Bolton's rise will mean more unilateral US action: Analysts

WASHINGTON • Fifteen years ago this week, the United States launched itself into an ill-fated invasion of Iraq.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump - who now says he opposed that war - appointed one of its most outspoken and unrepentant architects as his national security adviser.

Washington is divided about most things, but on this the pundit class is unanimous: Diplomat turned provocateur John Bolton's rise means more unapologetic, unilateral US action. Mr Bolton has publicly defended the option of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea's nuclear arsenal, and has strongly argued for the US to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican hawk whose support for any US military action is so predictable it has become a political punchline, was delighted at Mr Bolton's return.

"Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America's allies and bad news for America's enemies," he declared.

Others recoiled. Democratic Senator Chris Coons described Mr Bolton's warlike approach to Iran and North Korea as "overly aggressive at best and downright dangerous at worst".

Whether the first clash will be in Iran, North Korea or some other US bugbear remains to be seen, but the sight of Mr Bolton's moustache sauntering into the White House set alarms ringing.


The 69-year-old's triumphant return would have been bombshell national security news whenever it happened. But with Mr Trump poised to definitively ditch the Iran nuclear deal and vacillating between courting and threatening the nuclear-armed North Korea regime, it is dynamite.

Mr Bolton has consistently argued for an uncompromising US stance backed by overwhelming force in crisis after crisis in the 12 years since he left office as US ambassador to the United Nations.

Superficially, that ought to have undermined his appeal to Mr Trump, who campaigned on an almost isolationist ticket and insisted he had opposed the Iraq gamble from the outset.

But Mr Bolton has other cards to play that make him much more attractive to this populist and nationalist President. He has a track record of disdain not just for the foreign policy establishment, but for the State Department and for the rules-based international order.

This means that on May 12, three days after Mr Bolton takes office, Mr Trump will probably abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal - a keystone in international non-proliferation efforts. Mr Trump has in effect given the five other world powers who signed the accord till then to fix "significant flaws" in the deal.

Those who say Mr Trump is too soft on China and Russia will also have an ally. It also probably means that if Mr Trump's quixotic attempt to arrange a nuclear disarmament summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fails, then the world is closer to the brink of all-out conflict.

In a statement yesterday accepting his appointment as national security adviser, Mr Bolton said: "I look forward to working with President Trump and his leadership team in addressing these complex challenges in an effort to make our country safer at home and stronger abroad."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Bolton's rise will mean more unilateral US action: Analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe