Analysis |

Bolton Is Gary Cooper in High Noon for Israel, Dr. Strangelove in Apocalypse Now for Everyone Else

Trump’s new national security adviser never saw a war he didn’t love, an enemy he didn’t want to blow up or a diplomatic agreement worth the paper it’s written on

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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John Bolton smiles during a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York August 2, 2005
John Bolton smiles during a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York August 2, 2005Credit: REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The removal of H.R. McMaster and appointment of John Bolton as United States President Donald Trump’s national security adviser was met with joy in Jerusalem, with dread in other capitals. Israel hopes Bolton will put its enemies in their proper place, while the world is warier today of imminent tension and war. Israel views Bolton as Gary Cooper in High Noon, come to shoot up the bad guys, but for most of the world he is Dr. Strangelove with a whiff of Apocalypse Now. If nothing else, the outbreak of festivities in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in honor of Bolton’s appointment highlight Israel’s place on the extreme right edge of the world’s political spectrum.

Bolton has long and deep ties to many Israeli politicians and officials. Bolton is a “true friend,” as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, one who will support her camp’s dreams and delusions unconditionally, unlike nudniks such as Barack Obama and the Europeans who dare suggest every once in a while that it’s time for rehab. Netanyahu may be satisfied, but he should be more ambivalent: Bolton’s appointment will make it more difficult for him to restrain the demands of his coalition partners with the excuse that the U.S. opposes them. Bolton’s appointment strengthens the right wing-messianic-Evangelical bloc in both countries, which Netanyahu still tells himself he doesn’t belong to.

Bolton has yet to meet a war he didn’t love, a rival he didn’t want to destroy, an enemy he didn’t seek to blow to smithereens, and an international conflict he didn’t believe could be solved by force of arms. He denigrates diplomacy, maligns multilateral organizations, yearns for the days, if they ever existed, that American told the world what to do and everyone saluted. Bolton wanted to attack North Korea, to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran, to bury the national aspirations of the Palestinians. He hasn’t even retracted his support for the failed Iraq War, and probably dreams of finding the hideaway in which Saddam Hussein concealed his non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

The switch between McMaster and Bolton replaces White House brakes with a depressed gas pedal; it sharpens the belligerent and aggressive image of the Trump administration throughout the world. The appointment cements the transformation that Trump initiated with the replacement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the more hawkish CIA Director Mike Pompeo, from a tough but still traditional American foreign policy to a radical approach based on mercurial policies, the use of force and complete disregard for international opinion. The Pentagon remains in the hands of the more cautious James Mattis, who is likely to reach out to fellow general and Chief of Staff John Kelly to form a united front, but it will be Bolton who will henceforth set the White House tone. It’s not outlandish to assume that the clock is already ticking for Mattis and Kelly’s departure as well.

Trump, who thrives on contrariness, is probably delighted with the adverse reaction to Bolton’s appointment; He must have gotten over his irritation with his new adviser’s famous mustache. But Bolton also owes his new job to two hard-right billionaires who have the president’s ear. The first is the reclusive algorithm trader Robert Mercer, who funded Bolton’s PAC as well as his connections to the now-controversial Cambridge Analytica. Bolton is the second national security adviser that Mercer has sponsored: The first was Michael Flynn, who has since become embroiled in Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation and has admitted lying to the FBI.

The other tycoon toasting himself is Sheldon Adelson, who took Bolton under his wing and plied his activities with funding long ago. The former U.S. ambassador to the UN, who relinquished his post a decade ago after his views were deemed too extreme for Senate confirmation, must have been one of the few people in the world to approve of Adelson’s suggestion to detonate a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert, just to show them. Adelson is said to have been displeased with Tillerson and McMaster, and to have informed Trump of his views. His sidekick at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Elliott Broidy - the California financier remembered in Israel for his failed Markstone fund, which depleted many Israelis of their pension funds - has now been exposed as having taken $2.7 million from the United Arab Emirates to advance their cause in Washington. Broidy urged Trump to dump Tillerson; McMaster was his stumbling block in the White House. Now both are gone.

The Sheldonization of the Trump administration, in general, and Bolton’s appointment, in particular, diminish the already slim chances that Trump won’t abandon the Iran nuclear deal, inevitably ramping up regional tensions and possibly creating the conditions for war. Bolton’s presence in the White House also erases the possibility of bringing Palestinians back to the negotiating table, not only because of the new security adviser’s views but also because of the now-approved Taylor Force Act, which is ostensibly aimed at stopping Palestinian Authority payments to convicted terrorists but will actually result in a severe reduction in U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

But the jubilation that broke out in the Israeli right is about more than an armed confrontation with Iran or driving the final nail in the coffin of the peace process; It reflects the renewed hope, which has known ups and downs during Trump’s first 15 months in office, that the time is riper now than ever before for bold, irreversible steps, including annexation. But while Bolton enthusiasts in Israel and the U.S. are listening rapturously to trumpets heralding the arrival of the Messiah, the rest of the world is hearing sirens sounding the alarm that this is not a drill.



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