Politics & Policy

John Bolton for Secretary of State

John Bolton in 2006 (Reuters photo: Chip East)

And just like that Donald Trump needs to govern. The outsider who shocked the world with his upsets in the primaries and the general election will have to arrive in Washington and take control of a vast and often hostile bureaucracy. With allies nervous and a challenge from adversaries abroad likely to materialize quickly, the choice of secretary of state is his most important appointment. 

Naturally, names have already been mentioned in the press as possibilities, and none is better suited to the job than former U.N. ambassador John Bolton.

First, the other possibilities: Newt Gingrich is a brilliant thinker and glib talker who would always be one slip of the tongue away from creating an international crisis; Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was last seen facilitating President Obama’s Iran-deal path through Congress, in one of the prime exhibits of GOP fecklessness in recent years; Rudy Giuliani has done yeoman’s work for Trump, but doesn’t have extensive foreign policy experience, to put it mildly.

Bolton has the advantage of being an experienced, straight-talking yet nuanced foreign-policy hand, who also fits the Trump sensibility on national security. Bolton is an American internationalist who believes in the importance of American power.  He is a hard-headed realist whose focus is always the national interest. He negotiated the creation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, for instance, a global effort to counter illicit trafficking in weapons and materials of mass destruction. It was, and is, a diplomatic rarity—“an activity, not an organization,” as one U.K. diplomat put it. United Nations, take note.

Bolton has been around the block—starting his career as a protégé of James A. Baker III—but has never become an establishmentarian or lost his edge. He would understand that he is the president’s emissary to the State Department, not the other way around, and avoid getting captured by Foggy Bottom’s bureaucrats the way, say, a Colin Powell did, or others with less experience likely would.

He is a scourge of international institutions and treaties that threaten our interests or sovereignty. In the George W. Bush administration, he removed America’s signature from the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, and negotiated over 100 bilateral agreements to prevent Americans from being delivered into the ICC’s custody. And he negotiated America’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty so President Bush could launch a national missile-defense program to protect America from the likes of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

He believes that diplomacy and negotiations should be directed not to reach agreement at any price, but to advance American interests. It is his view, correctly, that the process of negotiation is not, as too many in the State Department see it, an end in itself but simply a means to achieve larger objectives, and always from a position of American strength.

On top of all this, Bolton, who endorsed Trump soon after he clinched the Republican nomination in the spring, is respected by all factions of the party. (He is a long-time friend of this magazine and serves on the board of the National Review Institute.)

In short, John Bolton is an ideal pick, and his appointment would be a sign that the Trump administration intends to get off to a strong start.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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