WASHINGTON – John Bolton and Donald Trump have something in common: They have been considered jokes in Washington for many years, up until now, as their brand of strength projection is on the verge of a resurgence.
Failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2009 laughed at the mere mention of Bolton’s name: “If President Obama walked on water, he [Bolton] would say he couldn’t swim,” she said.
And enough Republicans were skeptical of him that in 2005, George W. Bush had to force his appointment as UN ambassador unilaterally, during a congressional recess.
But the former ambassador is now likely to have a place in Trump’s small national security circle, considered his top pick for deputy secretary of state.
Bolton advocated for the toppling of Saddam Hussein well before the Second Iraq War began, lobbying president Bill Clinton to overthrow him in 1998. He does not believe in the UN as an organization, either as an idea or in practice.
He has suggested a “three-state solution” in which Israel cedes security control of the Gaza Strip to Egypt and of the West Bank to Jordan. He questions whether Palestinians are a people with a right to self-determination.
The former diplomat has repeatedly suggested war with Iran, and believes that President Barack Obama has been unacceptably weak on Russia and on Syria’s nominal president, Bashar Assad. He believes the US should lead an effort to found a “State of Sunnistan” that will govern the territories a destroyed Islamic State leaves behind, because, in his words, the countries of Syria and Iraq no longer exist.
His potential boss believes in none of these things: President-elect Trump claims he opposed the Iraq War that he called a “disaster,” seeks a two-state solution on Israeli terms, wants to limit US military engagements and has aligned himself with Russia on the Syrian war. He does not believe in US nation-building abroad.
And so Trump’s affinity for Bolton offers Americans a confused message.
It suggests the incoming president’s worldview is still a work in progress, or alternatively that he seeks to surround himself with men of hard-line rhetoric. Regardless, it will be difficult for the next president to find men for the State Department who perfectly fit his unique worldview; the appearance of toughness may take precedence, policies aside.