Trump hires Bolton: Is the U.S. now on ‘a path to war’?
OK, “it’s time to panic now,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Last week President Trump abruptly fired national security adviser H.R. McMaster, one of the last surviving “adults in the room” in this chaotic administration, and replaced him with John Bolton, the Fox News contributor and former U.N. ambassador. Bolton is best known for his “walrus mustache,” his contempt for diplomacy and international law, and foreign policy views so hawkishly extreme as to make Dick Cheney look like Gandhi. Bolton is already on record demanding military strikes against North Korea and Iran. Given that Trump lacks any foreign policy vision of his own, the belligerent Bolton may “excite Trump’s darker instincts” and put us on “the path to war” with one or both of those nations. In May, the Iran nuclear deal is due to be recertified; Trump has been threatening to kill that agreement anyway because it was forged by President Obama. With Bolton egging Trump on, the deal’s fate may be sealed. The truly alarming thing, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, is that Trump is ridding himself of his “protective cordon of advisers,” such as McMaster and fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He’s now surrounding himself with kooky, “true-believing ideologues” that he finds on Fox News. “The combination of Bolton and Trump poses an especially potent danger,” since their shared obsession with dominating adversaries has “the potential to kill large numbers of people.”
Bolton’s critics call him a “reflexive militarist,” said Reihan Salam in TheAtlantic.com. But his actual record is more that of a “pragmatic nationalist”—one who believes the threat of military force is necessary to restrain enemies, but who is “more than willing to use diplomatic means to advance U.S. interests.” He opposed U.S. military adventurism in Somalia, for example, and while working at George W. Bush’s State Department, Bolton used deft, dogged diplomacy to put together a multinational coalition to combat nuclear smuggling. Which is more dangerous? asked David French in NationalReview.com. John Bolton or “a nuclear-armed Iran?” Obama’s nuclear deal has failed to persuade Iran’s extremist rulers to abandon their anti-U.S. hostility, their support for terrorism, and their quest for regional domination. So maybe it’s time to “give a hawk a chance.”
Sorry, said Daniel Larison in TheAmericanConservative.com, but “hawks have been given a chance to run our foreign policy every day for decades on end”—and the results have been ugly. Bolton enthusiastically cheered on the invasion of Iraq with the same carefree bellicosity he spouts today about Iran and North Korea. As a former Bush administration official, I can tell you that Bolton is “a masterful bureaucratic tactician,” said Matthew Waxman in LawfareBlog.com. He’s deeply familiar with “the levers and knobs” of our national security apparatus, and will figure out how to best manipulate Trump. Cunning and aggressive, Bolton is going to be “relentlessly effective” in promoting his agenda.
That means “war is coming,” said Andrew Sullivan in NYMag.com. Look at the big picture. Under the looming threats of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, frequent White House leaks, and a midterm election that could give Democrats the House, Trump is furious at his lack of control. With his narcissistic disdain for restraining norms and the welfare of anyone but himself, “we know he is capable of anything.” When Trump soon finds himself in need of “the greatest distraction of all,” as would-be tyrants invariably do, “there will be nothing and no one to stop him.” In fact, Bolton will be urging him to launch the bombers. ■