with the John Bolton Smears: Heíll be the Best National Security Advisor in a
By Michael Rubin
March 23, 2018
President Trumpís announcement that John Bolton would
become his national security adviser in April sent cable news networks and the
Twittersphere into a tizzy with characterizations of Bolton as intemperate,
undiplomatic, and generally the wrong man for the job.
Most of the complaints about Bolton rest not on fact but
partisan calumny. As for his effectiveness, the record speaks for itself.
Letís debunk some myths:
1 Bolton is a loose cannon.
This is nonsense. Bolton
is a cannon, but there's nothing loose about him. When people argue
that Bolton wasnít a team player at the State Department during the George W.
Bush-era, they ignore the fact that Bolton never said or did anything without
authorization. Most of the anecdotes about knock-down, drawn-out policy fights
were about Bolton seeking clearance within the process. He believes in process
rather than leaks or faits accompli and, in that context, he was an exception to
the prevailing State Department culture.
2 Bolton is undiplomatic. No,
Bolton is a straight-shooter. Talk to any diplomat who served at the United
Nations during Boltonís tenure and they would agree. They may not have liked
his policies, but they grew to respect the man who always treated them with
respect. Contrast that with reports of Susan Riceís behavior, and the contrast
couldnít have been greater.
3 Bolton was ineffective. Part
and parcel of the Ďundiplomaticí calumny is that Bolton couldnít get the
job done. Back in 2015, Sohrab Ahmari noted that
by then-U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powerís definition, Bolton was a far more
effective U.N. ambassador than she. Then thereís the fact that Bolton scored
multiple unanimous or near-unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions against
Iranís nuclear program, somehow getting the Chinese and Russians on board
without giving up the farm ó such as what occurred against the backdrop of
Obama-era negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear deal. Or, consider Boltonís
tenure as undersecretary of state for arms control. In that position, he always
saw the forest through the trees and never was willing to dilute the substance
of U.S. national security in order to personally shine. Compare that to Ellen
Tauscher, who held that position under Hillary Clinton: During her tenure, she
hired and traveled with her own press flak, and the State Department buried
reports of Russian cheating on past agreements in order to get the New
START treaty with Russia passed.
4 Boltonís exaggerates. Many
critics took Bolton to task for suggesting Iran had a nuclear weapons program.
But the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate confirmed just that. Simply put, Bolton
got it right while his opponents were wrong.
5 Bolton abused his power. Again,
nonsense. The press went into a frenzy when they learned that, as undersecretary
of State, Bolton sought to unmask the identity of Americans negotiating with
Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi about his weaponry. That made perfect sense
given his role. Compare that with the press silence about literally dozens if
not hundreds of requests by Power to unmask the names of Americans caught in
intelligence intercepts, information which she had no real need to know given
her role. It was not Bolton who abused his power. It was Power.
On some issues I agree with Bolton, and on others I
do not (Full disclosure: He is a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise
Institute, albeit someone with whom I do not work closely). But Bolton is a
formidable intellect, a clear thinker, organized, and a team player. The purpose
of the National Security Council is to coordinate the interagency process. Not
only is Bolton meticulous about process, but he also has the wherewithal to do
two things so many past national security advisers did not: force decisions when
they needed to be made and then impose discipline on the process to ensure those
decisions were carried out.
Itís a sad testament to Washington political culture that
so many of Bolton's policy opponents pillory the person rather than take on his
ideas. Empty labeling and vilifying is only a strategy of choice when policy
opponents donít have a coherent argument to take on Bolton on the issues. In
terms of organization, intellect, fairness, commitment to process, and a desire
to get the best possible outcome for the United States with whatever cards he is
dealt, Bolton could be the best national security adviser in a generation.