In 1994, Melody Townsel, who was working for the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly as a lead USAID subcontractor in Kyrgyzstan, had become concerned about “months of incompetence, poor contract performance, inadequate in-country funding, and a general lack of interest in or support in our work from the prime contractor.”
To address these concerns, Townsel flew to Russia to brief USAID officials. Little did she know that her whistle-blowing would temporarily turn her life into what she later described as “hell”. Shortly after she arrived, a lawyer for the contractor she was reporting began chasing her around her Moscow hotel, sometimes throwing things at her, until she began to hide in her room.
“I was alone in the hotel room,” Townsel told the U.K. Independent in 2005, “It was easy for him to drop by and bang on the door, trying to pressure me until I broke. Several times a day he would pound on the door and shout, ‘This is not going to go away. I don’t know what you’re doing.’”
The man at the door was John Bolton, and, years later, during hearings into his appointment to the job of Ambassador to the United Nations during George W. Bush’s 2nd term, Townsel had written a letter, quoted in the first paragraph above, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warning them about his behavior.
The episode at the hotel wasn’t the only example she cited. Later, Bolton allegedly told subordinates at her new assignment in Kazakhstan that she was under criminal investigation, made insulting comments about her appearance and spread untrue rumors about her sexuality.
His career unaffected by his behavior in the years since, Bolton has now replaced H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration, a role that doesn’t require a Senate confirmation. He will be the third person to hold this position in a little over a year.
A (chicken) hawk for all occasions
Like many of his peers in elite colleges at that time, Bolton, who was born in 1948, managed to avoid the carnage that he supported in Vietnam from the leafy precincts of Yale, whose law school he would also go on to attend, and managed to avoid the draft by joining the Army National Guard.
Of that time Bolton later wrote, “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy.”
After finishing his studies at Yale Law, the new National Security Advisor worked at an international law firm, Washington D.C. based Covington and Burling, which has done work for blue chips like Apple and Bank of America alongside shadier companies like Haliburton and Xe Services (formerly Blackwater). The firm is more famous today for having former Obama attorney general Eric Holder as a partner, money being more powerful than political partisanship in Washington D.C.’s revolving door world.
Bolton’s life in politics began during the Reagan Administration, where he took a job working for USAID. At this job it wasn’t as if the well-heeled Bolton got his hands dirty helping to build wells in far-flung places. Instead, he used his legal expertise to prevent them from being built in the first place.
As Brian Urquhart wrote in a review of Bolton’s 2008 book, “Surrender is Not an Option”, “by canceling unsuccessful projects, he was able to present to Reagan, in the Rose Garden, a refund check for $28 million.”
After a stint in the George H.W. Bush administration as an Assistant Secretary of State, Bolton went on to become a Senior Fellow at the rightwing American Enterprise Institute (AEI), took an official post at the Republican National Committee and worked at the law firm Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus where he was a partner throughout most of the 1990s.
During this time he was also a signatory to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) along with the likes of Richard Perle, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. PNAC was a full throated call for American empire that few took seriously before the events of September 11th, 2001 made its message mainstream, the consequences of which the world is still dealing with.
During the frenzied recounts in Florida after the 2000 election, Bolton spent a month in the state trying to stop the process. As later reported by The Nation magazine, he entered a library in Tallahassee where votes were being counted on December 9th, 2000 and yelled, “I’m with the Bush-Cheney team and I’m here to stop the count.”
For his work in helping them, he was awarded plum appointments in the younger Bush’s administration, first as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and finally as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, an institution he doesn’t believe in, having once said, “If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
In regards to his appointment as UN ambassador, despite Republican control of the Senate, he lost the vote there, forcing the Bush Jr. Administration to make him a recess appointment.
During the Obama presidency, besides being invited to write op-eds in major newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, Bolton has been a regular commentator on Fox News He also became chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a racist, anti-Muslim think tank that has paid him more than $300,000 dollars to lend itself an air of credibility.
While many are arguing that Bolton is a dangerous radical, as Stephen M. Walt wrote this week on the web-site of Foreign Policy, “…the plain fact is that Bolton is not really an outlier within the U.S. foreign policy community.”
While there’s some truth to what Walt says about the bipartisan consensus that’s greeted most U.S. and allied interventions since at least the turn of the century, unlike the centrist humanitarian interventionists associated with the Democrats or the “democracy promoting” Neoconservatives within the establishment wing of the Republican party, Bolton in some ways appears to be the militaristic fulfillment of Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan, without the isolationism candidate Trump sometimes voiced on the campaign trail.
Despite his legal training, over his career, Bolton’s version of this philosophy has been that the United States should be able to unilaterally use its military anywhere it’s vaguely in “America’s interests”, regardless of American or international law. If American Exceptionalism were to be put on trial, Bolton would be exhibit A for the prosecution.
Although he seems intelligent, the current National Security Advisor suffers from a deficiency that is widespread in the US political class, just to a more extreme degree. That is, regardless of evidence to the contrary, he’s never been wrong and thus never needs to waver in his beliefs and never learns. In the case of the Iraq War, Bolton is one of the few that still doesn’t call the war a ‘mistake’ (and, in fairness, it wasn’t, it was a crime). Even today, he insists that the aftermath of the war was a necessary learning experience for future wars of aggression.
Further, his main criticism of that war concerns Obama’s withdrawal of American forces in 2011, something demanded by Iraq’s government if the U.S. military (and private contractors) insisted on retaining immunity from criminal charges in the country, a part of the story that seems to have mostly been forgotten, especially on the American right.
Later, in 2015, as the Obama Administration was negotiating with its P5+1 partners on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program, Bolton showed a characteristic lack of subtly in opposing the negotiations, writing an editorial in The New York Times titled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.
The new NSA insisted at the time that, “Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.”
No doubt just as evident as Iraq’s stocks of non-existent WMDs, another fabrication Bolton was only to happy to spread as then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control in the Bush Jr. Administration.
Bolton may be the worst among a slew of recent appointments to the Trump Administration foreign policy team that scrape the bottom of the establishment barrel, including Mike Pompeo, a Tea Party Congressman, torture apologist and hawk and proposed CIA head Gina Haspel, who ran a secret prison in Thailand where detainees were tortured during the last Bush administration and destroyed evidence of this and other crimes.
While I was always deeply ambivalent about the departing NSA, H.R. McMaster, a man who believed that the Vietnam War would have been won if not for policy-makers in Washington D.C. and who is part of a generation of military leaders whose effectiveness is certainly disputable, I imagined he’d have some idea of the consequences of the use of force, something that can’t really be said about his replacement.
Bolton, like his new boss and many others in the Trump administration, seems especially averse to using his brain over his heart (or another part of his anatomy). His arguments are usually based on emotion, most visible in his obvious dislike of Muslims (especially Persians), a way of viewing the world that also mirrors the most odious parts of the Trump base. In this way, despite his establishment credentials (and the fact the president has reportedly said he doesn’t like his mustache), John R. Bolton is a truly Trumpian pick, that is, about the most dangerous one possible.