The reaction from the former prime minister of Sweden Carl Bildt captured the shock and horror across the world at President Donald Trump’s choice as the new National Security Advisor, his third in 14 months.
“Bolton? Really? Where’s the bunker?” Bildt tweeted hours after Trump announced on the same medium that he was replacing NSA H R McMaster with a man known as much for his walrus mustache as his hawkish, warmongering views. Except for some extreme right wing news outlets, dismay and revulsion were splashed across headlines even in the US.
“Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous,” read the headline for a New York Times editorial that said, “There are few people more likely than Mr Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr Trump has made so far.” Washington Post had several critical commentaries, including one headlined, “Add another zealot to the White House.”
Bolton hardline views and advocacy of military power, including pre-emptive strikes against adversaries, has long been public. He is ferociously opposed to Iran, wants punitive strikes against North Korea, and is leery even about India. In the time he was the US ambassador to UN during the Bush years, he worked actively with his Chinese counterpart to thwart New Delhi’s bid for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council, clashing frequently with India’s then UN ambassador Nirupam Sen over a range of issues.
But it is his recent stand on North Korea, Russia, Iran and free trade — and his walrus mustache — that has the Washington commentariat wondering how long he will last in the Trump White House. In fact, the walrus mustache was what held up his appointment in the first place, with President Trump reportedly expressing disapproval of whiskers that he thought were out of place for a senior aide.
Eventually, the president has had to endure the facial hair after he dispensed with a bald NSA whose cerebral presentations were reportedly beyond his bandwidth. Not that this relationship is going to be smooth sailing. Some of Bolton’s positions are distinctly different from Trump’s — for instance, he is a hawk on Russia, while Trump is deferential to Moscow; he is also a votary of free trade; Trump isn’t.
They both agree on the Iran nuclear agreement is a “bad deal”. However, it is Bolton’s views on North Korea that is coming up for increased scrutiny against the backdrop of a proposed summit meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un. “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first,” Bolton wrote in a Wall Street Journal in February this year, a stand made by a country that is 6,800 miles away and armed with nuclear weapons, but one that is terrifying South Korea and Japan, which are next door to North Korea and a short missile strike away. The conservative American media though celebrated Bolton’s appointment.
“If North Korea is half as scared of Bolton as the Democrats are, negotiations should go rather well,” wrote Joel Pollak, a Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. On the lighter comedic side though, there were questions about how long Trump would endure the walrus mustache before he looked for a fourth National Security Advisor.