When George W. Bush nominated John Bolton to be his ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, it was cathartic for many conservatives, who had been stewing for years over the bureaucracy at Turtle Bay. A working-class guy from Baltimore with a Yosemite Sam mustache, Bolton had once opined that if U.N. headquarters “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” It was easy to imagine him hurling abuse and possibly heavy objects at gelatinous U.N. functionaries as they fled down the hallway.
Alas, Senate Democrats filibustered Bolton’s nomination, limiting him to a recess appointment. His term was brief, controversial, and idealistic, as he set about trying to reform the U.N.’s farcical and mass murderer-dominated Human Rights Commission, which earned him rare praise from the New York Times. So when Donald Trump announced he was mulling Bolton to be his secretary of state, it seemed like a solid pick. Who wouldn’t want a sworn foe of bureaucracy at the cumbersome State Department?
The problem with Bolton isn’t his aversion to the UN, but his penchant for counterproductive war. Whereas Trump, for all his faults, has laid out a foreign policy that attempts to correct some of the mistakes of the past (even if it ultimately replaces them with new ones), Bolton remains immersed in the failed thinking of the Bush administration.
On the calamitous invasion of Iraq, he remains steadfast. “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he told the Washington Examiner last year, and anyway, “you can’t assume if [Saddam] had stayed in power, sweetness and light would prevail in the Middle East today.” That’s true, but you can assume that if Saddam had been removed from power, mayhem and madness would prevail in the Middle East—because that’s exactly what happened.
Bolton’s support for regime change has remained a constant. In March 2011, he declared that the United States should assassinate Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and “end the regime right there.” At the time, Gaddafi had surrendered his WMDs and was aiding the war on terror; after the Obama administration destroyed his government, Libya disintegrated into anarchy and ISIS opened up shop. The president, guilty of taking Bolton’s advice, was later excoriated by Bolton for being weak on Libya.
Photo: Gage Skidmore