John Bolton (Getty/Alex Wong)

In the terrifying John Bolton, Trump finds his national-security soulmate

Sure, Bolton is unhinged and dangerous. But if you think he's the real problem here, you haven't paid attention


Heather Digby Parton
March 23, 2018 1:00PM (UTC)

Ever since Nicolle Wallace reported for NBC News that national security adviser H.R. McMaster would be leaving the White House by the end of the month, the rumor that he'd be replaced by hardline hawk John Bolton has been rampant. I've mentioned it more than once over the last couple of weeks myself. So I must confess that I'm a bit surprised at the shock that seemed to reverberate throughout Washington on Thursday evening when Trump tweeted this out:

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Of course it's terrifying. John Bolton is a certifiable loon and everyone knows it. But then, so was Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the president's first national security adviser before tumbling into disgrace, guilty pleas and a deal to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Both of them reflect Donald Trump's temperament and worldview, which despite the insistence of many on both the right and the left has nothing to do with withdrawing from the world or "realism" or isolationism.

Bolton has always been seen as a neocon, but that's not quite right. During the George W. Bush years he was an insider in the crowd that included Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, the guys who wrote the manifesto for the Project for a New American Century,which served as the theoretical basis for the Iraq war. The idea was that America would be a benevolent unitary global superpower, spreading democracy and capitalism across the world and taking down "bad guys" two at a time so "freedom and liberty" would prevail. It was a Hollywood-style starry-eyed utopianism, at the point of a gun, that allowed a lot of hawks to sing "Kumbaya" as they marched us off to war. We know how that turned out.

But Bolton wasn't one of those guys, not really. He ran with that crowd, but was never a believer in the freedom-and-democracy agenda. He's always been a straight-up warmonger who believes the United States is the only relevant power in the world. It's pretty simple, and he's been saying it straightforwardly for years:

There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along. . . . The United States makes the UN work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, only question, for the United States is what's in our national interest. And if you don't like that, I'm sorry, but that is the fact.
-- Speech before the Global Structures Convocation in New York, Feb. 3, 1994

If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member, because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world — the United States.
-- Interview with Juan Williams on NPR, June 6, 2000

On another occasion, Bolton declared that it was "a big mistake" for the U.S. “to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so — because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”

You can see that it's not even a question of world leadership or political hegemony for him, still less about spreading democracy and capitalism. It's about total domination. Does that sound like someone else we know?

To that end, Bolton is a big proponent of pre-emptive war, including nuclear war. Back in 2009, he said that “unless Israel is prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran’s program, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the very near future." Just last month he published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that it was "perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first."

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Bolton is a willing conspiracy theorist in the Fox News mode and can often be seen holding forth on that channel. Most recently he shared his suspicions that the apparent Russian interference in the 2016 election was actually a "false flag" operation staged by the Obama administration to cast doubt on Trump's legitimacy, a thesis sure to warm Trump's heart. One can only imagine what this moonbat will do with a top security clearance.

But let's not make the mistake of thinking that Bolton is the real problem here. He's a disastrous choice for national security adviser, for all the reasons laid out above. But he was chosen because his ideas dovetail perfectly with the president's worldview, not in spite of them. Trump doesn't have one-tenth of Bolton's erudition, or a well thought-out national security ideology. But he has projected his own personal insecurities onto the nation as a whole, believing that everyone else is "taking advantage" of us and "laughing at us." Now he wants to hit back at the whole world and make it pay. As I wrote last year after his "American carnage" inaugural address:

When Donald Trump says "America First," he really means "We're No. 1." He talks incessantly about "winning," so much we'll be begging him to stop. He openly declares that he believes in the old saying "to the victors belong the spoils," either suggesting that he has no clue about the West's colonial past and how that sounds to people around the world or simply doesn't care. He's not talking about isolationism but the exact opposite — American global dominance without all those messy institutions and international agreements standing in the way of taking what we want.

Bolton couldn't agree more. Trump has found his national security soulmate.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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