Putin’s friend and business partner doesn’t want a famous hawk and NATO booster to be his right-hand man on U.S. diplomacy? Go figure.
The real mystery, actually, is why Trump wants Bolton at State. How does a guy who got elected on soft isolationism, Bush-bashing, and detente with Moscow look at the holes he needs to fill in his diplomatic ranks and think “John Bolton”?
Mr. Bolton’s nomination as deputy secretary of state would be subject to a vote in the Senate, and it is not clear whether he would survive his confirmation hearing. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has said privately that he has misgivings, according to a person who has spoken with him. And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, another Republican on the committee, has promised to block the nomination…
Another impediment is that Mr. Tillerson has expressed misgivings about having Mr. Bolton as his deputy, according to a person who has spoken with Mr. Trump in recent days. But Mr. Bolton remains under consideration for the job. And he enjoys a powerful ally in Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and Republican megadonor who favors the kind of hard-nosed posture that Mr. Bolton would bring…
[Greg] Thielmann, who served in the State Department when Mr. Bolton was an under secretary there from 2001 to 2005, wrote Wednesday on the foreign policy blog LobeLog that Mr. Bolton was “a key player in the early machinations toward war [in Iraq]” who had “a penchant for quickly dismissing inconvenient facts and rejecting any analysis that did not serve his policy preferences.”
Among the other Bolton skeptics in the GOP ranks are Bush veterans Condi Rice, Bob Gates, and Stephen Hadley, all of whom coincidentally support Tillerson (and all of whom are partners at a consulting firm that has Exxon, Tillerson’s company, as a client). Back to the question, though: Why does Trump like Bolton? Is it really mostly a matter of doing Adelson a favor, appointing a guy he likes even though Bolton would be badly out of tune with Trump on key foreign policy matters? Or is it more about attitude? Sure, Bolton’s a hawk, but he’s also a straight shooter who doesn’t play nice with other Washington apparatchiks. He’s a strident Obama critic with many of the “right enemies” in both parties. In his own way, he’s highly politically incorrect. I can understand why Trump would take a shine to that, but as a complement to Tillerson it makes little sense. If Trump is intent on “balancing” Tillerson with an undersecretary who’s more skeptical of Russia, you would think he’d at least reach for someone who has a better chance of being confirmed than Bolton does. But then, as a Twitter pal reminds me, most other potential diplomatic hires aren’t regularly on “the shows.”
But maybe Bolton wouldn’t “balance” Tillerson at all. Maybe he’s prepared to, shall we say, rethink some of his core foreign policy positions in the interest of landing a big job. A basic prerequisite for any top diplomat in a Trump administration should be excessive credulity towards Russia. Could John Bolton, super-hawk, swing that?
Intelligence agencies have said that the hacks were Russian and that they were intended not only to sow distrust in democracy but to alter the election in favor of Trump. Bolton has expressed skepticism. Earlier this month, when he said that the hacks might be a “false flag,” many interpreted his comments to mean that he was charging the Obama administration with faking the hacks in order to lay blame on Moscow. After considerable criticism, both a spokesman for Bolton and Bolton himself clarified the remarks, chalking up the dustup to what Bolton called “typical bad reporting,”
Bolton insisted that what me meant was that any number of foreign actors—the Chinese, the Iranians, the North Koreans—could be the real culprits and may have just left digital breadcrumbs to make it appear that the Russians could have done it.
Bolton said this summer that he was “disturbed” by some of Trump’s criticism of NATO, particularly the implication that the alliance is some sort of favor we’re doing for U.S. allies rather than something that’s in America’s own national-security interests in the big picture. Hard to believe he’d reverse field on something that fundamental simply to get another State job, but then he wouldn’t be the first thinker on the right to abandon some formerly “fundamental” principles in a swell of Trumpist enthusiasm. The danger for Trump, though, is that if Bolton doesn’t recant his hawkishness and ends up at State anyway, he and Tillerson could quickly develop a highly dysfunctional relationship. Tillerson will be brand new to State whereas Bolton’s an old hand who knows how things work. If Bolton wanted to use his institutional knowledge to undermine his boss in various ways when they disagree on policy, I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult.
Here’s Bolton this morning chatting with Trump fan Lou Dobbs about his questions about the Russian hacking.