President Trump has tapped John Bolton to become his next national security adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster. Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views. He has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, and was a prominent supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Just three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” In 2015, while the Obama administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, Bolton wrote a piece titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” We speak to longtime investigative reporter Gareth Porter. His new piece for The American Conservative is titled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran.”
AMY GOODMAN: In the latest White House shake-up, General H.R. McMaster is resigning as national security adviser. President Trump has tapped John Bolton to replace him. Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views. He has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, and was a prominent supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to this day. Just three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal headlined “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” In 2015, while the Obama administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, Bolton wrote a piece headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
Bolton will take over the position on April 9th and will not need to be confirmed by the Senate. Under President George W. Bush, Bolton served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He was given a recess appointment, after Bush feared he would not be confirmed by the Senate. For decades, John Bolton has been one of the most vocal critics of the United Nations.
JOHN BOLTON: The point that I want to leave with you, in this very brief presentation, is where I started, is there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interest and when we can get others to go along. … The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost 10 stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton has also been a leading critic of the International Criminal Court. Human rights groups have condemned the selection of Bolton. Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International said, quote, “This is a reckless decision. Bolton’s influence over national security policy could result in even more civilian deaths and potentially unlawful killings given his disdain for international law and international institutions.” Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council also criticized the selection of Bolton. He said, quote, “Bolton now represents the greatest threat to the United States. This is a dangerous time for our country and a slap in the face even to Trump’s supporters who thought he would break from waging disastrous foreign wars and military occupations.”
One longtime supporter of Bolton has been right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reports Mercer has donated $5 million to Bolton’s super PAC since 2013 and is Bolton’s biggest donor.
We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by longtime investigative reporter Gareth Porter. His new piece for The American Conservative is headlined “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran.”
Gareth Porter, welcome to Democracy Now! When you heard the news yesterday, though it has been rumored for months, what were your thoughts?
GARETH PORTER: Well, I thought that it was very probable that John Bolton was going to become the next national security adviser for the Trump administration, but I wasn’t expecting it this soon. So, it was, in fact, a bit of a surprise in terms of the timing. But it’s really been a matter of some weeks now that there have been rumors that—not rumors, but reports based on leaks from the White House, that McMaster was going to be replaced and that Bolton was clearly the leading candidate. So, that’s why I wrote that piece, in anticipation of the likelihood that this was going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what are your major concerns?
GARETH PORTER: Well, I think everyone knows, by now, that John Bolton has been, in fact, a very vocal advocate of the—of war with Iran, as well as with North Korea. I mean, he has, for years, been appearing on Fox News regularly. And I haven’t counted them, but there must be dozens of times that he has publicly called for the United States to attack Iran militarily. No one else in American life has done anything even remotely similar to what John Bolton has done in terms of advocating war with Iran. He’s not the only one, but he’s done it more consistently. And since he left the Bush administration in 2005, basically, he has been—or, rather, 2007, I guess it was, he has been the leading advocate of war with Iran. So, for President Trump to make him his national security adviser, clearly, is the most alarming thing that has happened in terms of U.S. foreign policy under this administration thus far.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to John Bolton speaking on Fox News in 2015.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: Ambassador, you’ve written an op-ed today in The New York Times. And here’s the headline—it’s an eye catcher: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” What do you mean?
JOHN BOLTON: Well, the negotiations, whether they lead to an agreement or not, are not going to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They are so far advanced now, the concessions they’ve made are so trivial and easily reversible, that the deal actually legitimizes Iran’s existing nuclear program. So, my conclusion is not a happy one, but given that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, so will Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and maybe others, that just as Israel twice before has struck nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states, I am afraid, given the circumstances, that’s the only real option open to us now.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Gareth Porter?
GARETH PORTER: Well, John Bolton actually began to make that argument as early as 2003, 2004, when he was the point man for Vice President Dick Cheney in the Bush administration for policy toward Iran, and the leading—I mean, the key point of contact with the Israeli government on this question. And during that time, 2003, 2004, Bolton was consciously maneuvering to get the United States in a position where it could exercise the option of an attack on Iran.
And what he did was to basically make sure that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, could not or would not make an agreement, have an agreement, with Iran that would resolve the issue of whether Iran had a nuclear weapons program. He was so afraid that Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of IAEA, would do that, that he consciously maneuvered to try to move the file from the IAEA—the file on Iran—from the IAEA to the U.N. Security Council, where he believed the United States would be able to then, essentially, accuse Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, and have the option available to use military force. And in his memoirs, he’s very candid about the fact that he did do that and that the purpose was to basically give that option a real chance of being carried out.
And he said that he was doing so because the Israelis were telling him that Iran was very close to what they called the point of no return, which meant that at that point the United States would not be able to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon without using force. And, of course, as I have documented in my book Manufactured Crisis, that whole story about Iran having a nuclear weapons program was really a falsified account, which the Israelis planted with the international community. And Bolton, maybe, maybe not, was aware of that, of that Israeli plot, but he worked with the Israelis very closely to try to bring about a situation where the Iranians would be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. That’s for sure.
AMY GOODMAN: To this day, John Bolton says the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. He doesn’t have to be approved by the Senate right now. He didn’t have to be approved by the Senate to become U.N. [sic] ambassador to the United Nations, not because you don’t—the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, not because you don’t have to, but because Bush understood he might not get approved, so he made a recess appointment. So, his support for the invasion of Iraq went right through today, but it was back in 2003. Just three weeks ago, this Wall Street Journal piece he wrote, “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” This is three weeks ago, in February. Can you talk about his views on North Korea? And as NSA, as national security adviser, what power does he actually have? What is the significance of his position so close to President Trump?
GARETH PORTER: Well, first of all, with regard to his Wall Street Journal piece, it is really quite astonishing. The kind of argument that he made was, essentially, claiming to give a legal argument for bombing North—a first strike against North Korea. But what he did, in fact, was simply to say, “The North Koreans are getting the capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. That means that the United States must strike first.” It was simply a sort of psychological argument, rather than a legal argument or even an argument that took into account the fundamental notion of deterrence. He never used the word “deterrence” in the entire article. It was as though that concept doesn’t exist. So, that sort of gives you an insight into the mentality that John Bolton will bring to this job.
With regard to what he could do as national security adviser, obviously, he will have the ear of Donald Trump more than anyone else in the administration at this point. And despite the fact that Donald Trump has committed himself to a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un in May, you know, we have to anticipate that there are bumps in the road in the future that will give John Bolton the opportunity to try to convince him to move not just away from that agreement with the North Koreans, but towards the kind of unilateral first-strike policy that Bolton has championed in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, but I wanted to ask you two questions: What is the Gatestone Institute that he chairs, and also, his super PAC, the major funder of it being the ultra-right billionaire funder Robert Mercer?
GARETH PORTER: Well, the Gatestone Institute is one of the many think tanks that have an extreme right-wing, anti-Islamic, pro-war, obviously, very aggressive foreign policy orientation. And basically, it’s not just—I want to add that it’s not just Mercer who has been very close to Bolton or who Bolton has been close to. It’s also Sheldon Adelson, who has been Donald Trump’s main funder during the 2016 presidential election. And it’s no accident that it was in Las Vegas, meeting with Adelson, that—from which Bolton called the White House last October and convinced Trump to basically take the position that he would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, unless the U.S. allies and Congress agreed to changes which obviously were deal killers.
AMY GOODMAN: And the super PAC. Time magazine says, “President Donald Trump’s pick for his new national security advisor has ties to Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling firm currently facing criticism for its use of improperly obtained Facebook data. A super PAC run by former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for research.” That’s according to the Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance records. We’ll end with that, Gareth Porter.
Gareth, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist. His new piece for The American Conservative, which we’ll link to, “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran.” Gareth Porter is also the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.