Has there ever been a single individual in the Trump administration who has caused more damage to the President’s agenda?
The very fact that John Bolton ended up as an employee of President Donald Trump’s is somewhat of a surprise. Bolton is a former Bush administration official who served as ambassador to the United Nations and has a foreign policy outlook that is the polar opposite of the one expressed by the President during his 2016 campaign. Bolton’s hawkish views and his tendency to subvert anyone he personally feels poses a threat to American security and interests make him an extreme danger to the current government. A failure to replace him will leave Trump unable to secure the promises he made to his constituents about curtailing foreign wars and creating new economic opportunities for the United States.
I. Bolton’s Rise To Power
John Bolton ascended to power amid the vacuum created by the ousting of former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. This merely resulted in an acceleration of the kinds of policies that caused McMaster’s firing in the first place. McMaster had drawn Trump’s ire by advocating for continued US involvement in Syria and worked with Vice President Mike Pence to pressure Trump into increasing the amount of American troops deployed in Afghanistan. His preferences went explicitly against those of the President. He was also disliked by Chief of Staff John Kelly, who had wanted McMaster out but did not want Bolton as a replacement and has reportedly clashed with himrepeatedly.
Bolton was heavily promoted by a number of parties who dislike Trump, making the appointment curious to begin with. The notoriously anti-Trump Lindsey Graham was quick to praise the President’s decision, as was the rest of the GOP foreign policy elite who previously took a strong stance against Trump’s “America First” agenda. Now-fired advisor Steve Bannon was also a reported supporter of Bolton for the position. Observers wondered why Trump, who was against the Iraq War, had just hired one of the war’s biggest supporters.
Bolton immediately angered Trump within weeks of his appointment when he pushed his “Libya model” solution during negotiations with North Korea (DPRK), upsetting their government and nearly derailing the entire process. This behavior led to Bolton being sidelined by Trump to preserve the denuclearization talks with the DPRK. It has long been known that John Bolton, an old Cold Warrior unable to adapt with changing times, loves to sabotage international agreements that he feels are undermining American sovereignty and security. With Trump’s decision to sideline, but not fire Bolton, he made an enemy who has since spent the entirety of his time as an administration employee sabotaging the President’s agenda and attempting to manipulate him into making decisions that will alienate him from his base while sabotaging America’s reputation abroad.
II. North Korea
Bolton has continuously and systematically tried to undermine the North Korean denuclearization negotiations. The so called “Libya model” of using military threats to coerce North Korea into handing over their nuclear weapons were devised by Bolton as early as 2004. He revived the idea after coming to work for Trump and had even begun agitating for what would by necessity be a nuclear first strike days before his appointment.
North Korea has repeatedly attacked Bolton for his hostile behavior towards the hermit kingdom that has thrown the entire peace process into jeopardy on more than one occasion. His most recent act of betrayal against the President was a note which Bolton apparently drafted advocating a total handover of nuclear materials by the North Koreans. Trump apparently passed the note to Kim Jong Un during a lunch at the 2019 Hanoi Summit. The act was most likely seen by Kim as insulting and provocative, leading to the collapse of talks. Bolton has found his hardline approach on North Korea echoed by open opponents of President Trump’s such as John Brennan.
This behavior from Bolton is in every sense subversive and inflammatory. It has lead to no shortage of raised eyebrows and shows that there is no low he will not stoop to in order to destroy Trump’s denuclearization push due to the rejection of an approach based on the “Libya model.” Any action Bolton could take that might destabilize relations with the DPRK to justify lobbying for open warfare will likely be attempted.
If Bolton wants a shooting war with North Korea so badly, perhaps he be should pressed onto the crew of the first B52 that will head over the DMZ carrying nuclear weapons. He is the stereotype of George McGovern’s old man dreaming up wars for young men to die in.
Another theater where Bolton has wreaked havoc has been South and Central America – in particular the troubled state of Venezuela. Trump had previously floated the idea of invading the country and ironically received pushback from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster. With Tillerson and McMaster removed from the picture, Bolton was quick to recycle George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” strategy by labeling Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela as a “Troika of Tyranny.” He has also appealed to Trump’s willingness to use US forces in an intervention against the government of President Nicholas Maduro. The Troika of Tyranny’s inclusion of Cuba shows that Bolton is merely rehashing old Bush-era foreign intervention plans, which lumped Cuba, Syria and Libya into a broader network beyond the Axis of Evil.
John Bolton appeals to the Monroe Doctrine and Reagan-era geopolitical strategy as justification for his behavior towards Venezuela. Ironically, it was fallout from the Reagan years that lead to reform of the National Security Council which was supposed to prevent them from taking “short cuts” and conspiring behind the back of the Oval Office. Under President Ronald Reagan, the CIA engaged in a long series of incredibly poorly conceived strategies to combat the influence of the USSR that not only poisoned international public opinion against the United States but also caused severe domestic issues as well. The problems that are ongoing in Venezuela today play into a wider trend of regional destabilization across Latin America that would only be intensified by Bolton’s intended policies and cause a major refugee crisis for the United States.
There is absolutely no way that Bolton, a product of the Cold War, does not realize that there will be dramatic effects to US stability and security if he were to prevail. In spite of the risk he has already continued agitating for intervention and destabilization in Nicaragua, another state that acts as a buffer which could stem the flow of refugees heading north in the event of a major Latin American crisis.
IV. Make Venezuela And North Korea Bolton’s Waterloo Moment
Trump must dismiss Bolton before he does irreparable damage to the administration’s “America First” foreign policy approach. This agenda has served as a threat to the GOP and neoconservative establishment. Bolton is their plan to stave off any further damage.
The cracks are already showing. President Trump made reference in his February 5, 2019 State of the Union address to his desire to remove America from costly and purposeless foreign wars. These words rang hollow when he was forced to endorse Bolton’s hardline approach to Venezuela while also covering the decisions to pull American troops out of Afghanistan and Syria along with decreased tensions with North Korea. This is intentional as it creates confusion internationally and makes Trump appear to be self-contradictory.
The President doesn’t appear to fully notice the damage Bolton is causing in part because his primary source of political commentary comes from Fox News. A search for all Fox News coverage of Bolton shows only neutral or glowing opinions of him. This is no surprise. Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was a major fan of Bolton’s. By allowing himself to become isolated the President is prevented from accessing other sources of information that might give him perspective on how much damage some of his officials are causing to his legacy.
When major establishment publications such as The Atlantic openly support an administration official it can be safely assumed that they are not acting in the best interest of the current executive. If John Bolton gets his way, Donald Trump will be rendered down to a “Bush-lite” President with a MAGA hat. Fire the troublemaker now instead of down the road when his subterfuge has become so obvious that not even Fox News can continue to ignore it.