It had been widely rumored for weeks, but on March 22 the definitive word finally came down: General H.R. McMaster was out as National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton would be coming in to replace him.
As seems now to be the accepted practice, this change was announced in a tweet. President Trump thanked McMaster for the “outstanding job” he has done and said there would be an official handover on April 9.
The specifics behind McMaster’s departure are a matter for debate, but it is worthy of note that there have been tensions at the top of the chain of command over the development of “options” for dealing with North Korea, and Iran.
Once the change-over was announced, attention now turned to the new guy, who is in fact a well-known figure in foreign policy circles. Bolton served more than a year as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. During that year, one writer described him as “savantlike yet socially awkward, alert yet more attuned to his internal rhythms than external ones.”
Bolton’s name has sometimes been put forward as a plausible presidential candidate. In December 2010, speaking to the National Review, he encouraged the idea that he would run in the 2012 cycle., though he later took his hat formally out of that ring, and supported Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Right Wing View
Many on the political right in the United States are quite enthusiastic about Bolton’s new position in the Trump White House.
Caroline Glick, at Breitbart, for example, writes that for more than three decades, Bolton “has bravely held positions that fly in the face of the establishment’s innate preference for appeasement.”
The enthusiasm extends to many on the right who are not part of the Trump base. For example, at Commentary, the neoconservative flagship, Sohrab Ahmari writes an appreciative piece on Bolton under the headline, “a hawk without illusions.”
In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt predicted that Bolton “will be an honest broker and someone who can drive decisions through molasses-thick resistance.” Hewitt, a conservative commentator who was notably unenthusiastic about Donald Trump during the campaign, added that Bolton may be “the best national security player to join Trump’s West Wing team so far.”
One conservative twitter denizen, Walter Sobchak, says simply that Bolton is “100% counterjihad.”
Left Wing View
The Bolton appointment generated quite the opposite reaction on the left. Fred Kaplan, of Slate, wrote that the appointment “puts the United States on a path to war” and illustrates that President Trump “wants us on that path.”
His article expounding on this charge said that Bolton’s agenda is not peace through strength but “regime change through war.”
That charge finds a lot of echoes on twitter, where one fairly typical reaction reads, “Both [Trump and Bolton] worked to avoid serving in Vietnam. Yet they’re chomping at the bit to start new wars with #NorthKorea and #Iran and sending another generation … off to fight for them.”
Bolton was at Yale during the Vietnam War and joined the National Guard.
Dara Lind, at Vox, says that Bolton the years since he left public office, “arguing for more military adventurism, specifically in Iran (over its nuclear weapons program) and to calm the civil war in Syria.”
Relatedly, Lind seems to miss the Trump of the campaign who set himself apart from the other Republican candidates, especially the brother of the last Republican president, precisely by criticizing the policies for which Bolton shared responsibility.
Gareth Porter, who gave an interview to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, says that “for President Trump to make him his national security adviser, clearly, is the most alarming thing that has happened in terms of U.S. foreign policy under this administration thus far.”