The Catastrophic Tenure of John Bolton

John Bolton (Christopher Halloran via Shutterstock)

by Joseph Cirincione

John Bolton’s tenure was a complete disaster. The national security architecture after Bolton looks like the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. 

Seventeen months ago, before Bolton became Donald Trump’s third national security advisor, the United States still had a deal that had stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. More, it had rolled it back to a fraction of its original size and boxed it into the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated. It was a deal for the ages. All of Trump’s military, intelligence and security advisors and our closest allies urged Trump to stay in the accord. Bolton destroyed it in two months, pushing Trump to violate it and impose draconian sanctions on Iran.

“Withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal should be a top Donald Trump administration priority,” Bolton tweeted in July 2017, months before his appointment. “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” he shouted at an MEK rally in July 2017, promising them that they would all celebrate in Tehran “before 2019.”

Today, Iran is slowly peeling away from the deal, too, taking baby steps towards restarting capabilities that someday could allow it to make the material for a bomb, should it decide to do so. No new deal. No better deal. No regime change. No celebration in Tehran. “Trump has spent years making a mess of Iran policy for no reason other than right wing politics and incompetence,” tweeted former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes as news of Bolton’s sacking spread. 

Before Bolton, the United States had kept Russia from building a particularly dangerous class of missiles for over 30 years. Bolton blew apart the landmark Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement that President Ronald Reagan had painstakingly negotiated with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The treaty had broken the back of the nuclear arms race. For the first time, the two nuclear superpowers agreed to destroy, not just limit, nuclear weapons. It paved the way for other sweeping nuclear reductions treaties and big unilateral cuts—most done under Republican presidents.

Bolton hated these agreements. In 1999, he ridiculed the liberal “fascination with arms-control agreements” and blustered about “the Church of Arms Control,” insisting that America could rule the world through force of arms, not pieces of paper. In a classic Bolton move, he used the real fact of Russian violations of the INF treaty, not to insist on their compliance with the pact, but to destroy it entirely. “Violations give America the opportunity to discard obsolete, Cold War-era limits on its own arsenal and to upgrade its military capabilities to match its global responsibilities,” Bolton wrote in 2014.

The U.S. abrogation of the treaty was a gift to Vladimir Putin. It did not reverse the Russian violations; it permitted them. Today, there are no limits whatsoever on what missiles of this range Putin can deploy.

Bolton was also on course to destroy the last remaining nuclear reduction treaty, the New START agreement that limits US and Russian long-range nuclear weapons. Again using the phony right-wing tactic of blasting agreement because they do not cover all possible threats, Bolton trashed the accord as “flawed from the beginning” because it only limited long-range weapons (hence the name, “strategic arms reduction treaty”) and not short-range weapons as well.

Before Bolton, there were also fragile negotiations with the Afghanistan Taliban. Bolton “waged a last-minute campaign to stop the president from signing a peace agreement at Camp David,” reports The New York Times.

Before Bolton, there was the real possibility of a deal with North Korea that would have traded sanctions relief for serious nuclear dismantlement. Bolton killed it at the Hanoi summit by convincing Trump that Democrats would criticize him if he did not bring home Kim Jung-un’s complete surrender of all his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. “John Bolton appears to have locked the U.S. administration into a policy death spiral,” I wrote at the time. The spiral has now dragged Bolton to his political death.

Finally, and very seriously, before Bolton there was a functioning national security interagency process where leaders and experts from all agencies and departments could vet policies and build consensus. The National Security Council had been the principal forum for consideration of key policies for 72 years. Bolton destroyed it in 17 months.

“There was no process under John Bolton,” Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told Rachel Maddow the night of Bolton’s firing. Bolton halted meetings, restricted access to Trump and packed the staff with loyal Boltonites. “The national security adviser’s principal responsibility has traditionally been to oversee a disciplined policymaking process that includes the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, and to tee up big decisions for the president,” editorialized The Washington Post the same night, “Mr. Bolton didn’t do that.”

Bolton could not have wreaked this destruction if he had not been chosen, empowered and tolerated by Donald Trump, who must bear ultimate responsibility for Bolton’s legacy — what the Post summarized as “chaos, dysfunction and no meaningful accomplishments.” It was Trump who allowed Bolton to come within ten minutes of getting the war with Iran Bolton had sought for two decades, before halting the strikes. Trump created the storm, but Bolton aimed it expertly. An aerial view of the White House post-Bolton would reveal a devastated landscape.

“Any jackass can knock down a barn,” former House Speaker Sam Rayburn said, “It takes a carpenter to build one.” Bolton was the biggest jackass in the administration. There are no carpenters in sight.

Joseph Cirincione is the president of Ploughshares Fund and the host of the national security podcast, Press The Button.

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  1. Usually Joseph Cirincione’s articles are based on facts and plenty of common sense. I’m not sure about this article though!
    I have to agree with him about one thing and that is getting rid of Janny Bolton or the “Father of all evils” was the right thing to do – good riddance. But to give this evil man all the credits he does not even deserve is another subject. Something is very fishy since the MSM has risen against this evil man so suddenly? JB’s been around DC for over a half century! Why now?
    There are many unanswered questions about this evil man:
    1. How and from where was this man’s ideology formed?
    2. How did he become the worst war monger in recent history of the US?
    3. What was the source of his income besides the paychecks from the US government?
    4. Who did recommend his name to Trump for his NSC position?
    5. Who did hire him as the WH NSC?
    6. Was JB planted by someone or by an organization in the WH for carrying out the dirty work in presence of a very uninformed or the idiot like Trump as Tillerson called him?
    Janny Bolton was a money hungry Bull Shitter begging for money. He was prostituting himself for a few $$ from whatever source(s) he could con. Even if it was an organization such as MEK. Janny was more of Conman than an ideologue. He was a mouth piece for the MIC which it was the main source of his income. His mission in life was to destroy possibilities to the benefit of his masters at the MIC!
    As we all know there are many others real or subservient warmongers like Janny Bolton, from both political parties. who are standing in line and ready to fill in for JB! Warmongering is a psychological illness which has existed in the US for many decades and it will continue to exist!
    Ultimately Janny failed in one of his last assignments given to him by the MIC. He either wasn’t convincing enough or unable to compelling Trump into attacking Iran militarily!
    The bottom line is that we have to wait and see or watch for the next crazy warmonger who’s going to replace Janny!

  2. J.L.

    There will be no Trump-Rouhani meeting.

    Americans think of themselves to be so clever, oh so clever, by insinuating that such a meeting is in the cards when they have sanctioned Khamenei, Zarif, Soleimani, and IRGC.

    Americans have received their answer, 3 meetings of Ayatollah Khamenei with leaders of Hamas, Houthis, and the Sadrists.

    And during every single one, generals Soleimani and Salami have been prsent.

  3. Bolton appears to have had his “Mission accomplished moment.” Why stick around for Trump’s death spiral as the mess that Bolton helped to create consumes its creator? Bolton can now write his tell-all book that will help him launch a powerful conservative hardliner presence in the post Trump era as a spokesperson for American power.
    Bolton has derailed all deals that he saw as bad. Trashing JCPOA proved more difficult than the others, but the job is largely done. Perhaps the problem was that JCPOA is an act of the UN Security Council and not just an agreement between the U.S. and another country. Bolton’s estimate of the political strength of Iran’s regime apparently was off, perhaps by an order of magnitude and the MeK coup did not take place before the 40th Anniversary of the Revolution as Bolton had urged MeK to do in July 2017. But Bolton has engineered a situation where Iran is unlikely to receive any meaningful benefits from JCPOA.
    The Maximum Pressure campaign will continue including the bombing of Popular Mobilization Forces bases in Iraq and other Iran supported forces in Syria. Since PMF was formed to fight ISIS in 2014 the erosion of its strength by bombing will encourage resurgence of ISIS to fill the vacuum. Whoever will emerge as U.S. president will again have to make decisions about committing U.S. forces to Middle East hotspots. John Bolton, distanced from the final days of the Trump administration will stand ready to offer his unvarnished advice. Seemingly having been ignored by Trump perhaps Bolton might even be rehired by some future president

  4. NY Times has answered the 4th question in my previous comment today! Janny Bolton’s name was recommended to Trump for the position of NSC by Sheldon Adelson and Nothin-ya-Bou
    So JB’s actions can be easily explained!

  5. John Bolton and all his neocon henchmen were Zionist agents working directly in the White House. Bolton’s agenda was consistently an Israeli agenda. Surprisingly this article mentions nothing of these matters. There are rumors of conflicts that arose between Kushner, another Zionist and Israeli loyalist, and Bolton over Kushner’s “peace plan”. There are also conjectures that Bolton may have told Netanyahu to make his move on the West Bank and annex it, while the President was disposed to wait for a better timing that suited his own political interests. If so this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back with Trump. All of Bolton’s hawkish agenda are right out of the Israeli right wing Zionist playbook. Clearly Bolton was serving Israeli interests and not that of the US, particularly with his Iranian policy. Bolton’s alignment with Israel put him in the category of “agent of a foreign government”, rather than a servant of the American people, and his actions appear to have been close to treason.

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