News and Commentary

Everything You Need To Know About Trump’s Possible Secretary of State, John Bolton

According to Huffington Post editor Ryan Grim, sources close to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, the next administration is strong considering former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton as Secretary of State. Republican Sen. Bob Corker is also on the short-list, but former Speaker of the House and loyal Trump ally Newt Gingrich appears to be sidelined.

The prospect of a Bolton-run State Department is music to the ears of conservatives frustrated by eight years of appeasement diplomacy. Bolton’s staunch opposition to the very institution of the United Nations, an increasingly corrupt international body hostile to American and Israeli interests, is well-documented.

For neoliberals and hawks worried about an inevitable era of US isolationism, Bolton is a godsend.

“Bolton has the advantage of being an experienced, straight-talking yet nuanced foreign-policy hand, who also fits the Trump sensibility on national security,” explains National Review. “Bolton is an American internationalist who believes in the importance of American power. He is a hard-headed realist whose focus is always the national interest. He negotiated the creation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, for instance, a global effort to counter illicit trafficking in weapons and materials of mass destruction.”

It’s no secret that the GOP national security establishment is wary of a Trump presidency. In August, 50 high-level GOP national security experts unleashed perhaps the most uncompromising critique of the real estate mogul during the campaign season. Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history,” wrote the signatories, employing absolutist language that even the Clinton campaign hadn’t dared using. “None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” suggested the signatories.

The letter’s signatories include top-level officials from previous Republican administrations. Most of them were active during the George W. Bush years. They include former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, among other big names in the defense community. Two US trade representatives and a former ambassador to NATO also signed their names to the letter.

While the letter was a full-scale rebuke of Trump, it stopped short of endorsing his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Americans “have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us,” the signatories stated, although the letter does echo some of Clinton’s more popular critiques of Trump, including those related to his “temperament.”

“From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being,” noted the letter.

Clearly, there’s no love lost between the GOP national security establishment and Donald Trump. But Bolton’s appointment would go a long way in assuring former and current diplomats and military officers that a Trump administration will take foreign affairs seriously. In other words, international treaties won’t be signed via Twitter.

Indeed, choosing Bolton would essentially undermine Trump’s own Jacksonian populist messaging. Resurrecting pre-war American nationalism as a counter against globalization, Trump ran his campaign as an isolationist eager to rewrite America’s post-war history of standing up as a leader on the international stage. A Bolton-appointment may signal a shift in foreign policy goals, however. In fact, Bolton fits the model of a Hamiltonian, an internationalist intent on securing US interests through calculated engagement.

As the second-Bush administration’s UN ambassador, “he removed America’s signature from the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, and negotiated over 100 bilateral agreements to prevent Americans from being delivered into the ICC’s custody,” according to National Review. “And he negotiated America’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty so President Bush could launch a national missile-defense program to protect America from the likes of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.”

If Bolton believes in anything, it’s American strength. The former ambassador has spent the last eight years critiquing the Obama administration’s sheepish submission to Russian and Iranian handwringers, highlighting the disastrous geopolitical consequences of disengagement.

In short, Bolton is the antithesis of John Kerry. As the country’s chief diplomat, he’d be willing to advance US interests without apology and once again reassert America’s role as top dog on the crowded international stage.