WASHINGTON — A fearsome array of challenges await John Bolton when he takes over next month as President Trump’s national security adviser — and the hawkish, blunt-speaking former diplomat is expected to shake up the White House team confronting them, insiders told Yahoo News on Friday.
Bolton championed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and earlier this month dismissed the diagnosis that Saddam Hussein’s removal was a mistake as “simplistic.” In February, the Yale-trained international law expert publicly called for military action against North Korea. A month earlier, he condemned diplomatic efforts to toughen the Iran nuclear deal, criticized Trump’s advisers for “inexplicably” advising him to stay in the agreement, and called for fostering regime change in Tehran, notably by supporting opposition to the regime. In 2015, he was even blunter, saying that “only military action” would work on Iran.
Bolton’s comrades and critics in the loosely knit U.S. national security community underline his inclination to use military force, as well as his belief that the United States is in the grips of a decades-old clash between “Americanists” like himself who value U.S. sovereignty above all and “globalists” who would see it tempered by international law and agreements.
“Americanists find themselves surrounded by small armies of Globalists, each tightly clutching a favorite new treaty or multilateralist proposal,” he wrote in a 2000 essay, “Should We Take Global Governance Seriously?”
Bolton’s hawkish instincts and hostility to so-called globalists — an echo of Trump’s “America First” principles — will likely lead him to purge the National Security Council, though some council officials uncomfortable with his April 9 arrival may opt to leave beforehand.
“I think he’s likely to see career civil servants, civilian and military, as adversaries rather than professionals and want to bring in a team whose views he knows and has confidence in,” Kori Schake, who has held positions at the Pentagon and the State Department, and has served as director for Defense Strategy and Requirements on former President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, told Yahoo news.
Asked whether Bolton would shake up the Security Council staff, a source close to him replied: “I suspect absolutely. He has hangers-on who want jobs.”
Even in an administration not quite so defined by constant personnel chaos, it would hardly be unusual for a new national security adviser to make changes. Gen. H.R. McMaster, whom Bolton will replace, purged many of disgraced predecessor Mike Flynn’s hand-picked Security Council aides, called “Flynnstones” by some West Wing officials. A national security expert frequently consulted by the White House told Yahoo News that some of those might be eyeing a return to an administration less constrained by McMaster and fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“People on the outside who think POTUS has given in too much to [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis and Tillerson and that, you know, it’s time to ‘let Trump be Trump,’ are probably already lobbying the walrus,” one administration official told Yahoo News, using a nickname derived from Bolton’s mustache.
The job of national security adviser — formally known as assistant to the president for national security affairs — grew out of a wholesale restructuring of American military and intelligence in 1947. The role changes from administration to administration, depending on the character and priorities of the individual holding the title and the president the person serves. But the duties are generally understood to center on providing the president with foreign policy advice that reflects the balance of U.S. interests in the executive branch. That means soliciting input from the Pentagon, the intelligence community, the State Department, the Treasury Department and other parts of what is known as “the interagency process.” McMaster had faced criticism from administration officials that he too often presented Trump with his own views rather than the results of that kind of attempted consensus-building, putting him at odds with Mattis and Tillerson and worried foreign diplomats whose lines into the administration ran through Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.
For Security Council staff changes, Bolton did not tip his hand.
“The United States faces a wide array of issues,” he said in a statement late Thursday. “I look forward to working with President Trump and his leadership team in addressing these complex challenges in an effort to make our country safer at home and stronger abroad.”
Bolton’s approach will be tested immediately. The month of May promises to be heavy on national security: Mid-month, Trump faces a decision about whether or not to effectively remove the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. The White House has also said May is when it hopes for a possible summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In an interview on Fox News shortly after Trump announced the shakeup, Bolton declined to lay out his views on major foreign policy questions, including whether or not the Trump-Kim summit should go forward.
“I have my views,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll have a chance to articulate them to the president.”
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