John Bolton said on Thursday that his past policy statements are "behind me" and that, after taking over next month as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, "The important thing is what the President says and the advice I give him."
But Bolton's history of provocative, often bellicose pronouncements, typically in the form of calls to bomb countries like Iran and North Korea -- along with his unwavering support, before and after, for the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- are impossible to pass off, especially as Trump considers tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and prepares for talks with Pyongyang.
What follows is a small sampling of Bolton's rhetoric, dating back to the post-9/11 period. Back then, while working in the Bush administration, Bolton made the case at home and abroad that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the US role in the aftermath of regime change in Iraq would be "fairly minimal." Trump, by the way, has pointed to his own opposition to the Iraq war as evidence of his smarts.
Bolton also publicly accused Cuba of providing "dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states." Years later, after leaving his post as ambassador to the UN, he pushed to expand the Iraq War into Iran. More recently, he's pushed for unilateral strikes in Iran and North Korea, while casting doubt on Russia's role in 2016 election-related hacking.
He made the case last month for striking North Korea 'first'
Citing preemptive strikes by Israel on Syrian (2007) and Iraqi (1981) reactor sites, Bolton in February of this year -- less than four weeks ago -- made a case in the Wall Street Journal for a potential US attack on North Korea:
"Pre-emption opponents argue that action is not justified because Pyongyang does not constitute an 'imminent threat.' They are wrong. The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times. Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation."
He suggested election hacking was a 'false flag operation' designed to frame the Russians
In December 2016, Bolton said he wasn't convinced the Russian had a role in pre-election hacking.
"It's not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation. The question that has to be asked is, why did the Russians run their smart intelligence service against Hillary's server but their dumb intelligence services against the election?"
He seems to have changed his mind; is now advocating heavy retaliation
In an opinion piece filed after special counsel Robert Mueller returned indictments alleging conspiracy to defraud the US against a group of Russian nationals, Bolton wrote:
"One way to (deter Russia) is to engage in a retaliatory cyber campaign against Russia. This effort should not be proportional to what we have just experienced. It should be decidedly disproportionate. The lesson we want Russia (or anyone else) to learn is that the costs to them from future cyberattacks against the United States will be so high that they will simply consign all their cyberwarfare plans to their computer memories to gather electronic dust."
He said a diplomatic option for dealing with North Korea was to 'end the regime'
Asked by a Fox News host if there were any "diplomatic options" remaining in the nuclear standoff with North Korea, Bolton suggested this:
Bolton: "I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over. You've got to argue with China--"
Fox News host Trish Regan: "That's not really diplomatic! (Laughing) As far as they're concerned."
Bolton: "Well, that's their problem, not ours. Anybody who thinks that more diplomacy with North Korea, more sanctions, whether against North Korea, or an effort to apply sanctions against China, is just giving North Korea more time to increase its nuclear arsenal..."
He compared -- to laughter and cheers -- former President Barack Obama to a 'Muslim king'
In a speech to the American Freedom Alliance conference in August 2016, Bolton drew applause when he said this of Obama at the beginning of a speech on Muslim countries and their politics:
"King Abdullah of Jordan, who is not simply the Muslim king of a Muslim country, unlike our president... (laughter and cheers) ... King Abdullah and other political leaders in the Middle East have said this is a civil war within Islam."
He desperately wants to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal
In Janaury of this year, again in the Wall Street Journal, he argued that the administration take more forceful steps to break the terms of the pact:
"Spending the next 120 days negotiating with ourselves will leave the West mired in stasis. Mr. Trump correctly sees Mr. Obama's deal as a massive strategic blunder, but his advisers have inexplicably persuaded him not to withdraw. Last fall, deciding whether to reimpose sanctions and decertify the deal under the Corker-Cardin legislation, the administration also opted to keep the door open to 'fixes' -- a punt on third down. Let's hope Friday's decision is not another punt."
He also touched on a common theme in his writing, going back at least to former President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, that connects Iran and North Korea:
"Little is known, at least publicly, about longstanding Iranian-North Korean cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. It is foolish to play down Tehran's threat because of Pyongyang's provocations. They are two sides of the same coin."
He took -- and seems to take -- the 'Axis of Evil' line literally
Rewind to August 2002 and remarks made during talks between the North and South Koreans, when Bolton defended the expression and insisted "it was factually correct.'' This is from the New York Times report:
"In a strongly worded speech, the official, John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control, cited what he said was 'a hard connection between these regimes -- an "axis" along which flow dangerous weapons and dangerous technology.'"
He argued in favor of Brexit, touting the UK's strong negotiating hand
Ahead of the Brexit vote in 2016, Bolton wrote in the New York Daily News that the UK would enter potential EU exit negotiations with the upper hand. (Things have been somewhat more difficult than he figured.):
"EU stalwarts like German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Sch-uble have tried to scare Britain by proposing obnoxious exit terms. The rhetoric is hollow bluster. The advantages of free trade and easy movement of goods and financial resources between Europe and Britain, whether or not the latter remains part of the former, will dictate that Britain and the EU negotiate Brexit terms that are mutually advantageous. ... There is an inherent economic risk in abandoning arrangements and institutions built up over time. But in the sweep of European history, the EU is a newcomer. It makes sense for Britain exit now rather than wait until disaster strikes."
Before the deal was done, he wrote an op-ed calling on the US to bomb Iran
Shortly before the framework of the Iran nuclear deal was set in place, Bolton wrote a piece headlined, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran." He even considered outsourcing the job to Israel:
"Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed. ... An attack need not destroy all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what's necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran's opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran."
He (still) believes leaving Iraq was a worse decision than invading it
Bolton became Bush's under secretary of state for arms control and international security in May of 2001 and remained in the job for about four years, during which time the US invaded Iraq under false pretenses, before taking over as ambassador the United Nations via recess appointment. Asked in 2015 about the decision to go to war, here's what he told the Washington Examiner:
"I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct. I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces. The people who say, oh things would have been much better if you didn't overthrow Saddam miss the point that today's Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone."
He wanted to bomb Iran during the Iraq war
In 2008, Bolton called for strikes inside Iran as part of a bid to cut off Tehran's aid to insurgents in Iraq. Asked by a Fox News host what he thought would "happen next" if the US attacked, he downplayed the potential for widening the war:
"I think the Iranians need to look very carefully at what risk they would run if they were to escalate. The idea here is not to have much larger hostilities, but to stop the Iranians from engaging in the hostilities that they're already doing against us inside Iraq. And they're doing much the same by aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. So this is not provocative or preemptive, this is entirely responsive on our part."
He downplayed the short- and long-term dangers of war in Iraq
In the run-up to the Iraq invasion he made the case for regime change to the BBC. Here's one of his arguments in favor:
"I think the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn't welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime. And Iraqi opposition leaders of a variety of positions and views are discussing now what will happen after Saddam Hussein. I expect that the American role actually will be fairly minimal. I think we'll have an important security role. I think concluding the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction themselves will be important. But I think fundamentally the recreation of a hopefully democratic Iraqi government -- that must rest with the Iraqis."
- John Bolton on: bombing Iran, North Korea, Russia and the Iraq War
- Is North Korea trying to get John Bolton fired?
- Bolton: Strong prospects for North Korea if ...
- Trump contradicts Bolton on North Korea
- Russia, US spar on Iran, North Korea, Syria
- John Bolton is a coward
- Never mind about John Bolton. Trump's ego could force a North Korea deal anyway
- John Bolton says North Korea failure to meet commitments requires second Trump-Kim summit
- Pompeo and Bolton outline North Korea plans as talks approach
- White House downplays Bolton comments after North Korea outcry