I don’t take any delight in writing this and I come to you with a somber tone. This is genuinely scary, and if you think my headline is hyperbolic, then take it up with President Trump’s brand new National Security Adviser. John Bolton’s own words prove my clickbait title true. Let’s start with an op-ed from 2015 that he wrote in the New York Times, titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.
Or Bolton’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from last month, titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”
In contemporary times, Israel has already twice struck nuclear-weapons programs in hostile states: destroying the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad in 1981 and a Syrian reactor being built by North Koreans in 2007.
In 1837 Britain unleashed pre-emptive “fire and fury” against a wooden steamboat. It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current “necessity” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.
John Bolton was broadly introduced to America as George W. Bush’s unconfirmable recess appointee as Ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006 (yet another reminder for those who have seemingly forgot that George W. Bush was a catastrophe), but he has been around in government a long time—long enough to compile a reputation as an extreme war hawk. Here he is espousing regime change to Russia’s propaganda network in 2008.
John Bolton is a man so transparently bonkers that he introduced us to Tucker Carlson—capital-J Journalist—a few weeks ago.
Bolton is obsessed with Iran and will seemingly stop at nothing to quench his bloodthirsty lust. If you couldn’t make it through the entire Fox News clip (I don’t blame you), here’s the seminal exchange to give you an idea of how off far off the reservation John Bolton resides.
Carlson: You’ve called for regime change in Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria. In the first two countries we’ve had regime change, and obviously it’s been—I’d say a disaster. I think we’d agree on that.
Bolton: No, no, I don’t agree with that.
Carlson: You don’t think it’s been a disaster?
Bolton: No, because to argue that, you have to argue—let’s just take Iraq to begin with—you have to argue that everything that followed from the fall of Saddam Hussein followed inevitably, solely and unalterably from the decision to overthrow him, and that’s simply not true.
Translation: it was the local’s fault that they didn’t enact my revolution ordered at the barrel of a gun. Here are a few more highlights from the man Trump has tasked to run a significant portion of his foreign policy:
“The Iranian threat—which stems from the Revolution of 1979 [where Iranians overthrew an oppressive Shah who succeeded a democratically elected prime minister who the CIA admitted they overthrew in 1953]—was underway quite apart from what Saddam Hussein was doing. The Iranians had been trying to get nuclear weapons for 25 years.”
“No, the fall of Saddam did not make Iran stronger, what made Iran stronger ultimately was the withdrawal of American forces in 2011.”
“I think the overthow of Saddam Hussein—that military action—was a resounding success. I think the mistakes that were made subsequently, setting up the Coalition Provision Authority and others that followed from it are lessons about what to do after a regime is overthrown.”
That last one is a bit comforting (relatively speaking, given that I’ve now accepted a likely future in which we invade Iran), as he recognizes that the most disastrous part of the invasion of Iraq was the fact that they had no plan after they completely destabilized an entire country. It’s not ripping a country’s central nervous system out that worries John Bolton, it’s finding a temporary replacement for an irreplaceable part. No matter what interview you pull with this guy, two words and one country echo his every thought: regime change and Iran.
Iran is ruled by brutal despots. But so is Russia. And China. And Saudi Arabia. And Turkey. And Israel. We even have our own wannabe version here in the United States. We can’t remove every single regime in the world just because they’re tyrants. I can’t believe that I’m saying this but that’s how crazy our society is right now: Tucker Carlson is right. The financing of nearly every major terrorist attack in the U.S. and Europe traces back to Saudi Arabia—our ally. Claiming that exact reason to invade Iran is nonsensical, but it’s John Bolton’s entire foreign policy obsession. It’s the central thing that animates him, and now he can implement his vision sitting in Condoleezza Rice’s old office. Former ethics advisor to George W. Bush is sounding the alarm on his ex-coworker.
There is a sliver of good news in this nightmare, as The Washington Post reported last night:
One big question going forward is how Bolton will work with [Secretary of Defense, James] Mattis, who has often tried to restrain Trump's more impulsive and unconventional instincts on foreign policy matters.
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Mattis both pushed Trump to remove McMaster, with Kelly leading the effort. But Kelly and Mattis are said to be skeptical of Bolton, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
At the end of the day, the Pentagon handles America's battles, and if James Mattis is vehemently opposed to Bolton's hyperbole, then it may be enough to stave off the war(s) with Iran and/or North Korea that Bolton so desperately wants. That said, a contributing editor to Foreign Policy laid out why we should all be genuinely fearful of John Bolton whispering in the ear of the most simple-minded president in American history.
John Bolton is an acolyte of Dick Cheney. Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, accurately summarized this waking nightmare we have entered. That awful feeling you felt on election night? It's decisions like hiring John Bolton that justify it.
All that said, Occam's Razor in Trumplandia is always rank incompetence, and it's not just possible, but plausible that Bolton won't last long enough to enact the dystopia he so desperately wants, as Liz Mair, a conservative communications strategist pointed out.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.