President Trump has appointed John Bolton to be his next national security advisor, and it is hard to imagine a better choice, certainly at this juncture of Trump’s presidency. Bolton not only shares the president’s views on many foreign policy issues, he has decades of experience in government, politics, and something not enough Washington hands have: he knows who the American people are and how they respond to national leadership.
He’s spent most of his time working in foreign policy, but he’s no novice on domestic affairs and politics. Wonk and pundit, yes; but also a doer, all rolled into one.
America As Guarantor Of Global Stability
Bolton is a very well-known commodity in DC foreign policy circles. He is one of those experienced hands known for his personality (and the mustache, too, let’s not forget), breadth of knowledge, and key roles in policy debates and implementing the White House’s wishes. Bolton, a lawyer by training, served in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Division, but thereafter served both Bushes at the State Department and United Nations.
For the past year and half, viewers of Fox News have heard Bolton opine often on many topics—mostly foreign policy but also on the machinations of the presidency and Congress. He’s a hawk, no question, if by that we mean that he is uncompromising on U.S. national security interests. For him, the sine qua non of U.S. security is for us to be prosperous and well-armed in order to stave off aggressors and guarantee an international system we built and that serves us.
Bolton knows more than policy minutiae. He displays the ability to think theoretically and strategically about policy. In other words, he sees the role of the United States and its interests in terms of history and the grand scope of world events over time and across the globe.
It’s fair to say he is more like a Henry Kissinger or Dean Acheson, as opposed to people who have served in this office who mainly care about their hobby horses like “responsibility to protect” or global climate change (you can figure out the characters I’m thinking of). If you want to try to put it in terms the Walters have given us (McDougall and Mead), I think his views represent a Hamilton-Jackson-Reagan combination.
A Strong Foreign Policy Team
Bolton will likely be one of the most persuasive of the president’s advisors, not only because of what he knows, but also because everyone will know what he thinks. He won’t be cowed by any personality here or abroad.
The national security team Trump is filling out represents some impressive figures. Bolton joins Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and James Mattis, who share knowledge, experience, confidence, integrity, and boldness. There are likely to be disputes and sometimes serious ones, and none of them are hot house flowers so none will easily defer to the others. I expect Trump has been looking forward to such a team, and will relish the conflicts even as he expects this to work.
It certainly can work, given that each of these officials has proven that his or her priority is the country’s interests and well-being, and agree diplomacy backed by force along with a never kowtow mentality is the key. Even the foreign policy novice, Haley, gets her job well: to represent and work for the interests of the United States without shame or timidity. That describes all of them.
Bolton’s new role is mostly a behind the scenes one, at least as compared to the other three. But in this role he will affect the thinking and actions of world leaders greatly. Our allies—reluctant as well as committed ones—will find an honest broker who will expect them to keep agreements and work out differences honestly. As to our enemies, may God have mercy on them, because Bolton will not.
This boldness and firmness doesn’t mean Bolton won’t respect the president and his office. The president might not always like what Bolton says, but I think he will hear him and treat his counsel as vital for the success of his foreign policy. Reading Bolton’s memoir demonstrates that, like the most valuable men and women who have served us in foreign policy, he hasn’t always agreed with the decisions the president takes.
But having been afforded the opportunity to give counsel, he nevertheless implements the decisions under his authority. Now, instead of implementing policy only on arms control or international organization policy, he’ll be making sure the president has the opportunity to make the best decisions and that all White House foreign and national security policy is implemented—or someone is going to have a problem.
Good Advice and Good Implementation
Bolton knows American politics, the public, and our system of government both in terms of the way it works and why it works as it does, because he knows the Constitution. It is rare to hear a foreign policy hand refer to it. But that is what Bolton does from time to time. It is part of his thinking about the jobs government officials do.
On television and in his writing it comes through clearly as he expounds on a topic and offers solutions to policy problems. It’s refreshing and encouraging to hear a knowledgeable patriot discuss the country’s foreign policy problems and solutions. It shouldn’t be unusual, but it is. This is also why he’ll continue to influence the public’s thinking even as he leaves his expert commentator role behind for a while.
What are Trump and the country getting? A national security advisor who is experienced, media-savvy, and smart, who is also determined not just to present well in discussions but also to see the job through. This came through in his first interview right after his appointment was announced. On Fox News last night he was asked what his job was.
He said it was quite simply to make sure the president has all the information he needs and the options available to him, then to make sure that what the president decides is implemented. You can’t offer good advice if you aren’t broadly knowledgeable and experienced, but you can’t implement if you are timid. Bolton has all that covered.
Bolton will be accused of being a neocon warmonger, but using that term doesn’t tell us much these days, as it has come to mean for many people “He wants to go to war before I do.” Bolton is uncompromising on national security and knows the value of brandishing a big stick precisely because it can prevent war.
Why should this not be our understanding of him? He cut his teeth under James Baker but also worked for George W. Bush, yet was always defending American interests. That’s pretty good, in my view. Bolton gives the president the chance to complete his national security team with someone who appears to know the president’s mind, knows the role of the United States in the world, and knows the American public. That’s also pretty good.