The president’s rumored replacement for H.R. McMaster is an Islamophobic ultrahawk.
Earlier this week, Donald Trump tapped a charter member of the Tea Party to lead the State Department and an established torturer to head the CIA. Both appointments were perfectly monstrous, but if there is a governing law of this administration, it’s that things can always get worse. Consider the president’s rumored replacement for national security adviser H.R. McMaster: According to multiple outlets, Trump has met with John Bolton at the White House and could offer him the position as early as next week.
That the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has the president’s ear at all should be a cause for concern. Over the course of his checkered career, Bolton has proven himself a hawk of the first order, enthusiastically endorsing the war in Iraq and more recently calling for a first strike on North Korea. He’d almost certainly encourage Trump to flex his military might, and with the president’s approval numbers floundering and a wave election looming, there’s every reason to believe Trump could take his advice.
If you won’t take our word for it, here’s what George W. Bush’s White House ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, had to say about his former colleague:
“John Bolton was by far the most dangerous man we had in the entire eight years of the Bush administration. Hiring him as the president’s top national security advisor is an invitation to war, perhaps nuclear war. This must be stopped at all costs.”
Here are five reasons we should all hold our breath Trump doesn’t add this real-life version of Jack D. Ripper to his cabinet.
1. He is itching for a war with North Korea.
During a recent interview with Fox News, Bolton supported the idea of a summit with Kim Jong-un, but only because he’s convinced it would fail quickly, prompting military action on the Korean Peninsula. A neoconservative ideologue who proved too extreme for the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, the former Bush official insists the U.S. is legally justified to act unilaterally. He lays out his case in a gruesome column for the Wall Street Journal:
“The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times. Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation. How long must America wait before it acts to eliminate that threat?”
2. And for war with Iran.
Months before the Obama administration brokered a pact with Tehran, Bolton offered something approaching a final solution to the Iran nuclear crisis: bombing the country to smithereens. If the Trump administration were to scuttle the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or severely undercut it—as Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State has signaled he might—Bolton could conceivably march us into another quagmire in the Middle East that could prove even more deadly than the war in Iraq.
“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program,” he wrote in March 2015. “Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”
3. He still defends the Iraq war.
According to a recent report on AlterNet, as many as 2.4 million civilians have been killed in Iraq since George W. Bush launched his invasion in 2003. The Islamic State has occupied multiple cities at various junctures, and countless villages remain in ruins. Not only was Bolton one of the greatest champions of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he still maintains the war was worth it. His only regret is that coalition forces are no longer leading the country’s occupation.
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct. I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces,” he said in 2015. “[We] can’t assume if [Hussein] had stayed in power, sweetness and light would prevail in the Middle East today.”
4. He all but advocated for a military strike on Cuba.
If his bellicosity isn’t sufficiently alarming, Bolton has also proven himself susceptible to faulty intelligence and even flat-out conspiracy theories. Roughly one year before the invasion of Iraq, he accused the Cuban government of developing biological weapons that could be sold to Libya and Syria, refusing to substantiate his claims.
”The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort,” he told the Heritage Foundation in 2002, adding that Castro has ”provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.”
As with Saddam Hussein’s WMD, Fidel Castro’s arms proved entirely fictitious.
5. He has called Russia’s election interference a ‘false flag operation.’
While the extent of Russia’s influence over the final results remains a subject of debate, a preponderance of evidence indicates the Kremlin did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 elections. Yet in December 2016, Bolton suggested, baselessly, that Barack Obama was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. “It is not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation,” Bolton told Fox News at the time. “I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.”
6. He is a clash-of-civilizations Islamophobe.
Like Trump, Bolton has made no secret of his contempt for the Muslim community. During the Bush administration, he regularly railed against the infiltration of Islamists in the U.S. legal system and proved a prominent voice in “counter-jihad,” which Vox’s Zach Beauchamp describes as an “influential group of hard-line anti-Islam activists.” In 2016, he delivered a talk to the American Freedom Alliance in which he joked that President Obama was a Muslim (the title of his speech was “Can Islam and the West Coexist?”). The Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed the AFA a hate group.
Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.