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Candidate Trump’s campaign promises vs the Hawkish John Bolton

Written By | Apr 3, 2018
President Trump, John Bolton, National Security Advisor, Candidate Trump's campaign promises

By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump places great importance on keeping Candidate Trump’s campaign promises. During the campaign, he repeatedly criticized the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq as “the single worst decision ever made.” Trump then pledged not to take our country into any more “needless wars.”

Does appointing Iraq War Hawk John Bolton align with Candidate’s Trump’s campaign promise?

John Bolton – an architect of Iraq War

He has now named as his national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton was one of the architects of the Iraq war. Bolton still defends the action while advocating pre-emptive war and “regime change” in North Korea and Iran.

In the wake of the Bolton appointment, Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says America is heading for war with North Korea, Iran or both. “This is the most perilous moment in modern American history,” he declared.

Iraq, Russia, Venezuela: Trump’s immediate foreign policy challenges

During the campaign, Trump denounced every recent American intervention: in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The president talks of abandoning the nuclear agreement with Iran. A position not supported by recently removed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster or by current Secretary of Defense James Mattis. A position that Bolton does support.

Middle East specialists worry that canceling the Iran agreement would have many ramifications.

It would increase the disruptive activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard throughout the Middle East, making the challenge to Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the region even more difficult.

The invasion of Iraq also had consequences which John Bolton, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld did not anticipate. By destabilizing Iraq, Iran’s influence in the region was dramatically increased.

To the degree that Iran is a threat today, John Bolton’s policies helped make it so.

Why the nuclear agreement with Iran, which is being adhered to by the government in Tehran, should be abandoned, is difficult to understand. Many conservatives find this move toward needless conflict difficult to comprehend.

Writing in The American Conservative, Daniel Larison states that,

“If we judge the nuclear deal on its merits, reneging on it makes no sense as far as U.S. interests are concerned.

If the U.S. wants to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful, there is no better way of doing this than maintaining President Obama’s Iran agreement, which is doing what it is supposed to do.

Reneging on one of the most successful diplomatic agreements the U.S. has made in decades is a short-sighted and needlessly destructive action. Breaking the Iran agreement will go down as one of Trump’s unforced errors as president.

It will also be a blow to future U.S. diplomatic efforts for years to come.”

Abandoning the Iran agreement, argues The Economist, would do

“…damage to America’s reputation…far beyond the Middle East. Why would North Korea agree to swap its nuclear bombs for an accord that a future American president could simply rip up? The transatlantic alliance would face unprecedented strains. Europe would find itself siding with China, Russia, and Iran against America. With an arch-hawk like Mr. Bolton at Mr. Trump’s side, expect much rhetoric about America seeking peace through strength. Ditching the Iran deal risks war, and is more likely to make America weaker.”

Ironically, in 2013, Trump tweeted,

“All former Bush administration officials should have zero sounding on Syria. Iraq was a waste of blood and treasure.”

Trump: A non-interventionist focusing on America, or not?

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promoted himself as a non-interventionist who wanted to focus on America. By appointing John Bolton, he seems to have abandoned the positions he advocated during the campaign.

John Bolton’s history is troubling, beyond his interventionist advocacy. He once attempted to pressure State Department intelligence professionals into accepting the false conclusion that Cuba had biological weapons.

He once allegedly harassed an Agency for International Development whistleblower. USAID contractor Melody Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2005 that Bolton chased her through a Moscow hotel in 1994 “throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and behaving like a madman.”

John Bolton and the U.S. Senate

When President George W. Bush named Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Republicans in the U.S. Senate refused to confirm him. (He served under a recess appointment.) It is likely that if nominated, the Senate would reject him.

In U.S. Senate testimony in 2005, Carl W. Ford, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research in the Bush administration, portrayed Bolton as a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.”

Now, he says:

“I believed then, as I believe now, he lacks any of the qualities to be a senior government official.”

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump accused the Bush  administration of “lying” about Saddam Hussein’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction.” Maybe he was echoing John Bolton.

In 2002, Bolton declared:

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.”

This claim, of course, was shown to be false and based on flawed intelligence.

National Security Advisor John Bolton eager for military conflict

John Bolton, it seems, is eager for military conflict with both Iran and North Korea. Early in March, he told Fox News that talks with North Korea would be “worthless.”

He then called South Korea’s leaders “putty in North Korea’s hands.”

In February, Bolton insisted in a Wall Street Journal article that “it is perfectly legitimate for the U.S. to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”

Last summer, Bolton wrote in The Journal,

“The U.S. should obviously seek South Korea’s agreement (and Japan’s) before using force, but no foreign government, even a close ally, can veto an action to protect Americans from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons.”

Concerning Iran, in a 2015 article in The New York Times, Bolton argued that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor “can accomplish what is required.”

A strong defense against going to war

During the years of the Cold War, this writer worked in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The argument conservatives always present for a strong national defense is that we would be so powerful that we would never need to go to war.

To speak of “pre-emptive” war against foes such as North Korea and Iran is something no one ever did. Making adversaries such as the Soviet Union or China makes no political, strategic, or economic sense at all.

However, John Bolton doesn’t even seem to recognize how wrong he was about Iraq.

Candidate Trump and needless wars

Let us hope the president remembers that his “base” voted for him to prevent what he called “needless” wars.

President Trump faces a major dilemma. How can he keep his promise to voters not to take our country to “needless” wars?And follow the advice of his newly appointed national security adviser?

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how he handles this challenge.

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.