September 11, 2019

John Bolton Out

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“President Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had strong disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is cheering Bolton’s departure, but worried about Trump’s chaotic impulses.

“A rigid ideologue, Mr. Bolton has a long record of championing military action against U.S. adversaries, which Mr. Trump resists, and opposing negotiation with the likes of North Korea and Iran, which is the president’s natural instinct. He didn’t alter those views to suit Mr. Trump, and instead battled those who catered to the president’s wishes…

“Yet Mr. Bolton, who served in previous Republican administrations, can hardly be blamed for the falling-out. His ultra-hawkish views and habit of bureaucratic infighting were well known, even notorious, in Washington when Mr. Trump hired him in April of last year. But the president, in the hunt for his third national security adviser in just 15 months, simply disregarded the facts. Apparently Mr. Bolton was picked because Mr. Trump had enjoyed watching him on television. The result was to compound the chaos that has characterized the administration’s foreign policy and left Mr. Trump without meaningful accomplishments.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Experts have said that Iran is no closer to denuclearization than it was two years ago. Just two days ago, Iran announced that it would speed up its already restarted uranium enrichment. And far from being restrained, Iran has seized tankers, shot down a drone, and continued its support for militias across the Middle East. Bolton’s policy record is equally unimpressive on Venezuela, where the Trump administration seeks the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and has thrown its support behind self-declared ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido. Bolton said the U.S. military needed to be ‘ready to go’ in Venezuela. But since a planned May 1 uprising dubbed ‘Operation Freedom’ by Guaido fizzled into a series of street protests, Maduro’s position appears as strong as ever.”
Alex Emmons, The Intercept

“Some have openly worried about what Bolton’s departure could mean for U.S. national security. Senator Mitt Romney lamented the loss of Bolton’s ‘contrarian’ voice. At a time when the administration has been censoring contrarian views—including factual ones—telling the president what he needs to hear, and not just what he wants to hear, is an asset…

“But painting Bolton as a heroic truth teller is missing the point. Bolton was a hugely ineffective national security adviser. He didn’t occupy the role in any substantive way and failed to carry out the basic tasks that NSAs are expected to do—including holding regular national security policy meetings and getting through to the president. While he was ignoring his job, he instead focused on building up his own ego, publicly airing his disagreements with the president and pursuing his own policy convictions… Let’s hope that the next national security adviser does a lot better than Bolton.”
Samantha Vinograd, Politico

“Mr. Bolton’s singular achievement was to dismantle a foreign-policymaking structure that had until then kept the president from running foreign policy by the seat of his pants. Mr. Bolton persuaded Mr. Trump he didn’t need the National Security Council to make decisions; it is no surprise that the president eventually felt confident deciding he did not need a national security adviser, either. Whether Mr. Trump names a replacement for Mr. Bolton does not matter: No one is going to convince the president he needs a system now, let alone the one that existed for 70 years.”
John Gans, New York Times

Some argue that “As wrong as Bolton has been on many matters — his fingerprints could be seen on plans threatening American military intervention in Iran and Venezuela — his presence at least provided a healthy corrective to a president naively disposed to aligning with the some of the world’s worst authoritarian regimes, provided they butter him up. With no illusions, Bolton saw Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and their ilk for who they were — as tyrants and enemies of American values. That an impulsive president has now dispensed with him in order, apparently, to be more comfortably surrounded by sycophants means America’s role in the world will be that much more at the mercy of the whims and ego of a mercurial president. Hold on.”
Editorial Board, New York Daily News

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right is divided about Bolton’s departure.

From the Right

The right is divided about Bolton’s departure.

“Yes, all cabinet offices serve at the pleasure of the president, and when the president and his top national-security official disagree so strongly, the president is entitled to ask the adviser to leave. But anyone with two eyes can see that the temperamental, erratic Trump keeps getting fed up with staff who tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, particularly in the realm of national security… When the president’s agenda includes inviting the Taliban to Camp David, reinstating Russia into the G-7, buying Greenland, nuking hurricanes, and slowing down assistance to Ukraine, it’s not hard to understand why members of the military and intelligence community would have friction while working with Trump.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

Some argue that this “must delight North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro… Mr. Trump thinks every security issue can be boiled down to a negotiation, and that every other head of state wants to do a deal like he does. The terms matter less to Mr. Trump than the art of the deal. Mr. Bolton had the thankless task of telling Mr. Trump that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and that strategic ground must be prepared in advance and over time if you want to get a good deal. In this role Mr. Bolton saved Mr. Trump more than once from his worst negotiating instincts.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

But “there’s no reason to expect swings in foreign policy now that Bolton is out the door. When Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster and Kelly were senior advisers, some claimed they led an ‘axis of adults’ that oversaw foreign policy. Yet, all of them are long gone, and today’s policies don’t look all that different.”
James Jay Carafano, New York Post

Supporters of the move note that “while Bolton and Trump’s views align in certain respects, especially their skepticism of the United Nations and multilateralism in general, the two have never been on the same wavelength. Bolton is the Washington insider whose record as an uber-defense hawk is as uncontested as his career in government service is long. You can’t find a more strident, unapologetic advocate for the use of U.S. military force, whether it be in Iraq, Libya, Iran, or North Korea… For the first time in nearly a year and a half, Trump will have the opportunity to explore diplomatic solutions to tough problems without a vociferous opponent of diplomacy breathing down his neck.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

Trump has made the right decision to replace Bolton. It is critical now, however, that the next national security adviser not follow in Bolton’s footsteps. The right person for the job cannot be another in the long line of establishment figures stuck in the last two decades of foreign policy failure… It is easy to destroy things. But good foreign policy demands the more difficult work of constructive, pragmatic diplomacy. Bolton has demonstrated great skill in abrogating agreements and preventing wars from ending. He has shown neither the inclination nor ability to build anything, to negotiate any new agreements, or to end unnecessary wars.”
Daniel L. Davis, USA Today

“President Trump has a pattern of keeping people around for the unique tasks only they can achieve, then swapping them out for new people. There is no question we would not have had as strong a policy on Iran without Bolton. It is also undeniably true that Bolton helped reshape U.S. policy towards the United Nations, China, Venezuela, and the Palestinians in ways that were long overdue. And he did it without launching any wars, as critics said he would. But now that Trump wants to advance on peace talks in North Korea and Afghanistan, he needs a different set of skills…

“Where change will happen is in the areas that President Trump feels showing a softer face might help. Foremost among these is North Korea. Bolton’s tough stance was a challenge from the beginning: though Trump and Bolton played good-cop-bad-cop with some success, it became clear that North Korea wanted to see more compromise from the U.S. before making additional concessions. The chances for a deal — good or bad — are now improved.”
Joel B. Pollak, Breitbart

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

On the bright side...

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