Trump’s pick for national security advisor, John Bolton, seen as hawk on North Korea, Iran, China

President Trump on Thursday announced via Twitter that his current national security advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, will be replaced by a longtime foreign policy expert and diplomat, John Bolton, a former UN ambassador and Bush administration official.

He has worked as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, a senior fellow for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and a foreign policy expert.

Bolton has been a frequent critic of Iran and the UN, as well as China. He’s also advocated a first-strike policy against North Korea regarding its nuclear program.

China

In February 2017 he openly urged the Trump administration to “renegotiate” the current “One China” policy that recognizes China and not Taiwan. “The One China policy is inherently ambiguous,” Bolton said. “China thinks it means one thing, we think it means another.

“It’s time for constructive clarity,” Bolton continued. “We support the people of Taiwan. We support their continued self-government, independent of China.”

Bolton has said that China will be the United States’ biggest strategic challenge in the 21st century, surpassing Russia. He said the president should pressure the Chinese to back away from militarizing the South China Sea, and push for eliminating North Korea, diplomatically, by pushing for Korean unification. And he said the White House should either renegotiate or scrape the New START nuclear arms control agreement because the only nation that it really applies to is the U.S.

“There’s only one country in the world that’s bound by this treaty—China’s not bound by it, North Korea and Iran aren’t bound by it, theoretically Russia is, but they don’t pay any attention to it,” Bolton said. “There’s only one country that can’t build intermediate-range nuclear forces and that’s us.” [source]

North Korea

In September he said North Korea’s latest nuclear tests prove it has a “legit” capability to build and deploy a weapon that can produce a grid-busting electromagnetic pulse (EMP) blast.

Bolton said of a potential EMP attack, “It absolutely is a threat. A high-altitude nuclear detonation that could bring down a substantial part of the electrical grid of the United States, at least in particular geographic regions, would have a huge impact on us.”

“It’s one of the things people have said, ‘Well, North Korea doesn’t have the range in its missiles, it doesn’t have the thermonuclear capacity, it doesn’t have the reentry vehicle, and it doesn’t have the guidance systems. EMP, you don’t need really precise guidance systems. If you just detonate something, let’s say, over the West Coast of the United States, the EMP effects could be significant,” he added.

Bolton believes the Trump administration may ultimately have no choice but to launch a preemptive strike against Pyongyang.

“It’s why I wrote about Franklin Roosevelt’s famous statement made in a fireside chat on September the 11th, 1941 – 60 years to the day before our 9/11 – when he said, ‘When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until it has struck before you crush it,’” Bolton recalled.

“People say, ‘But my goodness, if you use a military option, terrible things will happen on the Korean Peninsula,’” he continued. “And I agree that this is an enormous concern, and we would have to do everything possible to mitigate that. But these same people also say, ‘Well, of course, if North Korea attacked the United States, then we should respond with devastating force,’ which would likely have the same consequences in South Korea.”

“So if you’re with me this far, what is the difference between their position and mine? It’s their insistence that before we strike, there have to be dead Americans. I reject that.”

“I don’t want to see the United States have to use military force against the North Korean nuclear weapons program any more than anybody else, but I also don’t intend to allow America to be vulnerable to it as far as the eye can see, once they are able to hit any target in the continental United States,” Bolton noted further, adding that China would be key to any Korean solution.

“I think we’ve got to go to China,” he advised. “I think you can see, increasingly, the Chinese recognizing North Korea is an ugly piece of baggage. China has got to apply the pressure that they uniquely have.” [source]

Iran

Bolton has never supported the so-called “Iran nuclear deal” and he has backed the Trump administration’s ‘get tough’ policy against Iran after an Iranian-backed suicide bomber attacked a Saudi naval frigate in the Red Sea, an attack that U.S. intelligence officials believe was either mistaken as an American warship or was a dress rehearsal for a future attack on a U.S. vessel.

“I think it’s the first time in eight years that anybody has really said to Iran what needs to be said,” Bolton said.

“I think it demonstrates a couple of things: Number one, that the Obama administration’s nuclear deal, agreed to in the summer of 2015, is in deep trouble. I think that’s what being put officially ‘on notice’ means. Because this latest ballistic missile launch by the Iranians was a violation of the agreement, although the wording is weak and ambiguous, thanks to John Kerry, there’s no doubt this is unacceptable behavior by Iran,” he said.

“It also sends the political signal to America’s allies, as well, that any notion that we will simply continue to accept this deal as written is something they need to dismiss,” he continued. “I think it’s the kind of straight-shooting that helps clarify the situation with friends and adversaries alike.” [source]

Analysis: Bolton was on Trump’s short list to become national security advisor after Michael Flynn resigned amid controversy shortly after the president took office, but Trump went with McMaster instead. At the time the president said Bolton would be used “in a different capacity,” and that he agreed with many of Bolton’s suggestions and ideas.

It looks as though Bolton’s time has come.

While some see the departure of McMaster, who has requested retirement, and other shake-ups in Trump’s Cabinet as “chaotic,” I see it differently. I believe Trump, having learned from being in Washington for a year now that in order for him to fully implement his agenda, he needs to put “his people” in positions of power instead of keeping those recommended to him by political operatives. That’s why he replaced Rex Tillerson at the State Department with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and why he now appointed Bolton as his national security advisor; both of these men share Trump’s vision on a range of foreign policy issues from China, to Iran, to North Korea, to Russia. 

Tillerson was a supporter of the Iran deal; Pompeo and Bolton are not. McMaster was not fully supportive of preemptive military strikes against North Korea; Bolton is. And both Pompeo and Bolton are with Trump his tariffs, as is his economic advisory team.

Bolton will advocate for a harder line against U.S. adversaries and near-peer competitors alike, and I think Trump has been looking to do that but has gotten pushback from former and outgoing members of his inner circle. You can bet that leaders in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Pyongyang now fully understand that Barack Obama is no longer in the driver’s seat and that Trump will not be satisfied with the U.S. remaining passive or indifferent in the face of global challenges.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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