Meet John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq War who’s now agitating for Trump to take action against Iran

  • The United States seems to be moving closer to a conflict with Iran – and the man at the center of it all, national security advisor John Bolton, has been pushing for US engagement with Iran for decades.
  • Over the years, Bolton has held some controversial stances, including advocating for preemptive military strikes on North Korea and Iran, and regime change in the latter.
  • As a undersecretary in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton also pushed the now-discredited belief that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The United States seems to be moving closer to a conflict with Iran – and the man at the center of it all, national security advisor John Bolton, has been pushing for greater American engagement in the region for decades.

Bolton, a graduate of Yale law school, began working on foreign policy and national security issues under the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, where he quickly developed a reputation as a defence hawk sceptical of the US bureaucracy and international institutions.

Over the years, Bolton has held some controversial stances, including advocating for preemptive military strikes on North Korea and Iran, regime change in the latter, and pushing Russia for harboring Edward Snowden.


Read more:
Democrats are raising alarms about Trump ‘inching’ toward war with Iran, but experts are torn over what happens next

As an undersecretary for arms control in the Bush administration, Bolton also pushed the now-discredited belief that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which served as the justification for the US invasion of that country.

He later served as the US ambassador to the United Nations – an institution he routinely criticised as ineffectual – where he continued to push for sanctions on countries accused of possessing or developing nuclear weapons.

Bolton has now been Trump’s national security advisor for a little over a year, and he may be close to realising his decades-long vision of the US engaging in a direct confrontation with Iran, according to a recent profile of Bolton published in the New Yorker.

Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy.


Bolton grew up in a working-class family in Baltimore. He attended Yale College and Yale Law School on a scholarship, graduating with a law degree in 1974. At Yale, he befriended future Supreme Court Justice and fellow conservative Clarence Thomas.

Yale Law School/FacebookYale Law School

Source:
Yale Law School,
The New Yorker


In the early 70s, Bolton avoided being drafted into the Vietnam War by joining the Maryland National Guard. He later wrote that he “didn’t want to waste time on a futile struggle.”

Source:
The New Yorker


Bolton’s career in foreign policy began in the Reagan administration when he served in a variety of different positions in the DOJ and State Department.

Source:
The Atlantic


Throughout his career, Bolton has been involved in some of the most controversial incidents in US foreign policy history, including the Iran-Contra affair. Bolton was assistant attorney general at that time.

Source: The Nation


While Bolton has worked in the federal government for the majority of his professional career, he’s frequently been a critic of government bureaucracy and so-called “careerists,” taking a more aggressive approach to policy in his own career.

Sources:
The Atlantic,
The New Yorker


Bolton’s reputation as a maverick from his days at Yale carried over into his professional career, as he pushed unorthodox and hardline views on foreign policy and ruffled some feathers in the process.

YouTubeJohn Bolton in the early 1990s.

Bolton under George W. Bush’s administration was the Undersecretary for Arms Control, selected for the position by former Vice President Dick Cheney, a fellow defence hawk. One of Bolton’s former aides described him as “Cheney’s spy” to the New Yorker.

Source:
The New Yorker


In that role, Bolton struck a deal to prevent the International Court Criminal — a frequent target of Bolton’s criticism — from prosecuting Americans under international law.

Source:
The Washington Post


Around that time, Bolton began publicly claiming that Cuba was developing nuclear weapons in coordination with Libya and Iran, despite pushback from the State Department, who said there was no evidence to support those claims.

Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesFormer Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Source:
The New Yorker


The New Yorker reported that Bolton forcefully retaliated against a fellow State Department official who questioned Bolton’s claims, attempting to fire him and shutting out his boss.

Source:
The New Yorker


From his position, Bolton played a major role in justifying the US invasion of Iraq by advancing the now-discredited position that Saddam Hussein was developing chemical weapons.

Source:
The New Yorker


In one dramatic incident, Bolton flew to Europe to personally confront a Brazilian diplomat, Jose Bustani, who was advocating for Iraq to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Source:
The New Yorker


Iraq joining the treaty would have involved outside inspections to ensure the country wasn’t developing chemical weapons, precluding the need for a foreign power to invade Iraq and oust Hussein.

(AP Photo/INA)Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1995.

Source:
The New Yorker


Bolton reportedly demanded that Bustani resign and threatened him by saying “we know you have two sons in New York. We know your daughter is in London. We know where your wife is,” which Bolton denies. Bolton then led an effort to oust Bustani from his position.

Source:
The New Yorker ,
NBC News


Despite the fact that no chemical or other weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bolton still stood by the US’ invasion of Iraq and the subsequent years of war as recently as 2015.

Source:
Washington Examiner


In 2005, Bush nominated Bolton as the US’ ambassador to the UN — an institution Bolton has regularly decried as useless and ineffectual.

Source:
The New Yorker


The New Yorker described Bolton’s reputation during his brief tenure at the UN as “abrasive but knowledgeable,” often bristling with fellow diplomats. He did achieve, however, his goal of levying multilateral sanctions on North Korea.

Source:
The New Yorker


After Bolton left the Bush administration in 2006, he harshly criticised it for dialling back sanctions on North Korea, describing the administration as mired in “ineffable sadness” and “intellectual collapse.” Bush responded by saying he believed Bolton was “not credible.”

Source: The Atlantic, The New Yorker


In the next decade, Bolton worked as a Fox News contributor and earned money giving paid speeches. He also chaired the controversial Gatestone Institute, which has been criticised for peddling Islamophobia and misinformation about Islam.

Source:
New Yorker


Bolton was initially passed over for secretary of state when Trump took office, but he joined the administration in March 2018 as national security advisor, replacing Gen. H.R. McMaster — who had taken a more restrained and measured approach to US policy before he left the administration.

Source:
New Yorker


Like Trump, Bolton is sceptical of international and multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, and prefers the US to take a unilateral approach to world issues.

Source:
New Yorker


Current and former national security officials told the New Yorker that Bolton is taking a more unilateral approach to policy within the US government itself, forgoing previously regular meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and intelligence officials.

Source:
New Yorker


Bolton has long argued for the US to preemptively strike Iran and for the US to engage in regime change efforts, with one former official telling the New Yorker he’s had an “anal focus” on the country for decades.

Source:
New Yorker


Bolton is now using his position to push the US towards a conflict with Iran. On May 5, he announced the US would be sending aircraft carriers and B-52 bomber planes to the Persian Gulf to counter any Iranian aggression.

US Navy PhotoThe Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

Source:
Business Insider


Some Democratic members of Congress say Bolton and his allies are drastically overplaying Iran’s threat to the US. Bolton has said the US is “not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack.”

Sources: Washington Post, Business Insider


The Trump administration has also reportedly discussed a plan to deploy 120,000 US troops to the Middle East. While Trump has said he wants to avoid a conflict, he’s threatened the US could cause “the official end of Iran” in a conflict.

Sources: Business Insider,New York Times

Read more:

Trump and Iran may be on the brink of a war that would likely be devastating to both sides

Trump leveled a stark warning against Iran as tensions in the region escalate: ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran’

Trump reportedly vexed with advisers’ approach to rising tensions with Iran

Trump says he’d send ‘a hell of a lot more’ than 120,000 troops to fight Iran if it came to that

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