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The John Bolton’s Effect on Global Security

John Bolton, who last year was blocked from regularly visiting the White House, will become President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser in 14 months, granting the unpredictable commander in chief unfettered access to the former U.N. ambassador’s brashly hawkish and interventionist ideas.

By – Paul D. Shinkma

Since Trump tweeted the announcement late Thursday – reportedly surprising National Security Council staff – advisers have indicated Bolton plans to conform his advice to the president’s anti-globalist “America First” agenda. But the prolific op-ed writer’s hard-line view on many key issues, from Russia to Iran to North Korea and China, already appears to have shaped at least Trump’s rhetoric, if not drastically shifting America’s plans for key areas of the globe.

Bolton’s judgment and management style has caused problems for him before. A Republican Senate would not confirm him as ambassador to the U.N. in 2005, forcing then-President George W. Bush to install him through a recess appointment instead. Bolton’s new position does not require Senate confirmation, though many lawmakers were quick to offer their opinions. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., praised the choice in a statement and called Bolton “a reliable, seasoned, national security confidante.” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., however, expressed deep concern.

“This is not a wise choice,” Reed said in a statement. “Mr. Bolton does not have the temperament or judgment to be an effective national security advisor.”

“I am concerned he and President Trump will make for a combustible combination. This appointment makes our country less secure and more prone to recklessness on the national security front,” Reed said.

Here are some of the countries and regions of the world that will likely be most affected by Bolton’s influence on the White House and Trump:


The most immediate and lasting effect of Bolton’s tenure as national security adviser will likely center on Iran, a country against which he has repeatedly advocated a pre-emptive military strike in addition to tearing up the nuclear agreement the Obama administration forged, and where he has as recently as January advocated for regime change.

Bolton publicly released his plan for ending the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in an August op-ed in The National Review. It began with a preface that Bolton, a frequent adviser to Trump during his campaign and early days as president, was no longer allowed access to the White House under John Kelly’s newly established tenure as chief of staff. His plan was met with criticism, with some experts saying it wasn’t “grounded in evidence.”

In a 2015 post in The New York Times, Bolton advocated for military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure – which he does not believe has been weakened under the deal – calling it “the inconvenient truth.” He cited other examples of military first-strikes in the Middle East, including the Israeli strike in 2007 on a Syrian reactor – something Israel this week acknowledged for the first time.

Such a strike “can accomplish what is required,” Bolton wrote. “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

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North Korea, China and Asia

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in late February, Bolton offered his thoughts on a first strike against North Korea, something he said he considered a legal act of self-defense.

“The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times,” Bolton wrote. “Given the gaps in in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute.”

Bolton did not address the kind of skepticism for military action frequently expressed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other officials, who point out that hundreds of thousands of people would die from North Korean rocket attacks alone, including the roughly 150,000 American civilians and troops there. Millions could perish if Pyongyang successfully detonated a nuclear weapon.

Bolton is not the only American official to advocate for a first strike. Ash Carter, who served as the Obama administration’s last secretary of defense, made a similar suggestion in a 2006 op-ed in The Washington Post, written alongside former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, his mentor. Since leaving his position Carter has reaffirmed support for the idea.

But North Korea isn’t the only part of the neighborhood Bolton has advocated for shaking up. He also believes the U.S. should change its “One China” policy, a cornerstone of stability in East Asia in which the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country – an issue that if changed would infuriate Beijing. Trump took a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after he won the 2016 election, breaking sharply from diplomatic protocol and precedence. China shortly after sailed its aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait as a less-than-subtle warning against further attempts to increase ties with the U.S.

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The Islamic State Group and the Middle East

Bolton is notorious in his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even once international inspectors undermined the U.S. rationale for attack by determining Baghdad did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to pushing for a military strike against Iran, Bolton has highlighted other conflicts to justify other sweeping changes for the region.

In 2015 Bolton advocated for the creation of a new Sunni Muslim state in what is now Syria and Iraq, replacing the borders established in the wake of World War I by European powers that have grouped together disparate ethnic groups and aggravated subsequent conflicts among them. This would provide new options for disaffected Muslims who saw their fellow Sunnis in the Islamic State group as the only credible option for offsetting Iran and its Shiite Muslim proxies in the region.

“Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone,” Bolton wrote. “Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics. The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.”

Saudi Arabia should subsidize the creation of the new state and its fledgling government, Bolton argued. He did not, however, address whether such a change would have a ripple effect across other seemingly arbitrary borders in the region.

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Perhaps the greatest variable is how Bolton will advise Trump on Russia and its increasingly powerful leader Vladimir Putin. Despite widespread consensus from U.S. intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and lawmakers that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Trump has so far refused to admonish Putin publicly or direct elements of the U.S. government to fight back. Indeed Trump tweeted on Wednesday after calling Putin to congratulate him on his election victory – something his advisers told him not to do – that “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing.”

Bolton has been a hardline critic of Putin, and has advocated against negotiating with im.

“For Trump, it should be a highly salutary lesson about the character of Russia’s leadership to watch Putin lie to him,” Bolton wrote in a post in The Telegraph. “And it should be a fire-bell-in-the-night warning about the value Moscow places on honesty, whether regarding election interference, nuclear proliferation, arms control or the Middle East: negotiate with today’s Russia at your peril.”

Yet it’s unclear whether he believes Russia was involved in the election hacking. Bolton drew harsh criticism in late 2016 by claiming the attack was a “false flag” operation by the Obama White House. He later clarified that he meant it could have been carried out by other countries, not the prior administration.

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