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How Incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton's Style Aligns President Trump's

Mar 23, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 6:07 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, let's take a closer look now at the man President Trump is bringing into his administration as national security adviser, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. He's known as a hawk on Iran and North Korea, and that has some foreign policy experts worried, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: John Bolton has spent a lot of time recently as a Fox News contributor laying out his advice, including on North Korea.

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JOHN BOLTON: I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea.

KELEMEN: Regime change is a common theme in his approach to Iran, too. He's described the Iran nuclear deal as President Obama's Waterloo, offering this advice to President Trump earlier this year, again, via Fox News.

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BOLTON: What I would recommend to him if I were there is to get out of the deal completely, to abrogate it, to withdraw the United States, to bring back all of the sanctions which had been suspended as a consequence of the deal.

KELEMEN: Trump has been threatening to walk away and has to decide again in May. Bolton now tells Fox News that he'll keep his advice private once in the White House. A former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, Robert Gallucci, is sounding nervous about all of this. He was on a panel at the Asia Society last night when news broke of Bolton's appointment.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: The John Bolton that I am familiar with in positions he's taken does not value institutions which I think are important. And as I look at the people around the president, I see the situation changing for the worse.

KELEMEN: Bolton was an undersecretary of state for arms control during the Bush administration and had notorious run-ins with officials when he disagreed with their analysis. Then-Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Carl Ford was furious with the way Bolton treated his staff, as he explained in a 2005 Senate hearing.

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CARL FORD: Unfortunately my judgment, my opinion - he's a quintessential kiss up, kick down sort of guy. There are lot of them around. But the fact is that he stands out that he's got a bigger kick, and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he's kicking.

KELEMEN: Matthew Waxman knows about that firsthand as a former official in the Bush administration.

MATTHEW WAXMAN: I did see that in action. I mean, he's known as being not only a very crafty bureaucratic operator but a very aggressive one.

KELEMEN: That may be something that appeals to Trump whose administration Waxman argues has been held back by its own incompetence.

WAXMAN: The president may see in Bolton probably correctly somebody who is actually quite effective, even, I'd say, masterful sometimes at moving policy from the idea phase to implementation.

KELEMEN: He was also good, though, at stymying policies during the Bush administration, says Waxman, now a law professor at Columbia University. And it's hard to predict how Bolton will fare as Trump's third national security adviser.

WAXMAN: John Bolton is not somebody who suffers fools gladly, and this Trump White House has fools in it.

KELEMEN: For now, though, Waxman says Trump may like Bolton's ability to push policies forward and to speak in Fox News-style soundbites. Michele Kelemen, NPR News Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.