We’re Going to miss John Bolton
John Bolton, the man whom a bipartisan array of politicians, thinkers, and pundits, blame for U.S. foreign policy for not being able to have nice things has been sacked by President Trump as national security adviser.
Bolton was at odds with Trump on multiple issues, the most recent and notable example being the war in Afghanistan where Bolton was marginalized in an area where his position as national security adviser should have been one of the Administration’s top thinkers. But it wasn’t just Afghanistan, his hawkishness made him a strange fit for Trump who is determined to avoid war at any cost and who has made clear he has no problems talking directly to the likes of Kim Jong-un or Hassan Rouhani. Bolton’s hawkishness on Iran and North Korea, as well as his opposition to arms control agreements have made him many enemies in the foreign policy community who will no doubt be glad to see him leave, but the nation will soon miss Bolton’s presence as national security adviser, especially if Trump should be re-elected.
There are certain folks who want all people who work for Trump, but who do not agree with him on things, to resign out of principle. Mattis did, for example, and so should they. The problem is that if everyone resigns on principle, there will be nobody left to try to steer the ship in a responsible direction. It is easy to shoot spitballs in the back of the classroom at Mike Pompeo for selling his soul, but who would the people who truly think that Trump is a Putin stooge rather have as secretary of state: Mike Pompeo or Rex Tillerson? Who would you rather have as national security adviser: John Bolton or Matt Flynn?
Bolton’s critics see him as cynical, his defenders see him as realistic. He does not have time for the pretentious moralizers at the United Nations and other international institutions, he is uncompromising in pursuit of what he believes to be the national interest, and is willing to use military force to advance those interests. According to his critics this is proof that he either secretly wants war or will bumble the country into one, his supporters view him as a way to tell Turtle Bay to go pound sand and a no non-sense advocate of U.S. national security.
Now let us examine Trump. His critics view him as naive at best, dangerous and nefarious at worst, but his defenders will defend him as being realistic as well. Like Bolton, he does not care much for international institutions, but where Bolton is uncompromising, Trump is compromising and this is what his critics don’t like about him. He is willing to put decades-long mutual defense treaties on the table to advance some extremely narrow and short-sighted financial conception of the national interest while cultivating close personal friendships with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Also, unlike Bolton, Trump is adverse to use military force. This has presented Trump with a problem. Trump was able to bluff his way to talks with Kim, but not with Iran.
Steven A. Cook writes at Foreign Policy that if U.S. and Iranian officials are ever to meet again it won’t be because of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, but Israel’s:
Against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s passivity in response to Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf and the generalized confusion about U.S.-Iran policy, the Israelis are the only ones applying “maximum pressure” on Iran — and it seems to be working. When American officials next meet their Iranian counterparts, it is likely because the Israeli military made it possible.
He goes on
the Israelis’ sense of threat is heightened by what they perceive to be the Trump administration’s penchant for speaking loudly but carrying a small stick on Iran
He could add John Bolton to that as well. Bolton’s presence give threats of force a certain credibility that Trump lacks. Tehran likely plays up the “Trump is going to start a war” card because they know the “echo chamber” media and Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail will repeat it, and if one of them gets elected they can obtain sanctions relief, but they don’t actually fear that Trump will topple the regime anymore than they feared Obama. If they do fear Trump more than Obama, it is only because of Iran hawks such as Bolton and Pompeo.
While Democrats and certain Republicans may be inclined to say “good riddance” to Bolton when it comes to Iran, they will miss him when it comes to Russia or North Korea. Bolton provided a dissenting voice from some of Trump’s more harebrained schemes. Bolton understands that Trump was the one elected president and therefore he ultimately makes the final decision, but thought being national security adviser was the best way try to influence presidential decision making. He had some success, the INF Treaty being the biggest example, but ultimately it didn’t work out. Those cheering Bolton’s demise should be careful what they wish for, they just might get it.