Who is John Bolton?

Who is John Bolton?
Source: Tatyana Zenkovich

Former national security adviser John Bolton is receiving considerable press coverage for his forthcoming memoir about his time in the Trump administration.

The book is due out on June 23, but the Trump administration has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop its release, ostensibly over the inclusion of sensitive information that could compromise national security. Critics, however, believe that the administration’s actions are in fact due to the book’s revelations, including Bolton’s characterization of Trump as obsessively concerned with his own reelection prospects.

According to the official synopsis, Bolton outlines the behavior of a president who was “addicted to chaos, who embraced our enemies and spurned our friends, and was deeply suspicious of his own government.”

In a recent interview on the book, Bolton argued that “the president may well be a superb deal maker when it comes to Manhattan real estate, [but] dealing with arms limitation treaties on strategic weapons, dealing in many, many other international security issues, are things far removed from his life experience.”

Bolton goes on to contrast Trump’s lack of enjoyment in learning about important global issues with the knowledge and skill of other world leaders, such as Putin, saying, “it’s a very difficult position for America to be in.”

Bolton served as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, but his experience in the government sector goes back decades through multiple Republican administrations.

Over his career, Bolton has repeatedly emerged as a controversial figure, in large part due to his proximity to many high-profile American foreign policy issues over the past several decades, including the Iran-Contra affair, the Iraq War and the Trump-Ukraine scandal.

Liberal critics have routinely rebuked Bolton for his hawkish foreign policy stances, with many labeling him a warmonger for his widely alleged tendency to advance policies that result in American troops being put into action overseas.

While the conservative establishment has largely supported Bolton over the decades, Bolton’s allegations against Trump are likely to significantly decrease his support within the Republican Party, especially as many Trump supporters have come to reject American involvement in overseas conflicts.

Early Life

Bolton first got involved in conservative political causes at a young age.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1948 where he was raised by a working class family, Bolton reportedly was involved in the campaign to elect Barry Goldwater, a 1964 presidential candidate, while in high school.

Goldwater was accused by rivals of stoking right-wing extremism and would go on to lose the election by a wide margin to President Lyndon Johnson.

Bolton received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1970 and a doctorate degree in 1974. In 1972, Bolton interned at the White House office of Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president, who had championed the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

In the early-to-mid-1970s, Bolton was also a part of the armed forces under the national guard and army reserve, but he managed to avoid being sent to war. He later wrote that as a young man “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,” later qualifying the statement by saying that, in his view, by the time he was eligible for the draft, the war was already lost.

In the early 1980s, Bolton received his first appointment in government under the Reagan administration, with his first major role being as a policy coordinator at USAID, an agency primarily involved with the disbursement of foreign aid and development assistance.

Rise through government

With Republicans in power throughout the 1980s, Bolton steadily moved up the ranks, eventually transferring into the attorney general’s office, where he held various positions from 1985 to 1989.

Under the administration of George H.W. Bush, Bolton was assigned to the Department of State, the agency dedicated to carrying out US foreign policy.

Bolton’s government career was largely put on hold through the 1990s with the election and reelection of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. It wasn’t until George W. Bush entered office in 2001 that Bolton returned to political office once again.

Bolton was appointed by President Bush to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, but his candidacy caused considerable controversy due to his previously stated criticism of the international body.

In 1994, he remarked that “The (UN) Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

Bolton’s nomination was eventually blocked by the Senate amid concerns over his candidacy, but Bush bypassed the confirmation process by using recess appointment rules to temporarily allow Bolton to fill the post, which he held from August 2005 to December 2006.

During the Bush years, Bolton was one of the most prominent supporters of the Iraq War. In a retrospective analysis of the decision in 2009, Bolton said that he didn’t think there was “any question that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the correct decision,” although he did suggest there were problems after the initial invasion.

Bolton’s time in the Trump administration

In 2018, Bolton was offered the role of national security adviser to President Trump, where he often advocated for an aggressive US foreign policy.

During his tenure, the Trump administration continued to opt-out of international agreements, most notably the withdrawal of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.

After US sanctions were reestablished in Iran, Bolton used examples of their detrimental economic and social impacts as evidence that the policy was working.

“The rial, the currency, has declined by 70% since the sanctions, inflation has quadrupled, the country is in recession. You’re seeing riots and demonstrations all around the country.”

“So I think this is going to cut into Iran’s ability to continue their nuclear program,” he added.

According to reports, Bolton later sparred with Trump over the prospect that the administration could possibly lift some sanctions in order to entice Iran to come to the bargaining table.

Depending on which of the two men you ask, Bolton either subsequently resigned or was fired by Trump. Other concerns, including differing views on Afghanistan and a general deterioration in Bolton’s relationship with the president, have also been given as reasons for Bolton’s departure.

Controversially, Bolton refused to testify before the House of Representatives during Trump’s impeachment inquiry into the Trump administration’s dealings in Ukraine, arguing that the proceedings had become too politicized. However, following the House’s impeachment of Trump on two counts, Bolton stated that he would be willing to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed.

He never got the chance, as Senate Republicans voted against calling any witnesses during the trial.

Personal life

Bolton and his wife, Gretchen Smith Bolton, have been married since 1986. They have one daughter, Jennifer Sarah Bolton, who in 2008 also graduated from Yale.

In 2005, Jennifer Bolton commented that sometimes people she didn’t know well made judgments about her simply because of who her father is.

As for Bolton himself, critics and supporters alike are steadfast in their assessment that Bolton is nothing if not consistent in his views.
“I don’t believe his political views have changed in 35 years,” said Bob Stein, one of Bolton’s college classmates. “To the extent that consistency is a virtue, he’s a very virtuous person.”

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