Diplomacy takes a back seat as hawks land top US cabinet jobs
With the appointment of controversial John Bolton as national security adviser, President Donald Trump has another voice that supports unilateral action
President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a hawk among hawks. When he served as a foreign policy official in the George W. Bush administration, including as United Nations envoy, his more controversial ideas were overruled on occasion by Bush’s top aides, among them the then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Now that Trump has given Bolton Rice’s old job, the question is who will rein him in now? Bolton is, after all, identified with the bogus case for the unilateral US invasion of Iraq 15 years ago, based on flawed intelligence about Iraq’s weapons and ties to terrorism. He is also known for criticism of the UN bureaucracy and scant respect for the multilateral approach to resolving disputes.
As a long-time advocate of regime change in Tehran, his appointment exacerbates fears Trump will soon pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement. He has also advocated using force against North Korea, a tough line with China and closer ties with Taiwan.
With the replacement of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state by CIA chief Mike Pompeo, Bolton completes a national security team that is not far short of consensus in support of Trump’s liking for unilateral use of US power. Indeed, the only remaining voice of moderation is Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
For that reason alone it is imperative that he stays.
Bolton’s appointment comes at a particularly sensitive time for Sino-US relations, when Trump has imposed new tariffs on China, to which Beijing has retaliated, and Congress has passed a law encouraging closer relations with Taiwan.
Bolton has taken a tough line on both issues, saying Beijing needed to be called out for what he described as cheating on global trade while enjoying the benefits of an open US market. He has also written articles urging a rethink of the one-China policy and of US restrictions of contacts with Taiwan.
It remains to be seen whether common sense prevails and he moderates his stance after he assumes the responsibility of office. Otherwise things will have come to a dangerous pass.
There is a trend for anyone who disagrees with Trump to disappear from cabinet sooner rather than later, creating an intelligence bubble around himself in which he can only hear voices supporting his line.
It is disturbing that some people perceive him to be building a war cabinet consisting of very hawkish people with an aggressive foreign policy agenda. There are hardly any left who believe in diplomacy through dialogue and alliances. Ironically, diplomacy and engagement with allies who share Washington’s concerns is needed if the tariffs dispute is not to escalate into a full-scale trade war. Bolton’s disdain for multilateralism and institutions such as the UN does nothing to advance that approach.