By Bonnie Kristian
By his own account, President-elect Donald Trump loves to keep ‘em guessing. He wouldn’t share many specifics of his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State during his campaign; and since the election, he has likewise kept mum about his cabinet appointments. “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are,” he said of the cabinet selection process on Twitter this week.
That may be, but rumor has it John Bolton is on the shortlist for secretary of state. And though Trump’s penchant for unpredictability makes it impossible to know the extent of Bolton’s chances, he is so dangerous a pick that even the slightest possibility justifies a review of former ambassador’s ghastly positions. Here are three big reasons Bolton should not have a role in the new administration.
1. Bolton refuses to learn from interventionist mistakes. Whereas Trump has roundly criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton defends the decision to this day.
“We spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, and we don’t even have” a stable Iraq, Trump rightly charged in a debate with Jeb Bush in February. “We should have never been in Iraq,” he continued. “We destabilized the Middle East.” His broad critique has been borne out by history.
By contrast, Bolton just last year announced he still believes toppling Saddam Hussein was the “correct” choice. “And that's the other fallacy of those who say it was clearly a mistake, because you can't assume if he had stayed in power, sweetness and light would prevail in the Middle East today,” he told The Washington Examiner. By attacking this absurd strawman, Bolton conveniently ignores the obvious fact (which Trump seems to recognize) that Iraq, though far from ideal, was far more stable before 2003—not to mention, an equally chaotic Middle East sans American intervention would not have added trillions to our national debt, leaving us in a much stronger position to face any threats.
In short, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has persuasively argued, “Bolton is a longtime member of the failed Washington elite that Trump vowed to oppose, hell-bent on repeating virtually every foreign policy mistake the U.S. has made in the last 15 years — particularly those Trump promised to avoid as president.”
2. Bolton’s approach is “war first,” not “America first.” Trump prides himself on his negotiation skills and deal-making ability, which in the foreign policy context could incline him toward diplomacy as a first choice solution to any dilemma.
By contrast, Bolton’s understanding of war as an option of first resort is well-established. He has long been gunning for preemptive war with Iran, arguing in The New York Times that “only military action” can “accomplish what is required” to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear armament. “Time is terribly short,” he added, “but a strike can still succeed.”
The goal of such a bombing campaign, Bolton wrote, was “rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor.” Today, as Matt Purple notes at Reason, “all those sites are subject to daily weapons inspections, Fordow is being converted into a research center, and Arak has been filled with concrete, all thanks to diplomacy, not war.”
3. Bolton blames every problem on restraint. “I think the worst decision made after [the invasion of Iraq] was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces,” Bolton said in that Washington Examiner interview about Iraq, a misleading statement typical of his broader foreign policy perspective.
To hear Bolton tell it, every foreign policy problem can be solved by hasty, expensive, reckless action. Throw enough money, weapons, and American lives at it, he seems to believe, and you can fix anything.
Thus we see Bolton recommending U.S. military intervention everywhere and anywhere, bizarrely suggesting that the intervention-wrought turmoil in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and beyond are somehow the result of inaction. Nothing could be farther from the truth. (Seriously, is he looking at the same last 15 years the rest of us are seeing?)
The exact direction of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, to date only sketched in broad outlines, remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Cozying up to Bolton and his ilk is a dangerous step away from Trump’s better impulses and toward repetition of the very mistakes of the last 15 years that Trump’s supporters trust him to repudiate. If the president-elect really is considering Bolton for secretary of state, he would do well to think again.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by Business Insider on November 18, 2016. Read more HERE.