Perhaps surprisingly for a former UN ambassador and State Department official, John Bolton thinks more often than not that military action, not diplomacy, is the answer.
President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he was replacing his national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, with Bolton, who in recent years has been more known as a Fox News analyst.
A prolific commentator, Bolton’s views on a broad range of issues have been well-documented over the years. He has delivered a steady stream of commentary as a constant fixture on Fox News and in many newspapers’ op-ed pages.
Many lawmakers and former officials have long expressed alarm about Bolton, whom Trump spoke of appointing to a top post before he had even won the presidency.
“No man is more out of touch with the situation in the Middle East or more dangerous to our national security than Bolton,” Sen. Rand Paul wrote in an op-ed days after Trump’s election.
Here are some of his views.
He really wants to bomb Iran
In a 2015 op-ed in the New York Times headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” Bolton wrote that “the inconvenient truth” is that only military action will accomplish US objectives in Iran.
“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed. The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure.”
He has advocated for a preemptive strike on North Korea
While even the most hawkish national security and military officials in the Trump administration have urged restraint when it comes to North Korea, insisting to the president that military action should only be a last resort, Bolton has made the case for a first strike on the country. Current and former defense officials have warned that such a move would cost millions of South Korean and American lives.
He wrote in an op-ed last month in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case For Striking North Korea First.”
“The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times. Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute,” he said. “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current 'necessity' posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”
He's criticized a diplomatic approach to North Korea
Bolton said he was “appalled” by a joint op-ed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote in August, in which they urge a shift away from “strategic patience” toward “strategic accountability.”
"Time is not a neutral factor here. Time is an asset for the proliferator,” he said on Fox News. “More negotiation with North Korea? I think they'd say bring it on. More time to increase the size and scope of their ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities."
International trade agreements “diminish American sovereignty”
In another Wall Street Journal op-ed last year, Bolton warned that “a rising number of international agreements create 'judicial' or 'legislative' bodies that interpret and expand obligations well beyond what is laid out in underlying treaties.”
Sounding aligned with Trump, he said that “this trend raises legitimate fears among states that they will lose sovereign authority,”
“This fear is particularly acute in America, where the Constitution unmistakably fixes sovereignty in 'We the People.' ... The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities. Nothing in the Constitution contemplates such submission to international treaties or bodies.”
He opposed restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba
In 2015, Bolton blasted President Barack Obama’s decision to resume full diplomatic relations with Havana as “the purest form of ideological diplomacy.”
“By exchanging ambassadors, reopening embassies and calling for Congress to lift decades-old trade and travel restrictions, Obama has untethered our foreign policy from any discernible American interests,” he wrote in the New York Daily News.
He thinks the US acts “like a well-bred doormat” at the UN
Bolton has long disdained the institution where he served as the US ambassador from August 2005 to December 2006. “There’s no such thing as the United Nations,” he declared in 1994. “If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
In 2013, his view hadn't changed, as an interview published by the American Enterprise Institute showed: “America has to defend its own interests in the United Nations, because you can be sure no one else will. Acting like a well-bred doormat gets us nothing but more pressure to conform in an environment that it is often far from conducive to our values and interests. That can be done politely and graciously, but we should never confuse being friendly with making substantive concessions.”
Admitting refugees can threaten national security
“We have no obligation to bring them into this country,” Bolton said about Syrian refugees in a Fox News interview in 2015, adding that the US can refuse them entry “without in any way violating our humanitarian obligations.”
Like Trump, he also criticized the Obama administration’s assertions that the refugees coming into the US were being thoroughly vetted.
“I don’t know who else believes this other than the White House,” he said.
Foreign aid must be tied to US goals
Bolton says that too often, the US gives foreign aid “as if we had some abstract obligation to engage in 'nation building' or international welfare.”
“Foreign aid can certainly contribute to advancing American national interests around the world, but only if it designed and implemented with those interests in mind,” he said in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013.
“Especially in times of great budgetary stringency, we should redirect our assistance away from multilateral programs, such as the World Bank, the regional development banks and the United Nations, toward bilateral programs, both military and economic. We should focus particularly on countries that support our efforts against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism.”
More attention should be paid to Latin America
Bolton has indicated that he thinks Latin America, which has largely been ignored under the Trump administration, is strategically significant.
“One major unknown is whether Vladimir Putin will see a strategic opportunity to reassert Russian influence in … hemispheric weak points,” he wrote in a January op-ed in the Hill, mentioning both Nicaragua and Honduras as possibilities.
“While tensions will not likely return to Cold War levels, when the US-Soviet crisis over Cuba came close to igniting nuclear war, Russian meddling in Latin America could inspire Trump to reassert the Monroe Doctrine (another casualty of the Obama years) and stand up for Cuba’s beleaguered people (as he is now for Iran’s).”
US should take a tough stand on Russian election meddling
“Putin’s global aspirations are not friendly to America, and the sooner he knows we know it, the better. It is not enough, however, to file criminal charges against Russian citizens, nor are economic sanctions anywhere near sufficient to prove our displeasure,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Hill last month. “We need to create structures of deterrence in cyberspace, as we did with nuclear weapons, to prevent future Russian attacks or attacks by others who threaten our interests.”
One way to do that is to engage in a retaliatory cybercampaign against Russia, he wrote.
“This effort should not be proportional to what we have just experienced. It should be decidedly disproportionate. The lesson we want Russia (or anyone else) to learn is that the costs to them from future cyberattacks against the United States will be so high that they will simply consign all their cyberwarfare plans to their computer memories to gather electronic dust.”
Bonus: He appeared in a video for a Russian gun rights group
In 2013, Bolton recorded a video encouraging the Russian government to loosen gun laws. The video was used by a Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms that was founded by a Putin ally.
In the video, he hails a “new era of freedom" under Putin.
"Were the Russian national government to grant a broader right to bear arms to its people, it would be creating a partnership with its citizens that would better allow for the protection of mothers, children, and families without in any way compromising the integrity of the Russian state. That is my wish and my advice to your great people."