Enough with the John Bolton Smears: Heíll be the Best National Security Advisor in a Generation

By Michael Rubin

Washington Examiner

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.