Quotes of the week:
“We have only two very unpleasant choices: either Iran gets nuclear weapons in the very near future, or pre-emptive military force, fully justified by well-established principles of self-defense, must break Iran’s control over the nuclear fuel cycle and prevent (or, at least, substantially delay) weaponization.” – John Bolton
“It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current “necessity” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.” — John Bolton
What does John Bolton bring to the table as Donald Trump’s third National Security Adviser? Bad judgment calls that can have tragic consequences, for starters.
Bolton personifies the demise of the Republican Party’s national security establishment. Just 25 years ago, George Herbert Walker Bush sat in the White House and Brent Scowcroft sat in the West Wing corner office that now awaits Bolton. They were masters in the art of diplomacy, dealing expertly with the demise of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, negotiating two strategic arms reduction treaties with Moscow, and engineering the mutual withdrawal of the least safe and secure nuclear weapons from Russian and U.S. deployments.
These diplomatic accomplishments belong to another era. The Republican Party no longer has a national security establishment. Instead it has naysayers and media personalities who oppose less than impossibly idealized diplomatic outcomes. The essence of Conservatism is to keep that which serves useful purposes until one can replace something useful with something better. Bolton and his ilk have turned traditional Conservatism upside down: they want to get rid of what they don’t like without having alternatives. They don’t like the Iran nuclear deal or the INF Treaty, but they have nothing better to take their place.
This isn’t Conservatism; it’s deconstructionism. Bolton & Co. oppose what real-world diplomacy can accomplish, so they turn to putting U.S. forces into harm’s way. The U.S. military is already paying a heavy price for Bolton’s preferences, and may well be called upon to do more.
Bolton and those of like mind were cheerleaders for a war to separate Saddam Hussein from nuclear weapon capabilities he did not possess. (Twisting the intelligence to suit policy preferences is another hallmark of Boltonism.) The Republican national security dis-establishment, which includes Trump’s new designee to be Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has militarized nonproliferation diplomacy, replacing it with heavier sanctions and confrontational postures based on threats to use force and the ultimate sanction — the use of force. The timidity of allies is not welcomed, and international law be damned when it conflicts with U.S. freedom of action.
Team Trump is now on the path toward confrontations with both Iran and North Korea. The likelihood of diplomatic success continues to recede, while the likelihood of war is increasing.
Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on March 23, 2018.