American Foreign PolicyMilitaryOpinion

John Bolton is too Dangerous to be National Security Advisor

By Devynn N Nolan

On April 9th Mr. Bolton will replace H.R. McMaster as Trump’s third NSA in the past 14 months. Bolton, who has a troublesome past, to say the least, has been dubbed radical and dangerous by those who know him, many of them fellow conservatives. In 2005, a Republican-controlled Senate would not confirm him as ambassador to the UN because of his extreme positions and questionable behavior. Even Trump originally rejected the Fox News regular’s appeal to join his team, but that was on account of, some surprising aesthetic concerns. Today, this bonafide ultra-hawk is in an immensely powerful position to influence US foreign policy.

Before we get to why Bolton is a wrongheaded pick for NSA, let’s take a step back. What is the NSA and what does s/he do? The NSA is a person appointed by the president who does not need confirmation from the Senate. Their principal responsibility is to make sure the president has heard the views of the different national security agencies, relay the facts, and advise the president on all matters of foreign policy and national security. Here are a few reasons why he is wrong for the job:

Bolton has a history of politicizing intelligence for his own purposes. Much of the job relies on objectivity and truthfully relaying findings, but Bolton’s history says he cannot be trusted to do that. While at the State Department, Bolton cherry-picked intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq, which as recently as 2015 he still defended as a good idea. Additionally, Bolton made a speech in which he would make repeatedly false claims that Cuba had biological weapons. After an intelligence analyst questioned him on it, Bolton tried to get him transferred to another department.

Bolton has a reputation for being confrontational. In the 2005 Senate hearing about his nomination, the ranking democrat included in his testimony no less than five people alleging that Bolton mistreated subordinates and politicized intel. In the 1990s, Bolton reportedly chased a government contractor down a hallway and threw things at her after she questioned a project Bolton was working on. He created a hostile work environment in which dissenting views or facts that didn’t support his mission were unacceptable and detrimental to colleagues careers.

Bolton has an extremely troubling view of Muslims. Bolton was the keynote speaker at a far-right conference in 2016 where he perpetuated the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama is a Muslim. Before that, he not only endorsed a book by radical Islamophobes, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, but also wrote the foreword to their 2010 book. He also served as chairman of the Gatestone Institute, infamous for being an anti-Muslim think tank. In addition, he has ties to many radical anti-Muslim organizations; these facts alone should raise some serious red-flags about this man having the president’s ear.

Bolton is a hawk among hawks. For many challenging foreign policy questions, Bolton’s answer is a bomb. He has consistently advocated for military action and against diplomacy. He does not value multilateralism nor does he respect institutions such as the United Nations. He even said that if the UN building “lost 10 stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” He fundamentally sees negotiations with outlier states as futile. What’s worse than being a hard-liner is that he often gets major issues wrong. In 1994, he advocated to tear up the agreement with North Korea which led us to where we are today. In the lead up to the Iraq war, he promised that Iraqis would welcome American soldiers, there would be quick democratization, and the mission would be of short duration. Here we are 15 years later, and Bolton evidently has not learned from his mistakes. In 2015, he argued that Iran would never “negotiate away its nuclear program” and that a military strike was necessary. This assumption was proven wrong with the JCPOA in which Iran agreed to restrict their nuclear program for the next 15 years.

Bolton’s appointment comes at a pivotal time. Next month is critically important for foreign policy and national security. The deadline to recertify the Iran agreement is May 12th and Trump has already threatened not to sign it. Bolton is in the “rip it up” camp as well, but goes further by proposing war with Iran. He has consistently said that military strikes are our only option. You know who else needs to be bombed according to Bolton? North Korea. The proposed summit between Trump and Kim is scheduled to occur by the end of next month. Bolton has said on many occasions that talks with Kim would be a waste of time. He said in an op-ed written in February that it is a “necessity” and “perfectly legitimate” to strike Pyongyang first. This is troubling considering the NSA is supposed to help in making the meeting a success – or at least preventing a catastrophic failure. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to expect Bolton to set requirements knowing full well the North Koreans won’t reach them, blame North Korea for the summit’s failure, then quickly move into the military option. It is not difficult to image Bolton manipulating Trump with half-truths or merely telling Trump what it is he wants to hear in order to justify rash actions.

Trump is creating his war cabinet by putting a hawk in a dove’s place (Pompeo as Secretary of State) and by putting uber-hawk Bolton in a position from which cannot be blocked. We should all be concerned as the bureaucratic checkpoints that serve to prevent the worst from happening are being taken away. This is all happening as we ramp up to what will without a doubt be an eventful month.

Devynn Nolan is an Associate Editor at the Journal of Diplomacy and a second-year graduate student specializing in International Security and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management 

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