By Bonnie Kristian
With rumors swirling that President-elect Donald Trump is most seriously considering ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, national attention has fixated on the relative political newcomer: Who is Tillerson? What are his policies? What would he be like as America’s top diplomat?
Less noticed but more important than every detail of this as-yet unconfirmed nomination, however, is Trump’s apparently equally serious consideration of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton for deputy secretary of state, a role in which a transition team source told NBC News he would be “handling day-to-day management of the department.”
Bolton’s name was on the table for State since well before Tillerson was publicly favored, which suggests he is a serious contender. That is terrible news. John Bolton is a dangerous pick for State who will undermine Trump’s own agenda and risk American security.
A hardline, unrepentant neoconservative, Bolton embodies the worst of the bipartisan foreign policy failures of the last decade and a half. His inclination is ever toward war—preemptive, reckless, counterproductive war that costs much and gains little for U.S. national interests while putting far too many lives on the line. If Trump is at all serious about the new direction in foreign policy he has promised—if there is any sincerity in his announcement of a “new era of peace, understanding, and goodwill”—he won’t give Bolton a position at State or anywhere in his administration.
Unfortunately, far too few have sounded the alarm against Bolton since the Trump team began floating his name for high-level roles. One welcome exception is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who on Sunday leveled a rigorous critique of Bolton’s unrealistic and dangerous foreign policy.
“I don’t know about Tillerson,” Paul said, “but I do know that John Bolton doesn't get it. He still believes in regime change. He's still a big cheerleader for the Iraq War,” and seems all too eager to replicate that misadventure on a bigger scale with Iran.
“I also think regime change in Syria is a bad idea,” Paul continued. “And that’s an ongoing question. It’s one of the things I like about Donald Trump: One of the reasons I endorsed him is he thinks regime change is a mistake. But John Bolton thinks completely the opposite. They are diametric opposites,” on this issue.
“I’m an automatic no on Bolton,” the Kentucky senator concluded, pledging on Twitter that he would “work to defeat [Bolton’s] nomination to any post.”
Paul is quite correct that Bolton’s affection for regime change is in direct opposition to one of the more consistent and positive foreign policy principles Trump has articulated. In his first victory tour speech in Ohio on Dec. 1, Trump swore his presidency would be marked by “a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past.”
“We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments, folks,” he said. “Our goal is stability, not chaos because we want to rebuild our country.”
To pursue this new direction, Trump cannot hire Bolton. At best, he will find himself with a deputy secretary he must soon replace. More likely, Bolton will use his Washington insider expertise to steamroll Trump’s best instincts of restraint and push America into yet another imprudent and unpredictable war with no real connection to our country’s vital interests. He will do his damnedest to replicate all the failures of Iraq from which the former ambassador so stubbornly refuses to learn.
Rand Paul is right that John Bolton “should get nowhere close to the State Department.” The president-elect would do well to heed that counsel.
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 The Hill on December 13, 2016. Read more HERE.