John Bolton is a superb choice for national security advisor, though you wouldn’t know that from the lamentations and doomsday prophecies issuing from the media since President Trump tweeted the news that on April 9 Ambassador Bolton will take over this pivotal White House post from Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster. As the New York-Washington headline consensus would have it, Bolton is a rogue war-monger, an ultra-hardline uber-hawk, a one-man MIRVed missile raring to blow up the planet. He inspires terror at the New York Times, where the editorial board assures us, “Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous.”
This is the stuff of caricature, a reflection not on Bolton, but on the uber-bias of his critics. Actually, as David French writes at National Review, “John Bolton Isn’t Dangerous. The World Is.” Though if Bolton inspires even half as much alarm in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang as he does among much of the U.S. commentariat, that alone could save the U.S. military a lot of time, resources and risk in reestablishing the credibility of American deterrence — so thoroughly squandered over most of the past decade by President Obama, with his vanishing red lines. That great squandering left a weakened America facing a far more dangerous world of emboldened and increasingly dangerous actors, across a spectrum that includes everything from terrorist attacks to nuclear threats, conventional to cyber warfare. Reversing, or even simply stopping this trajectory is vital to the security of America and the rest of the Free World. It is a daunting and complex challenge, especially in the face of an American media and foreign policy establishment that prefers to applaud Neville Chamberlain-style pieces of paper over the clear-eyed warnings of the spiritual heirs of Winston Churchill.
Bolton does not fit the standard Washington mold, for the basic reason that he cuts through the usual clutter that prevails at Washington foreign policy pow-wows. He focuses on the realities that in Washington are so routinely glossed over by self-serving special interests, political hocus-pocus and diplomatic wishful thinking. Bolton has worked for decades — in and out of government — on matters of national security. His method is to size up the world as it really is, tell the truth and look for genuine solutions. That does not make him popular in some of the more rarefied New York-Washington policy circles, but it does bode well for serving the president, the country and the real needs of national security.
For a sample of just how delusional the criticism of Bolton can get, take one of the charges leveled against him in the New York Times editorial mentioned above. The editorial denounces Bolton as having “largely disdained diplomacy and arms control in favor of military solutions,” and adds that:
“no one worked harder to blow up the 1994 agreement under which North Korea’s plutonium program was frozen for nearly eight years in exchange for heavy fuel oil and other assistance. The collapse of that agreement helped bring us to the crisis today, where North Korea is believed to have 20 or more nuclear weapons.”
Wow. Could we start by setting the record straight? It wasn’t Bolton who blew up the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea. It was North Korea’s totalitarian regime, which used the lavish U.S. aid to fortify its grip on power, and, in cahoots with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, cheated on the 1994 nuclear deal to such an extent that by the time President Clinton was preparing to leave office, he was unable to certify to Congress that Pyongyang was in compliance.
The truth here is not that Bolton disdains either diplomacy or arms control, but that he has displayed over the years a profound and salutary dislike for arms deals designed and sold on premises so faulty that they don’t work. He favors peace through strength over deceptive promises based on paper.
Bolton’s is also an accomplished and seasoned diplomat — if we define diplomacy not as the art of piling up empty promises, but as the business of navigating both the U.S. bureaucracy and the interests of our allies and enemies to get real results. He stands accused by the New York Times editorial board of having “maligned” the United Nations; I’d say his criticisms of the UN were right on target, a warning about the folly of relying on the UN, and an honest and important service to the American public (whose taxes pay the biggest share of the UN’s bills). And if you look past the media hysterics and focus on the record, the bottom line is that Bolton in his diplomatic dealings with the UN has been highly effective. In 1991, while working at the State Department, Bolton was the prime mover behind the astounding feat of persuading the General Assembly to repeal its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
As ambassador to the UN, from 2005-2006, he shepherded to the Security Council the first in what became the twin stacks of resolutions aimed at stopping Iran’s and North Korea’s rogue nuclear programs. While the UN has failed to stop North Korea, and currently serves as the umbrella for the Obama-blessed nuclear deal that effectively ushers Iran toward the bomb, it is simply false to suggest that Bolton has no tolerance for diplomacy. An accurate accounting is that he has a healthy preference for diplomacy that is grounded in reality, viable in its goals and beneficial to the U.S. and its allies.
As for the allegations that he is abrasive — in various exchanges with him over many years, I have found him to be consistently considerate and polite, as well as incisive in his thinking. I have also observed that there are quite a number of people who have worked for him, or with him, who speak of him with warmth and respect. They are not hard to find. Perhaps his critics in the press should try interviewing some of them before delivering wholesale second-hand judgments.
Finally, there is the matter of strategic vision. Bolton is accused by his critics of wanting war, or even many wars, on multiple fronts — as if the world were a place so benign that the only wars that might lie ahead would be strictly voluntary, a matter of White House whim rather than necessity. That was the delusional picture with which Obama wooed votes, assuring Americans in 2012 that the tide of war was receding, that U.S. deference and concessions and leading from behind would make it recede even more, and that there was nothing out there that could pose any existential threat to the United States. It was an enticing pitch, but dangerously misleading. While America retreated, gutting its military, resetting and appeasing and deferring, Russia and China were building up and modernizing their militaries, extending their reach, grabbing turf and increasingly redefining the rules of the 21st century to suit the appetites of their dictatorships. North Korea’s tyrant Kim Jong Un was consolidating power, amassing a nuclear arsenal and demonstrating to the world that America and its democratic allies could with relative impunity be defied and threatened. Iran went to the nuclear bargaining table and came away with a treasure trove of concessions, including a de facto path to the bomb.
Such dangers have not only been growing; they have been compounding. These dictatorships learn from each other, and in some spheres cooperate with each other. This is the trajectory on which Bolton has been commenting, and about which he has been warning for years. If you have been reading his articles and listening to his statements, instead of collecting snippets for caricatures, he has been looking for ways not to start wars, but to head off the rising and multiplying threats before they turn into conflagrations — including potentially nuclear conflagrations.
In a terrific Op-ed in the Washington Post (credit the Post for this much), “John Bolton is a great addition to the White House,” radio show host Hugh Hewitt does a brilliant job of explaining all this, detailing why, with Bolton’s appointment as national security advisor, “Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare just walked into the West Wing. Bolton can outlast and outthink anyone Putin, Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping sends to negotiate quiet deals before the public big ones.”
Hewitt also provides what ought to be the defining phrase for John Bolton’s character, and qualifications for the job: Bolton is “a Reagan realist.” Exactly what this president and this country need right now.