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The Bolton Pick Means Two Things, They’re Both Mostly Bad

Words: Laicie Heeley
Pictures: Scott Olson/Getty Images

President Trump has a new National Security Advisor named Bolton — and, yes, he’s famous, but no, he’s not related to Michael.

John Bolton is well known in foreign policy circles for his views on bombing well, pretty much everyone as a means to an end, which probably explains why the pick caused widespread Twitter panic.

Setting aside the meltdown, though, Bolton’s appointment signals two things:

1. More tough talk is on the way.

Shortly after the announcement, CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins tweeted that Bolton promised Trump he wouldn’t start any wars. Whether Collins’ account of the conversation is accurate or not, it’s probably safe to assume that the same president who nominated Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy (the same Rick Perry who previously said he’d abolish DOE) is in on the joke.

The benefits of the Bolton appointment to Trump are threefold: First, we must never forget how much Trump loves to troll the establishment. Especially when it plays to his base — the more upset Democrats are with the pick, the better.

Second, Bolton’s policy prescriptions seem to track relatively well with Trump’s. Bolton believes we should pull out of the Iran deal – a move that Trump already seems to be inching toward. Should things go south – say, if Iran does the obvious and starts back on the path toward a nuclear weapon – Bolton will happily sing-song the two countries to war. On North Korea, Bolton loves Trump’s latest move toward diplomacy. Why? Because he’s pretty sure it will fail, and then there’s no other option but war.

Trump, for his part, has been arguing for threats backed by force for 20 years. The fact is that Bolton’s trigger finger might be quicker than Trump’s, but it’s probably in the same place.

Third, however off-putting, Bolton is a foreign policy professional. Which brings us to a second concern…

2. The list of qualified candidates willing to work for this administration is running out.

Trump is no fan of Bolton’s. Bolton has been on the administration’s list of candidates for National Security Advisor and other possible posts since the beginning. But every time, he’s come up short. Apparently, Trump didn’t like his mustache. But it’s also likely Trump balked at a nomination because of Bolton’s previous failure to be confirmed by the Senate.

Now, here he is.

What does this mean? Trump has burned through an already-short list of foreign policy professionals, and just burned most others. If the administration is perceived as an inhospitable circus, only the most off-kilter ringmasters will volunteer to join the crew. The rest will wait quietly for a chance to work for an administration that’s slightly less likely to kill their careers.

And, that’s how we end up in real trouble.

Laicie Heeley

Editor in Chief

Laicie Heeley is the founding CEO of Inkstick Media, where she serves as Editor in Chief of the foreign policy magazine Inkstick and Executive Producer and Host of the PRX- and Inkstick-produced podcast, Things That Go Boom. Heeley’s reporting has appeared on public radio stations across America and the BBC, where she’s explored global security issues including domestic terrorism, disinformation, nuclear weapons, and climate change. Prior to launching Inkstick, Heeley was a Fellow with the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program and Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Her publications include work on sanctions, diplomacy, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, along with the first full accounting of US counterterrorism spending after 9/11.


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