President Donald Trump’s newest national security adviser brings a more militaristic voice to the administration’s foreign policy.
John Bolton, the Fox News analyst and former U.N. ambassador who was named Thursday night to replace HR McMaster, has recently argued that a preemptive strike against North Korea would be justified and laid out how to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. He's also previously called for bombing the country, and has said Trump should be aggressive toward Putin.
Or as Trump himself put it once, Bolton is a “tough cookie.”
Bolton worked in the past three Republican administrations going back to Reagan and has been talking with Trump about working in his administration since the 2016 election. But Bolton is a divisive figure even among Republicans, some of whom quietly lobbied against him during the presidential transition, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Former Republican assistant secretary of state Carl Ford Jr., who worked with Bolton in the Bush administration, testified to the Senate in 2005 that Bolton was a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy” who “abuses his authority with little people."
Trump has also been skeptical of Bolton because of his signature bushy mustache. “Trump has hesitated in part because of his negative reaction to Mr. Bolton’s walrus-style mustache,” The New York Times reported Thursday night after Bolton’s appointment.
“Bolton’s mustache is a problem…Trump doesn’t think he looks the part,” Steve Bannon told former head of Fox News Roger Ailes during the presidential transition, according to the White House tell-all book "Fire and Fury" (while there are some factual problems with the book, Bannon has never denied his quotes).
“He’s a bomb-thrower. And a strange little fucker. But you need him.”
“He’s a bomb thrower,” Ailes said of Bolton. “And a strange little fucker. But you need him.”
It would seem Trump now agrees.
Here’s what else you need to know about the newest national security adviser.
Bolton was an Iraq War booster and still thinks it was the right decision.
Bolton was one of the strongest supporters of the decision to send troops into Iraq in 2003, whereas Trump has repeatedly argued that the Iraq War was a disastrous foreign policy decision and said the Bush administration “lied” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
While serving in Bush’s state department in the lead-up to the war, Bolton accused Iraq of working to amass a weapons of mass destruction. "We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq," Bolton said in 2002 in his role as undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security.
Those weapons did not exist, but Bolton remains unrepentant about the decision to invade the country, telling the Washington Examiner in 2015:
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct”
"I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct. I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces…The people who say, oh things would have been much better if you didn't overthrow Saddam miss the point that today's Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone."
Bolton couldn’t get confirmed as U.N. Ambassador, so George W. Bush had to give him a recess appointment.
George W. Bush had just won re-election when he nominated John Bolton to be the ambassador of the United Nations in 2005, saying, “I thought it made sense to send a reformer to the United Nations.” Bolton had taken a diminutive view of the world body in the past, saying that if the U.N. building lost 10 of its 38 stories, “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
Bolton, who had endeared himself to the Bush team by going down to Florida to help with the 2000 recount effort, was a favorite of Vice President Dick Cheney who shared his power-centric worldview. Cheney successfully pushed Secretary of State Colin Powell to hire Bolton in the State Department.
But in front of the Senate, Bolton was a politically polarizing choice and nearly all Senate Democrats and one Republican opposed his confirmation.
Bolton’s nomination required 60 votes and so the process dragged on for five months until Bush decided to appoint him during the 2005 August recess. Such an appointment is only temporary and would only last until the next Congress in January of 2007. When Democrats won the Senate in November of 2006, Bolton realized he would never be confirmed and stepped aside.
National Security Advisor is not a Senate-confirmed position so Bolton will get a prime office in the White House regardless of how Senators feel.
Bolton later turned on the Bush administration, making Bush dismiss him as “not credible.”
Soon after he left the Bush Administration, Bolton began publicly bashing the Bush administration for being too soft and naive in their foreign policy dealings and abandoning the tougher-mind foreign policy of the early Bush years. “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse,” Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in response to Bush lifting some sanctions on North Korea.
Bush did not take kindly to the rebukes, as documented in Peter Baker’s “Days of Fire” account of the Bush presidency. In a 90-minute off-the-record session with conservative scholars and writers, Bush addressed the criticism from his former U.N. ambassador and snapped: “Let me just say from the outset that I don’t consider Bolton credible,” and complained that “I spent political capital for him.”
Bolton defended his view that the presidency had abruptly changed its tact, especially in the second term. "It’s just divorced from reality,” Bolton told Baker. “Of course it’s a different policy than the first term. He says we haven’t changed a bit, and that’s just not accurate.”
Cover image: John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during the American Conservative Unions Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)