was pushed–or jumped–overboard on September 10, 2019, depending on who is telling the story. The “pusher” would be the president and the “jumper” would be Mr. Bolton. Either way, it’s no surprise, as the two had very different outlooks.
On the one hand, there is the president, who thinks he is the world’s greatest deal maker and is constantly trying–unsuccessfully–to pull one off with some of the most ungodly dictators, ranging from Putin to Kim Jong Un to Xi to the Taliban to Iran. Then there is Bolton, who would sooner bomb any one of these guys before breakfast if he had his way.
Whether it was Trump’s recent overtures to Iran or the Taliban that caused the final split is irrelevant. It was sure to happen; it was just a matter of time. It’s not that the president didn’t know what he was getting when he hired the guy. The president wanted to hear other viewpoints and that is why he took him on. Well, he did hear other viewpoints, the ones that Bolton had been spouting for years against all these all-time enemies of our country. But then the president got tired of hearing the same arguments over and over again, and the man was gone. So before he goes, he deserves a sendoff, and a back-handed salute.
But wait, not to be outdone yesterday, September 18th, in a speech in New York, Mr. Bolton fired off a broadside at the president for his even considering cozying up with the Afghan Taliban as well as his willingness to negotiate with Iran.. Mr. Trump was silent but is sure to retort to the effect, “That’s why I had to get rid of the guy.”
It is not an understatement to say that Bolton is a foreign policy hawk. His favorite negotiating tool is to fervently and repeatedly and loudly wish for regime change for such countries as: Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen and North Korea. Not that these are bad ideas, but they are best said to yourself or in select circles, rather then blabbering them all over the media for all the world to see and hear.
It probably didn’t play too well when he and the president were trundling around Asia trying to make a deal with North Korea. President Kim Jong Un was probably thinking. “I wonder what he is whispering in the ear of that Orange Man.” And if regime change didn’t do the trick, he was an advocate of aggressive force. On top of that, he made faces at any one that disagreed.
You can call him an American nationalist, a conservative or even a neoconservative. But you can’t call him a veteran, because, during the Vietnam War, when he was of military age, he conveniently joined the National Guard and missed out on combat. He is another in a line of “chicken hawks”–those who are anxious to go to war at the drop of a hat, but who’ve never experienced the horrors of combat.
He later explained his actions by writing, “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” Millions of young men sought to evade the draft. But for a young man already showing signs of such strong military views, such an action is another matter.
Bolton was born in 1948 in Baltimore, Maryland. He came from modest means, growing up a working class neighborhood. His parents were a fireman and a housewife. He must have been a bright boy, because he won a scholarship to the prestigious, swanky McDonogh School in nearby Owing Mills. His political bent showed itself in high school when in 1964, at the tender age of 16, he ran the school’s Students for Goldwater campaign.
Then it was off to Yale University, which was quite an accomplishment for a boy of modest means from Baltimore. He graduated with honors, summa cum laude, in 1970. From there, it was Yale Law School from 1971-1974. While in law school he was a summer intern for Vice President Spiro Agnew, who later resigned from office because of tax evasion and bribery charges from his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew later copped a plea. In retrospect, Spiro wasn’t the best role model around.
After law school, Bolton alternated between a career with Washington law firms and with Republican administrations, depending on whether Republicans were in office. During his early years in government he was a protégé of conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.
In the 1980s, working for the Justice Department as an assistant attorney general, Bolton showed his good-hearted side by writing position papers opposing financial reparations to Japanese-Americans held in internment camps during World War II. Despite his recommendations, these citizens were eventually granted reparations by President Reagan.
He then shepherded the judicial nomination process for Antonin Scalia. Bolton also framed a bill to control illegal immigration as an essential measure in the drug war. (That sounds familiar today.) He was also involved in the Iran-Contra affair, as a protector of those involved in the plot.
While working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in 1981-1982 Bolton reportedly threatened a legal adviser for the agency who refused to lobby for the deregulation of baby formula in developing nations. He later, it was cited, used inflammatory language and threw objects in the course of dealing with another USAID worker over a report she had written, which was critical of a contractor.
From 2001 to 2005, he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. His key responsibility was preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Bolton happily negotiated an agreement with other countries to prohibit turning Americans over to the International Criminal Court, which we do not recognize. Interestingly in light of current events, Mr. Bolton sought to sabotage the negotiations of secretary of state Colin Powell with North Korea.
Early in 2002, Bolton began to accuse Cuba of having a secret biological weapons program and of collaborating with Libya and Iran. The State Department’s chief bio-weapons analyst disapproved of the accusations made by Bolton. Bolton then sought to have the man fired and, that failing, to transfer him to another office. Other experts refuted his Cuba claims, but he persisted in them nevertheless. He was also one of those who jumped on the bandwagon, accusing Saddam’s Iraqi regime of seeking to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger as an ingredient in making atomic bombs. This accusation, repeated by General Colin Powell–to his disgrace at the UN–turned out to be false. It was cited as an important reason for us to attack Iraq.
According to an article in The New Republic, Bolton was quite successful in pushing his agenda, but his bluntness made him many enemies. In response to critics, Bolton states that his record demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy. Other Republican administration officials have claimed that his past strong statements allow him to negotiate from a powerful position.
So it seems natural, given Bolton’s lack of faith in the United Nations, that he be made President George W Bush’s ambassador to this very same organization. This was done as a interim, recess appointment by the President, while Congress was not in session. This was because he couldn’t be approved by a regular confirmation hearing in the Senate due to his vociferous denouncements of the UN in the past, his highly controversial positions and his alleged abuse of fellow staff members.
The most controversial ambassador ever sent to the UN, his term was marked by his abrasive style. Bolton was said to have tried to clean up corruption and malfeasance, and to follow UN procedure in dealing with such threats as a nuclear North Korea and a Hezbollah bid to take over Lebanon. It was said in The Wall Street Journal that “His efforts were like one man trying to move a tsunami of mud.” He served for less than two years and at the end of his tenure didn’t seek a regular appointment. He knew he couldn’t get Senate approval because of his track record.
With Donald Trump’s impending presidency, after the 2016 election Bolton was angling for the position of Secretary of State. After all, Bolton had supported candidate Trump’s statements on the illness of Hillary Clinton and the inappropriateness of her aide, Huma Abedin. He opined that the Russian hackers’ intervention to help elect Donald Trump may have been “fake news”.
It was said by several Trump associates that he didn’t get the job, in part, because Trump was disdainful of Bolton’s signature bushy white mustache. It is hard to believe such a major decision would be based on such a personal physical detail. But the president is known for his predilection for using appearance as a means of expressing disdain.
President Trump has a thing for military men, but they don’t last too long. Who can forget that first cabinet meeting in 2017, when he proudly announced to the world, “We have assembled one of the greatest Cabinets in history, and I believe that so strongly.” Unfortunately–or fortunately–a record number of them don’t have their jobs any more. So eventually, Bolton replaced General H.R. McMaster, who had in turn replaced General Michael Flynn as national security advisor.
And it is no coincidence that the national security advisor is one of those jobs that doesn’t require Congressional approval, as we remember that back in the Bush days, Bolton showed himself to be unable to survive in the UN Secretary interview.
With the addition of John Bolton, the resignation of Rex Tillerson and the departure of General McMaster, Trump’s foreign policy team was now the most radically aggressive foreign policy team around a president. In recent history, it could only be compared to the foreign policy team around George W. Bush, notably with Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld.
Hitting the ground running, in his usual passive style, Bolton requested and obtained the resignations of multiple National Security Council employees. He proceeded to quickly shrink their number by not replacing them. This followed a principle of his, that government should be small.
It is said that as national security advisor Bolton eliminated the internal policy debates that his predecessor General McMaster had in place. This change is said to have contributed to the president’s sudden and erratic decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in January 2019. Bolton was now very influential in the Trump administration, and is said to have reshaped the National Security Council.
For his first major address as national security advisor, Bolton said, “The International Criminal Court lacks checks and balances and exercises jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed, has ambiguous definitions and has failed to deter and punish atrocity crimes.” He further called the ICC a threat to America, and said he would do everything to protect our citizens should the ICC attempt to prosecute U.S. servicemen over alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan. He also criticized Palestinian efforts to bring charges against Israel for abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.
Some of this is true, but Bolton goes about attacking international relationships like a maddened runaway bull. He gores everyone in sight, friend and foe. It’s not a great way to treat others. But he obviously never read Dale Carnegie’s forever best seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
In 2018 Bolton requested the Pentagon provide the White House with options for military strikes against Iran. This reflects his feelings toward this country, going back to the days when he was part of the Bush administration. Bolton is skeptical of international organizations and international law, considering them a danger to American sovereignty. He prefers unilateralism to multilateralism. As such he is a critic of the European Union, feeling that they have advanced what he considers liberal policies. He loves the idea that the UK is leaving EU.
This unlikely duo, the president and his national security advisor, share some outlooks but are miles apart on others. Both have never seen an American treaty with any international group that they didn’t hate. They share an affinity toward the government of Israel and hatred toward Iran. But It was hard to figure out how Bolton was getting along with President Trump, who admires the leaders of Russia and North Korea.
In fact, the president came out on Sunday, May 26th, supporting Kim when he said that the short range missiles that North Korea has been firing are no threat to Japan or anywhere else. This presidential comment came despite the entreaties of his own intelligence analysts and our allies to take a stance against this outrage. One wonders if Bolton, the ultimate North Korea hardliner, had a hard time handling this?
In the evening of June 20, 2019, the national security advisor was flexing his muscles along with his hawkish crony, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. They were urging the president to take some kind of countermeasure, like a missile attack into Iran, because the Iranians had downed one of our drones in international waters on the Straits of Hormuz. The president agreed to the attack and it was put in motion. Mr. Trump was then urgently advised by Tucker Carlson of Fox News, of all people, that such an adventure, and its repercussions, could cost him the election in 2020. He wisely backed off and cancelled the attack, when he heard there might be 150 casualties as a result of this bombing. That was the beginning of the end of Mr. Bolton.
But as Mr. Bolton showed yesterday, you can bet your last dollar that he will be at it again, urging the president or some other important decision-makers toward a military calamity.
“If it was up to John, we’d be in four wars now.”