News and Commentary

Trump Embraces Putin, So Republicans Turn on Bolton

As president-elect Donald Trump’s actions evince his desire to establish a rapport with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Republicans quick to sign on to that effort are targeting hard-line conservative John Bolton, who served in the State Department under George W. Bush, a stint as ambassador to the U.N. and is being considered for deputy secretary of state.

According to The New York Times, Bolton is opposed by GOP Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which would make sense, since Corker’s betrayal on the Iran nuclear deal marks him as timid on foreign policy. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, well-known for his isolationism, also opposes Bolton, promising he would block Bolton’s nomination. He said archly, “There is something to be said for one of the top diplomats in the country being diplomatic.”

Others opposing Bolton include Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s former secretary of state and national security adviser; her partner in the firm RiceHadleyGates, Robert M. Gates, a former secretary of defense; and her other partner, Stephen J. Hadley, also a former national security adviser.

According to a Times source who has spoken with Trump, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, who has his own ties with Russia, isn’t happy with the idea of Bolton serving under him.

Bolton has been clear about Putin’s dangerousness for years; he said in 2013, “I think in order to focus Putin’s thinking, we need to do things that cause him pain as well. And while I know that not having a chance to have a bilateral meeting with his buddy Barack Obama will cause Putin to lose sleep, it’s not damaging Russian interests.”

Trump may want to select Bolton to allay concerns among conservatives about Tillerson’s relationship with Putin, but it flies in the face of Trump’s reference to the war in Iraq, which Bolton supported, as a “a big fat mistake.” Trump even accused the Bush administration of lying to the American people about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, a claim that has little merit in retrospect, as evidence has shown Hussein did indeed have such weapons, which the Times itself reluctantly acknowledged in 2015.

Brian H. Hook, a former assistant secretary of state under Mr. Bush, told the Times, “‘Deputy’ is an operational role. So much of the operational work is in the jurisdiction of the deputy and helps to have somebody who knows how the building works, and it will make the secretary more effective.”