WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate hawkish former diplomat John Bolton as his national security adviser brings a figure known for pushing for pre-emptive strikes on burgeoning nuclear powers as well as skepticism toward Palestinian statehood into the administration’s powerful inner circle.
On Tuesday, Trump announced on Twitter that former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster as his chief in-house adviser on national security issues.
McMaster had been expected to leave later this year, but Bolton’s nomination shocked Washington.
A vocal advocate of the Iraq war, he has also advocated preemptive strikes against North Korea and war with Iran.
With the White House preparing to unveil its Mideast peace plan in the near future, the ascension of Bolton, who has declared the two-state solution dead, could further chill the administration’s chances of getting moribund negotiations off the ground.
While McMaster was not a main player in the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio during his tenure, national security advisers past have been deeply involved. In the Obama administration, Susan Rice and Tom Donilon, both held that role and spent substantial time trying to forge a peace agreement between the sides.
Bolton is highly defensive of Israel. After former president Barack Obama allowed passage of a UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlements, Bolton said Obama “stabbed Israel in the front” and that the measure was “clearly intended to tip the peace process toward the Palestinians.”
He further scolded Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry for his speech laying out principles for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in which Kerry warned a two-state future was slipping away as Israel continued to accelerate its West Bank settlement presence.
“Just as a matter of empirical reality, the two-state solution is dead,” Bolton told Breitbart Radio at the time. “That’s about the only thing John Kerry came close to getting right.”
In a 2014 Op-Ed in the Washington Times titled “A ‘three-state solution’ for Middle East peace,” Bolton argued that Gaza should be given back to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.
“The only logic underlying the demand for a Palestinian state is the political imperative of Israel’s opponents to weaken and encircle the Jewish state, thereby minimizing its potential to establish secure and defensible borders,” he wrote. “As long as Washington’s diplomatic objective is the ‘two-state solution’ — Israel and ‘Palestine’ — the fundamental contradiction between this aspiration and the reality on the ground will ensure it never comes into being.”
A frequent commentator on Fox News, Bolton is known for his bellicose posturing on security issues. Not only has he encouraged the use of force against Iran, but also a preemptive strike against North Korea. He was also a major voice inside the George W. Bush administration in favor of the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Bolton, who’s been a resident at the conservative American Enterprise Institute since he left the Bush administration, has advocated for Israel bombing Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.
“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in May 2015. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
Bolton’s hiring comes a week after Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for CIA Director Mike Pompeo, another fierce Iran hawk.
Bolton and Pompeo will now ascend to two of the highest positions in American foreign policy making a little less than two months before the May 12 deadline when Trump has threatened to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal if Congress and European allies are unable to amend the accord to his liking.
Both Tillerson and McMaster were reported to be moderate voices inside the White House, each of whom encouraged the president not to rip up the landmark pact.
Earlier this year, Bolton said, “Our goal should be regime change in Iran.”
Bolton has been rumored to be a frontrunner for to replace McMaster for months. The national security adviser, unlike the secretary of state, does not require a Senate confirmation.
Left-leaning organizations immediately came out Thursday to condemn the move and warn of Bolton’s inclination for armed confrontation.
“This decision continues the crisis around President Trump’s cabinet, a move that is dangerous for America’s foreign policy and further diminishes our ability to lead,” said Diplomacy Works, a foreign policy advocacy group of former Obama-era diplomats. “Ambassador Bolton represents the worst in American foreign policy adventurism. This pick signals to the rest of the world that President Trump has no regard for diplomacy and values a political yes-man who favors military interventionism over national security expertise.”
Meanwhile, members of the Jewish right applauded Trump for picking Bolton for the role.
“John Bolton is ridiculously knowledgeable and will be a great National Security Adviser,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, in a statement.
AFP contributed to this report.