Between now and John Bolton taking up his post as Trump’s new national security adviser, set to happen April 9, there will no doubt continue to be an avalanche of testimony coming out of US and foreign officials highlighting the crazed and hawkish actions he’s taken in the past.
And Bolton seems fully aware of this, as he told Fox News last week in an attempt to perhaps soften his image as the preeminent beltway hawk on Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria: “Look, I have my views, I’m sure I’ll have a chance to articulate them to the president… If the government can’t have a free interchange of ideas among the president’s advisors, then I think the president is not well served.”
Yet Bolton’s past actions in government suggest that instead of merely “articulating” his views he’s willing to break ranks to get things done on his terms, even reaching out to allied foreign officials to push for preemptive strikes on America’s enemies.
One notable example of this was revealed in bombshell testimony over the weekend issued by a former Israeli defense minister (2002-2006) and deputy prime minister (2006-2009) who had extensive interaction with Bolton when he was ambassador to the UN under the Bush administration.
According to the Times of Israel, Bolton pushed then Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz to attack Iran even though no discernible threat was presented by Iran. As the Times reports:
A former Israeli defense minister and chief of staff said Sunday that John Bolton, US President Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, once pushed him to order airstrikes against Iran.
“I know John Bolton from when he was the US ambassador to the UN. He tried to convince me that Israel needs to attack Iran,” Shaul Mofaz told a Jerusalem conference held by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
“I don’t think this is a smart move—not on the part of the Americans today or anyone else until the threat is real,” he added.
Ironically Mofaz himself – in line with the Israeli defense establishment – takes a generally hawkish position on Iran, as he told the Jerusalem conference during the same speech, “the Iranian threat is very significant to Israel’s security… It is impossible to guarantee a future for the children of Israel if Iran has a nuclear weapon.” And yet he recognized Bolton’s proposal as not “a smart move” as the existential threat level from Iran wasn’t “real”.
In prior reporting, the Times of Israel has noted that while outside of government Bolton wasn’t shy about expressing his desire that Israel should bomb Iran:
Bolton, who’s been a resident at the conservative American Enterprise Institute since he left the Bush administration, has advocated for Israel bombing Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.
“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in May 2015. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
This accurately highlights something that shouldn’t be forgotten amidst the current national flurry of Bolton commentary: on Iran and other so-called “threats” like Syria and Russia, Bolton speaks from within the very heart of the national security establishment.
A recent Al-Jazeera op-ed articulates the problem of seeing Bolton as in truth some kind of exceptionally hawkish D.C. outlier:
Mr Bolton, however, is only a by-product of a general policy environment in Washington continually primed to directly confront Iran. Such a policy may not regularly appear overt, but it always seems to lie in waiting. As many will correctly worry that Mr Bolton’s appointment raises the likelihood of war with another Middle Eastern country, of equal concern should be his ability to draw upon a robust think-tank, policy and lobbying complex heavily populated with ideas advocating opposition to Iran, designating it as the premier security threat to a stable Middle East, and well-disposed to grease the wheels of confrontation.
It should be remembered, for example, that the Iran nuclear deal was struck under the Obama administration at the very moment the CIA and Pentagon under Obama were arming Sunni jihadists in Syria in order to wage proxy war against pro-Iran and regional Shia interests.
As one as one formerly secret US intelligence memo spelled out, US sponsored proxy war was geared in the long term toward rolling back “the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” This had a broad following within the beltway consensus – a consensus within which full and overt regime change in Tehran is hardly a fringe or outlier position.
Iran, for its part, has stayed relatively quiet regarding Trump’s appointing Bolton as national security adviser. One high official in Iranian parliament called the move “a matter of shame” while highlighting Bolton’s closeness to the Iran opposition group in exile, Mujahideen e Khalq (MEK) – considered by Iran and many other countries (and not long ago by the US State Dept.) as a terror organization.
But Bolton is not alone here either as the MEK has for years received broad financial and political support from within the Washington mainstream, with dozens of sitting Congressmen and notable US politicians having attended their international conferences on an annual basis.
Thus Bolton and others like him are a logical consequence of the system, and certainly don’t stand in opposition to it. As the latest testimony from a former Israeli defense chief confirms, Bolton was urging Israel to accomplish the neocons’ dirty work in bombing Tehran. This trend really constitutes nothing new, but sadly is more in line with the norm.
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Interestingly (and surprisingly refreshing) even Foreign Policy magazine – in a rare moment of clarity from the deep within the establishment – recognizes the uncomfortable fact of Bolton’s quite “mainstream” and “acceptable” views:
Instead, whether Trump knows it or not, putting Bolton, Pompeo, and Haspel in key positions looks more like a return to “Cheneyism,” by which I mean a foreign policy that inflates threats, dismisses serious diplomacy, thinks allies are mostly a burden, is contemptuous of institutions, believes that the United States is so powerful that it can just issue ultimatums and expect others to cave, and believes that a lot of thorny foreign-policy problems can be solved by just blowing something up… [sound familiar to basically all mainstream foreign policy-related public discourse???]
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…Thus, the real lesson of the Bolton appointment has less to do with Bolton himself and more about what it says about the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. You’re undoubtedly going to read a lot of heartfelt, knickers-in-a-twist commentaries in the next few weeks about the dangers of appointing a wild-eyed radical to such a sensitive position, but the plain fact is that Bolton is not really an outlier within the U.S. foreign-policy community.
It’s not like Trump just appointed Medea Benjamin (from the left) or Rand Paul (from the right) or even an experienced and knowledgeable contrarian such as Charles W. Freeman Jr. or Andrew Bacevich. Instead, he appointed someone with decidedly hawkish views but who is still within the “acceptable” consensus in Washington.
Look at Bolton’s pedigree and career. He’s a graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School. He worked at Covington & Burling, a venerable D.C. law firm where former Secretary of State Dean Acheson also worked. He has been a senior fellow for years at the conservative but mainstream American Enterprise Institute. He writes frequently for obscure, wild-and-crazy, “radical” publications including, er … the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and even Foreign Policy. Is this your idea of a “fringe” figure?
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