President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering seriously at least two men for the critical position of secretary of state. One, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has divided the Trump team between those who think it is a good idea and those who think Romney’s severe criticism of Trump during the campaign disqualifies him.
The other is retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus. A major problem for Petraeus is his mishandling of classified documents, which he reportedly leaked to his biographer-mistress, Paula Broadwell. After Trump hammered Hillary Clinton for her “extremely careless” handling of classified material when she was secretary of state, it would be hypocritical of Trump to name Petraeus.
Though also in the running, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani is thought to be running a distant third, if the number of visits in and out of Trump Tower are any indication.
So, of the top two contenders, who? How about someone with experience as a diplomat, including within the State Department and as a former U.N. ambassador?
John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular commentator on cable news, does not engage in wishful thinking, or project American morals on those who don’t share them in the vain hope they might be contagious. Here is Bolton on the threat of radical Islamic terrorism: “When you have a regime that would be happier in the afterlife than in this life, this is not a regime that is subject to classic theories of deterrence.”
In his book “Surrendering is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations,” Bolton is unrelenting in his criticism of the toothless UN and of many U.S. policies that have not produced results in America’s best interests — precisely the attitude of President-elect Trump, who wants to look out for America and its interests first. In this pursuit he is not unlike one of his predecessors, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who said, “What takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving.” It is a mugging, and too often it is the United States and Israel who get mugged.
Here’s another Bolton quote: “Negotiation is not a policy. It’s a technique. It’s something you use when it’s to your advantage, and something that you don’t use when it’s not to your advantage.” That is the opposite of wishful thinking.
In a July 2015 column for the Dallas Morning News, Bolton wrote that it is a fiction to believe Iran won’t violate terms of the nuclear weapons deal it made with the Obama administration. He argues that “snapback” sanctions won’t work because sanctions failed before. He thinks the only option for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the ayatollahs is Israel.
“However, Iran may well retaliate,” Bolton acknowledges. “At that point, Washington must be ready to immediately resupply Israel for losses incurred by its armed forces in the initial attack, so that Israel will still be able to effectively counter Tehran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, which will be its vehicles for retaliation. The United States must also provide muscular political support, explaining that Israel legitimately exercised its inherent right of self-defense. Whatever Obama’s view, public and congressional support for Israel will be overwhelming.”
Who is to blame for this situation? Bolton writes: “American weakness has brought us to this difficult moment. While we obsessed about its economic discomfort, Iran wore its duress with pride. It was never an even match. We now have to rely on a tiny ally to do the job for us. But unless we are ready to accept a nuclear Iran (and, in relatively short order, several other nuclear Middle Eastern states), get ready. The easy ways out disappeared long ago.”
This is sober reality and precisely the worldview that is needed at the Department of State.