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What's 'Dangerous' About Trump's New National Security Adviser?


John Bolton has been appointed the next national security adviser by President Trump. Mr. Bolton is a well-known face on cable news channels - Fox News mostly. With his signature walrus white mustache, he expounds hawkish views on Iran, North Korea and the value of U.S. military strikes. He's a political conservative. But Matt Purple, managing editor of The American Conservative, calls John Bolton, quote, "one of the sharpest and most dangerous national security operatives in Washington D.C." Matt Purple joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MATT PURPLE: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: What concerns you about Mr. Bolton as national security adviser?

PURPLE: Well, we only have so long. He is one of the most hawkish voices in Washington, like I said in that report. He wants to bomb not just Iran. He also wants to - has justified a first strike on North Korea, which would be an incredibly dangerous move right now - especially given how fraught relations are with them and the fact that President Trump is planning on sitting down with the regime there eventually. And it's not just those two either. You know, he doesn't regret the Iraq War, as so many foreign policy operatives in Washington, D.C., do. When he was in the Bush administration, he tried to gin up a case for Cuba having biological weapons that was utterly rejected by the rest of the government. He tried to push that case forward because, again, he's, you know, an uber-hawk. He wanted to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi before President Obama intervened in Libya. He wants to abrogate the One-China policy, whereby we don't recognize the government in Taiwan so that we can maintain good relations with Beijing. Over and over again in just about any country - I mean, you close your eyes and point to the map. Whatever you point to, John Bolton probably has a military solution for it. And given how stretched we are in the world right now, given how deeply we are in debt and given how little this has worked in places like Iraq and Libya, I think that's a very dangerous person to have in the administration.

SIMON: What about the idea that President Trump stood apart from other Republican candidates when he called the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 the single worst decision ever made. And in the end, its President Trump who is in charge. And maybe isn't it even useful for President Trump to sit down with North Korea's leadership if they think that somehow he's restraining John Bolton and restraining U.S. power?

PURPLE: Yeah, and we'll see. Maybe he will restrain John Bolton coming up here. I don't know. Trump is so temperamental. He's cycled through so many advisers already. We really can't be sure. But I'll tell you what worries me in particular about the pairing up of Trump and John Bolton. Bolton, from everything that we've heard from his fellow diplomats, who tend to despise him, from those he's worked with in the past - one of them called him a kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy. He demonstrates malice not just towards those he perceives to be America's enemies and those that he disagrees with but also his subordinates. He's not a particularly nice guy. He's a bully, from what we know. And Trump, as you know, has a streak of that in him as well.

And so I think, whereas you had H.R. McMaster in the national security adviser slot before, and he tended to restrain Trump's worst impulses a little bit - he tended to tamp him down - Bolton has the potential to exacerbate that. And you couple that with the fact that he is a brilliant maneuverer, a brilliant operator. He knows Washington, D.C., very well. And he's very cunning and very clever. He's not afraid to play the long game to get what he wants and what he wants is generally war. I think that this could be a duo that we really come to regret.

SIMON: David French, another prominent conservative voice and no apologist for Donald Trump, wrote approvingly of the Bolton appointment yesterday in National Review - saying to be a hawk isn't see wars of first resort, it's to see war as an option that ideally makes diplomatic overtures more effective. How do you feel?

PURPLE: Well, John Bolton has not optioned war with the different countries that he's written about. He has said - he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times whose operative clause was bomb Iran. He said that a first strike was a viable option and indeed a preferable option against North Korea. Again, like I said before, he said we should assassinate Muammar Gaddafi. This is not saying that we ought to leave war on the table, which I think most savvy diplomats would - just so that you come with a big stick. That's essential to American power. What he's saying is that war ought to be the first option, the first resort. And that's very different from the way that David French portrayed him in that piece I think.

SIMON: Matt Purple, managing editor of The American Conservative. Thanks so much for being with us.

PURPLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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