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Bolting towards disaster

With the most recent exodus of remaining competent officials from the Trump administration, the President has signalled to any and all competent policymakers that serving in the administration is not worth their personal reputations. In firing H.R. McMaster, a man who has dedicated his life to public service, Trump has thoroughly nailed this coffin. More pressingly, Gen. McMaster’s replacement, John R. Bolton, has been described by some as a genuine national security threat. As stated by Duke Professor Peter Feaver in a recent article, “One can find more hawkish voices far from the corridors of power but probably not within them.” This grim reality of having appointed an ultra-hawk at a time of high global tension and responsivity to U.S policy is indeed frightening.

Bolton has openly preached in favor of war against Iran and North Korea, two nascent nuclear states that could have unknown nuclear capabilities. Most urgently through the lens of current affairs, Bolton may present a genuine risk to U.S military installations in South Korea and Japan due to his stated belief in attacking North Korea first. If North Korea is to believe that war with the U.S is imminent or even inevitable, their calculus might tell their leadership to strike U.S bases within range of their nuclear arsenal in order to blunt the impact of a U.S strike, as opposed to being struck first, as advocated for by Bolton.

In some bizarre act of diplomacy, during negotiations for the Iran deal, Bolton penned a New York Times op-ed claiming that the best option was to bomb Iran. Can one possibly find a better way to sully the credibility of delicate negotiations? Bolton and other opponents of the P5+1 nuclear deal may be correct in that the ‘snapback’ sanctions within the deal gives Iran the space to extend the United States’ patience with minor violations, but the idea of scrapping the Iran deal now yields no benefits. The unfrozen assets that Iran might use to bolster Hezbollah and other weapons programs that fit the terms of the deal? These assets have already returned to Iran’s hand, and scrapping the deal now would only clear the way for Iran to obtain the bomb sooner.

Despite his tenure as U.S representative to the U.N, Bolton also does not believe an awful lot in the international norms that have created trust between nation-states; indeed his worldview openly privileges American hegemony over mutual international diplomacy. As a vehement opponent to the U.N and its system of norming in order to promote human rights often without the use of force (an area Bolton feels the U.N is inadequate in handling), it is difficult to understand how Bolton will make the U.S front and center on the world stage in order to address issues such as climate change that necessitate collective action. 

At a time when many of our international allies and partners have lost trust in America’s ability to champion international norms, the appointment of a man, who to this day defends Bush’s illegitimate incursion into Iraq, to the position of principal foreign policy advisor to the President is a grim prospect indeed. At a time of increasingly tense security competition, the aggression that John Bolton has embodied throughout his career only heightens the risk of a conflagration. 

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