Trump brings a Bush-era hawk back into the foreign policy fray

Image: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at t
A Bush-era hawk, now on Team Trump. Copyright Joshua Roberts Reuters file
By Vivian Salama with NBC News Politics
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President Donald Trump's new national security adviser is an ultra-hawkish figure whose foreign policy has led him to clash even with fellow Republicans.


WASHINGTON — In 2015, John Bolton penned an op-ed for the New York Times with a simple, startling headline: "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."

A career State Department official and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, Bolton has earned a reputation in Washington and around the world as an ultra-hawkish figure whose unapologetic brand of foreign policy has led him to clash even with fellow Republicans.

"The logic is straight forward," Bolton's op-ed began. "The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what's necessary," to destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

He may be one of the architects of the war in Iraq — a conflict President Donald Trump spent most of his campaign decrying — but his sentiments on Iran and other critical foreign policy issues echo many of the beliefs of the current president, who on Thursday named Bolton as his new national security adviser. Bolton will be the third man to hold the job under Trump, replacing H.R. McMaster, an active duty three-star general who filled the role following the abrupt and controversial exit of retired Gen. Michael Flynn last year.

In Bolton, Trump selects yet another controversial figure for a senior adviser — a lightning rod even within in his own party. The position does not require Senate confirmation, a sore spot for Bolton who resigned from his unconfirmed recess appointment at the United Nations in 2006 after it became clear he could not win Senate confirmation — even from a chamber controlled by his own party.

With the help of Trump's newly-appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Bolton will work to recast Trump's foreign policy, absent some of the more moderate figures who had thus-far counseled Trump, a foreign policy novice, through his first year in office.

"He's very, very smart and very aggressive," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told NBC News. "A national security team made up of him and Pompeo is sure to be aggressive and get things done."

Bolton earned his reputation as a hardliner dating back to the days of the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war, which began 15 years ago this week. In a 2007 speech to the American Conservative Union Political Action Conference, he said that the quantity of weapons of mass destruction possessed by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "was never the issue." (No weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion.)

"What President Bush did in overthrowing Saddam Hussein was to defend the critical national security interests of the United States," he said then. "The real issue was the threat was Saddam Hussein himself and the decision to eliminate that threat to our security and the peace and security of our friends and allies was the right decision."

Bolton, a native of Baltimore, has worked as a political contributor to Fox News — of which Trump is an avid viewer. He also runs a conservative super PAC in Washington, ironically housed in the same corporate office building as the Office of the Special Counsel, which is currently investigating contacts officials with the Trump campaign had with Russia.

Bolton attended law school at Yale University the same time as former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and attended classes with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

His book, "Surrender Is Not An Option," details his journey into the political sphere as a volunteer for conservative firebrand Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign.

Bolton wrote, "Although Lyndon Johnson seemed to have a large lead going into the election, I remained optimistic that Barry Goldwater would run well, and might even pull off an upset. So much for the early signs of a promising political career."

"If the United States was in such parlous condition that people who showed off their appendectomy scars in public and held up beagles by their ears could get elected president, something had to be done," he added, inspired by Johnson's victory.

That experience would color his view of politics and foster his belief that America would never maintain its status as a superpower if it complied with nations that don't play by America's rules.

Beyond Iran, Bolton has long been highly skeptical of the North Korean regime, and assumes the role of Trump's national security adviser less than two weeks after the administration announced Trump's intention to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Bolton himself is no stranger to venturing off on his own, no matter how unpopular his views. He wrote the foreword for "The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America," a book by conservative blogger Pamela Geller that urges Americans to reclaim their sovereignty following the Obama presidency.

Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative were behind a campaign to place a controversial advertisement series in New York City's subways that declared, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."


Bolton himself has also long been skeptical about Palestinian sincerity toward achieving lasting peace with Israel, and has characterized Palestinian statehood efforts as "a ploy."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement Thursday urging against Bolton's appointment, because of "his promotion of extremist views that will inevitably harm our nation and that could lead to unnecessary and counterproductive international conflicts."

Bolton had met with Trump numerous times since 2016, including during the transition period, when Trump was still forming his initial national security team. However, he was repeatedly overlooked.

Still, his constant willingness to take on a role in the administration was apparent, and he would periodically visit the White House to share his views on various foreign policy issues — namely Iran — with the president.

"Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America's allies and bad news for America's enemies," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. "He has a firm understanding of the threats we face from North Korea, Iran, and radical Islam."


Democrats were quick to condemn the selection.

"Mr. Bolton's tendency to try to solve every geopolitical problem with the American military first is a troubling one," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "I hope he will temper his instinct to commit the men and women of our armed forces to conflicts around the globe, when we need to be focused on building the middle class here at home."

Bolton officially takes on the job next month, according to a tweet by Trump earlier Thursday. He comes into the role as U.S. relations with some of its closest foreign allies have been weakened amid Trump's threats of tariffs and his refusal to take a tougher stance on Russia for its patterns of disruptive behavior, both in the U.S. and across Europe. But Bolton appeared ready to embrace the role.

"It is an honor to be asked by President Trump to serve as his national security adviser. I humbly accept his offer," Bolton said in a Thursday night statement. "The United States faces a wide array of issues and I look forward to working with President Trump and his leadership team in addressing these complex challenges in an effort to make our country safer at home and stronger abroad."

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