John Bolton’s appointment by Trump confirms serious geopolitical risk
Earlier tonight, Donald Trump tweeted that he has appointed John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Bolton is a neo-conservative thinker who has hawkish views on North Korea and Iran. His appointment makes plain that Donald Trump is cleaning house to bring in more aggressive policy advisors with ‘America First’ views similar to his own.
Appointment by Twitter is significant in its own right
Here’s the tweet that confirmed the departure of H.R. McMaster from the Trump Administration to make way for Bolton.
I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
This is at least the second time that Donald Trump has announced a major personnel decision via Twitter — clearly by design. Trump believes that Twitter offers him a direct pipeline to the American people, unfiltered by the media. And so the fact that he has begun making these announcements via Twitter speaks to a more aggressive tone regarding the amount of pushback Trump is willing to tolerate.
Bolton is a neo-con
As for Bolton, he served as US Ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. And he is well-known for hawkish foreign policy views.
In August, he wrote an op-ed for the National Review in August on “How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal“. In February, he also penned a similar piece about North Korea making “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First“.
These policy pieces are at the extreme of US foreign policy stances favoring a more muscular approach against upstart actors on the international stage. And the fact that Bolton is now the National Security Advisor to Trump sends a strong signal to other nations that the US means to play hardball. This is especially true regarding North Korea, given the upcoming talks that Trump has signed up to.
Bolton was blocked as Trump appeased Congressional Republicans
Now, Bolton couldn’t get his foot in the door with the Trump Administration back in November 2016. So, the fact that he is coming aboard now is a clear sign that Trump is realigning his cabinet for aggressive ‘America First’ policy.
Back in November 2016, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul torpedoed Bolton’s appointment as Secretary of State when he warned he would work against the nomination. Observers noted that Trump would not get a ‘rubber stamp’ from a Republican Congress for his cabinet picks. So Trump selected a slew of people more palatable to the mainstream.
But as 2017 proceeded, Trump grew frustrated with the divergent views of these Wall Street and Republican Congress-friendly appointees. When John Kelly was brought in as Chief of Staff, Bolton was blocked from access to Trump. Politico reported this in August, revealing the Iran Op-Ed as his way of getting his views in front of the President.
Bolton is a true sign of “Trump Unchained”
Fast-forward to this past month. Rex Tillerson gets fired via Twitter. And that was the beginning of a new era. Rumors were rife about who was next to go. Last week, Trump’s Press Secretary specifically denied that H.R. McMaster was on the chopping block. But it was abundantly clear McMaster was on his way out.
I wrote about it, contradicting the official denial. I saw the situation this way:
Apparently, the next to leave is the National Security Adviser McMaster. John Bolton is a potential replacement, one who has already garnered opposition in Congress from the likes of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. But if someone like Bolton does get into position, it would suit Trump’s instincts for an aggressive policy against Iran and North Korea.
So, 2018 is shaping up to be a defining year in geopolitics.
On Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is privately predicting that Trump will abandon the Iran nuclear deal. What happens after that is unclear. But it gives either Israel or the United States the cover to stage a military operation against Iranian nuclear facilities. What happens with North Korea will be instructive…
…from the Trump position, it is an ultimatum. When Trump meets Kim Jong Un, he will likely say, “meet our demands for disarmament or face destruction”. What other message can he deliver? He is not going to meet the North Koreans and leave empty-handed without issuing an ultimatum.
The appointment of Bolton, who favors a first strike against North Korea, demonstrates why this outlook makes sense.
Trump unchained could mean war, it already means a trade war
Moreover, as I wrote on Twitter
John Bolton is to Donald Trump as Susan Rice was to Barack Obama. In both cases, the President wanted them as Secretary of State. But political opposition got them as National Security Advisor instead. No congressional approval necessary
— Edward Harrison (@edwardnh) March 22, 2018
This is a sign that Trump is looking to force his policy and his people through by whatever means necessary.
The Dow was down 700 points today on the back of tariffs that President Trump levied against China. And note that Trump invoked a provision of law that gives him unilateral authority. He used Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act to levy these tariffs. This is yet another sign he plans to use executive authority wherever he can.
Now, these tariffs were telegraphed in advance. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But China is preparing for countervailing duties. And a mini-trade war seems likely.
Other trade moves now possible:
- Zeroing in on Germany and its large current account surplus. The currency and ECB quantitative easing may become a whipping boy if so
- Moving to bilateral talks with Mexico and Canada and ditching trilateral talks for NAFTA
- Pulling out of NAFTA altogether
The Establishment Purge
Trump, who is in the process of purging dissonant voices from his administration, will take similar unilateral actions on the geopolitical front as well. Bolton’s appointment means the US – Iran deal that Obama signed in 2015 is history. It also means a unilateral first strike against North Korea is on the table.
Donald Trump believes that the US is the world’s only superpower. And his view is that, as a superpower, it has the ability, the right, to bend international arrangements toward a more favorable position for the US. Trump is willing to negotiate to get what he wants. But if all else fails, he will use force.
P.S. – I believe John Kelly and Jeff Sessions could be next to go. We know how Sessions has fallen out of favor with Trump. But, Kelly’s having blocked Bolton access to Trump last year makes him especially susceptible too. If so, that would leave Trump in position to fire Robert Mueller, something that would open him up to impeachment. But watch what Trump supporters say. Bolton is a neo-con, though he prefers regime change without nation-building. And Trumpists supposedly hate neo-cons. If there is little resistance to Bolton’s appointment, it is a sign that Trump can move even more aggressively still without opposition.