The very name John Bolton is enough to invoke disgust among those who would prefer to live in a world inclined towards peace rather than one on the cusp of endless war. It is fair enough to say that Bolton has never met a war he did not like and throughout his long and controversial career, he has played some part in starting several. But when it comes to his highest profile position as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, it is time to ask whether Bolton has been a failure.
Bolton formally assumed his position as National Security Advisor in April of 2018. At the time, it became clear that Bolton sought to humiliate, degradate and effectively blackmail the DPRK into submission according to his extreme version of a Korean “peace” process. Whilst it was reported that Bolton is primarily responsible for the lack of an agreement being signed during this year’s DPRK-US summit at Hanoi, the fact that Donald Trump remains utterly optimistic about the future of an outward looking DPRK and the fact that beyond this, Trump talks about receiving “love letters” from Kim Jong-un, it is fair to say that Bolton’s policy of trying to pound a proud DPRK into submission has failed. Instead, Trump’s neo-paternal and ultimately supportive approach to the issues on the Korean peninsula continue to define Washington’s approach to a peace process that Bolton never particularly wanted in the first place.
At the beginning of this year, Bolton spearheaded the charge for regime change in Venezuela. Bolton’s face was never off of the television when Washington was in the midst of promoting self-proclaimed Venezuelan “president” Juan Guaidó. Bolton and his closest allies even tried to stage an active coup with the help of a handful of mutinous Venezuelan military officers. The result was that the coup became a joke, the mutineers fled the country and President Maduro was able to celebrate the fact that his government withstood US pressure without even resorting to declaring a state of emergency. Meanwhile, Guaidó is under pressure even from erstwhile friendly media outlets over his role in allegedly stealing aid money meant for opposition activists.
Due to his overwhelmingly pro-Israel views, Bolton is particularly controversial in the Middle East. His attempts earlier this year to bully Turkey into refraining from fighting the YPG/PKK terror organisation amounted to little as Turkey’s President abruptly cancelled a meeting with Bolton. Bolton ended up leaving Turkey early as a result after receiving a personal dressing down from the Turkish Presidential spokesman.
But it is Iran which is and remains the top prize in John Bolton’s war chest. The downing of a US drown over what Washington says were international waters but Tehran says was over Iranian waters, was supposed to be the casus belli for a major airstrike against Iran.
According to Donald Trump, the US was preparing to commence three simultaneous airstrikes against Iran although Trump cancelled these at the last minute due to the fear that killing approximately 150 Iranian people over the loss of a drone was disproportionate.
As such, Trump ended up looking like a hero. He avoided war due to his self-professed compassion and desire not to engage in an unethically disproportionate strike against Iran whilst his strong praise of the US military surely satisfied those in the US who continue to view Iran in a uniformly negative light. Bolton on the other hand suffered what can only be called a major set back in his drive to start a war against Iran.
Thus, whilst Bolton remains as personally ferocious and uncouth as ever, it appears that his ability to actually achieve his goals is being severely limited. The DPRK’s leader is now treated like a personal friend of Donald Trump, Venezuela’s pretender “president” has been humiliated not only by President Maduro but now by his own side and a war on Iran has been averted due to the personal intervention of a seemingly more peace minded Donald Trump.
John Bolton is many things but a success as National Security Advisor is not one of them.