The case for John Bolton
He is a brilliant choice.
Anyone who has held as many hard jobs in Washington as has John Bolton, will have made numerous enemies, whatever his personality. John has plenty of critics, and in this dramatic Bolton-for-McMaster change, there are lots of unhappy officials, not even including the McMaster loyalists at the National Security Council who are surely slated for an early exit.My impression of Bolton is that he is an intelligent man. He suffers from his adversaries believe that anyone with different ideas is a danger to world peace. That is nonsense. Being tough with an adversary and making clear what will not be accepted is likely to avoid conflict. For example, Under Obama despite his craven dealings with Iran, that country continuously harrassed US warships and even tried to impede carrier landings by naval aviators. The Trump administration made it clear that such activity was not acceptable and it stopped.
As the Los Angeles Times puts it succinctly in a headline, “Bolton’s not nice, but he’s good.”
Actually, those of us who have known him for a long time would differ on the “not nice” bit. I think he’s very nice. I met him when we were both at the American Enterprise Institute, and truth be told I was not at all enthusiastic about his arrival there. I wasn’t a fan of Jim Baker, for whom John had worked at the State Department, and I wondered why AEI wanted a “Baker person.” But I changed my mind as I read the many articles, essays, and even books that John produced. And he was willing to debate issues on which we disagreed, or seemed to disagree. Over the years, we’ve both changed our minds on several policy issues. His Cabinet colleagues will find him thoughtful, a rare quality in any bureaucracy, and even rarer when it comes to foreign policy debates in Washington.
Not that he brooks silliness. He has real convictions, as you’d want and expect. I hope and expect that he finally imposes real personnel change at the NSC. His predecessor had a baffling sympathy for NSC staffers who had faithfully served in the Obama Administration, and actually told his employees that there was no such thing as a “holdover,” only loyal staffers. John Bolton knows better, as any grownup should. We’ll see soon enough. Personnel is policy, and to date the greatest failure of the Trumpists is an ongoing failure to staff out the government with their own people. The Bolton move suggests that the president is at least beginning to recognize this, and it would be confirmed by a substantial facelift to the NSC staff. Perhaps even including the hapless head of White House personnel, Gianni di Stefano. Apparently Trump and Bolton have had many discussions about this operation, so the new national security adviser will no doubt have a very clear picture of his powers, as well as the policies the president wants articulated and executed.
He is a brilliant choice.