John Bolton is a menace, a “warmongering lunatic” writes Damon Linker, “a dangerous uber-hawk” in the words of former national security officials Colin Kahl and Jon Wolfsthal. Throughout his career, Bolton has been a consistent advocate for war as an instrument of national policy. He opposes the Iran nuclear deal and dismisses the value of negotiating with North Korea, urging instead the use of military strikes and the policy of regime change.
As White House National Security Adviser, Bolton will be in a position to turn these extremist views into reality. He will hold the most powerful position in Washington for determining U.S. national security policy and will have the president’s ear on a daily basis.
The selection of the bellicose Bolton for this position follows the nominations of hawkish Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and torture supporter Gena Haspel as CIA Director. It comes as Congress has approved a whopping $700 billion military budget for fiscal year 2018, an 18 percent increase in military spending over proposed 2017 levels.
This is what nations do when they prepare for war. They assemble a war cabinet and significantly boost arms spending. They put someone in charge who favors military action over diplomacy. They act unilaterally and ignore the principles of international law.
It is time to be afraid, very afraid.
These developments unfold at a delicate moment for diplomatic efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea. The Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread, with a decision due in May on whether the United States will withdraw from the agreement. Trump has already signaled his desire to scuttle the deal, and his selection of Bolton makes that outcome seem almost inevitable.
The nuclear agreement with Iran has been successful so far in limiting its nuclear program, but if Washington reneges on the deal, Tehran has vowed to resume nuclear production and full-scale uranium enrichment. This would touch off renewed calls for military strikes against Iran, as Bolton advocated in a March 2015 op-ed for The New York Times. In January 2018 Bolton reiterated his call for military action in a The Wall Street Journal op-ed, calling for the overthrow of the Iranian regime before its 40 th anniversary next year.
Bolton has also called for military strikes against North Korea’s nuclear program. The forthcoming Trump-Kim summit offers hope for a possible diplomatic approach, but Bolton considers this a waste of time. In September 2017 he told Fox News that the only option was to “end the regime in North Korea” through military strikes. In February he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”
Needless to say, such actions against Iran and North Korea would prompt sharp countermeasures and increase the risk of war, deepening U.S. involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East and prompting a major security crisis in Northeast Asia. The U.S. would find itself further at odds with China and Russia and increasingly isolated from allies. If the shooting starts, civilian casualties would result, and refugee flows and political instability would spread in the affected regions and around the world.
Like Trump, Bolton disregards inconvenient truths and asserts fake facts to suit his purposes. He helped to promote false claims of weapons of mass destruction that led to the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. He remains unrepentant about that war and claims it was the right thing to do.
Bolton has refused to accept reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency verifying Iranian implementation of the nuclear deal. U.N. inspectors have produced 10 reports showing that Iran has complied fully with the agreement so far, but Bolton rejects the evidence.
Bolton also practices threat inflation. He claims falsely that North Korea is “perilously close to being able to hit targets in the continental U.S. with thermonuclear weapons.” While Pyongyang has tested nuclear explosives and ballistic missiles, it has not exhibited the ability to launch and target nuclear warheads over great distances.
Bolton has lost favor among many in Washington, even some conservatives, because of his abuse of intelligence information and his imperious manner toward subordinates and those who disagree with him. When President George W. Bush selected him in 2005 to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Senate was sharply divided and refused to approve the nomination. Bush subsequently put him in office through a recess appointment, although he later regretted the choice, stating, “I don’t consider Bolton credible.”
During his short term at the U.N., Bolton was the most undiplomatic of diplomats. He once said that if the top 10 floors of the U.N. Secretariat building in New York were lopped off, “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Throughout his career he has been dismissive of diplomacy.
What can be done to stop Bolton? Sadly very little. The position of National Security Adviser is not a cabinet-level post and therefore is not subject to congressional approval. This is not the case with the nominations of Mike Pompeo and Gena Haspel at the State Department and the CIA. Urging senators to challenge their nominations is a way of calling attention to the dangerous policies they and Bolton have espoused.
As the key decisions approach on the Iran deal and talks with North Korea, we need to be informed about these issues and prepared to take action in support of diplomacy rather than military force. Our message is clear: words not war. Diplomacy is working in Iran and should be given a chance with North Korea.
We have seen historic mobilizations recently against gun violence in our schools and communities. We may need to mobilize similar public action now in support of diplomacy and against the looming threat of war.