The appointment of John Bolton as the new US national security adviser sends a clear and unequivocal message that the Trump administration means business when it comes to dealing with its enemies.
As one of the leading lights of the American neo-conservative movement, which is committed to exporting the virtues of western-style liberal democracy around the globe, Bolton’s arrival at Washington’s Old Executive Building will add a more robust dimension to Donald Trump’s policymaking team.
Not that Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster, the outgoing national security adviser, was a soft touch. A veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen McMaster was himself regarded as something of a hawk, and was in the process of drawing up various policy options for the Trump administration with regard to its dealings with two of the world’s leading rogue states, namely North Korea and Iran.
But as has so often been the case in the Trump White House, the general, for all his considerable talents, had reached the point where he no longer enjoyed the president’s favour. According to insiders, Gen McMaster’s fate was decided when he was inadvertently quoted at last month’s Munich Security Conference saying that Washington had “incontrovertible” evidence of Russian meddling in American politics. He was unaware he was speaking in a forum that had a live video feed, and when his comments were broadcast on television around the world, he found himself in breach of Trump’s golden rule: only the president speaks for the president, particularly when it relates to the toxic issue of Russia.
Trump is also reported to have become tired of Gen McMaster’s style of detailed and methodical briefings when providing the president with various policy options. On such technicalities are careers made or destroyed at the Trump White House.
So enter Bolton, a veteran of the Bush administration and one of its cheerleaders for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussain. When ambassador to the UN, Bolton made one of his more memorable diplomatic interventions concerning the organisation’s effectiveness, saying that “if it [the UN building] lost 10 storeys, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”.
Bolton can now expect to bring his straight-talking, no-nonsense style to his new role as adviser on national security issues, an appointment that should be a serious cause for concern for America’s adversaries. Bolton, who has written frequently on global security issues, is particularly hawkish with regard to America’s approach to North Korea, and the rogue state’s attempts to acquire a nuclear weapons arsenal capable of striking mainland America. He has argued that previous US diplomatic efforts to persuade the North Korean dictator to adopt a more responsible approach have failed, and that Washington needs to develop a more robust policy, including the use of pre-emptive military action.
Iran is another issue on which Bolton, a staunch supporter of Israel, is a renowned hardliner. A vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s desire to strike a deal with Tehran over its nuclear programme, which he believes is tantamount to appeasement, Bolton will be using his new position to lobby hard for the Trump administration to cancel the deal and hold the Iranians to account for their anti-American stance.
His appointment has inevitably provoked howls of outrage from American liberals, who like to portray him as some kind of Dr Strangelove warmonger. The reality, though, is that his job is to serve as adviser. The final responsibility for taking key decisions on war and peace rests with the president.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2018
Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist.