Bolton Begins White House Job Amid Tensions Over Syria Gas Attack

Trump's new national security adviser has repeatedly vocalized support for more U.S. strikes against Assad regime, recently saying that such action would be justified

Syrian army soldiers on the eastern outskirts of Douma, as they continue their fierce offensive to retake the last opposition holdout in Eastern Ghouta on April 8, 2018.
STRINGER/AFP

John Bolton will officially begin serving as President Trump's national security adviser on Monday, replacing General H.R. McMaster on a dramatic day that could see U.S. military action against Syria. April 9 was chosen as the date in which Bolton would enter the White House when Trump announced his appointment three weeks ago. The events of the last 24 hours in Syria, however, will turn his first day on the job into a major challenge. 

Bolton has stated on a number of recent occasions that he supports more U.S. strikes against the Assad regime in Syria. Just last month, he told Fox News that such strikes would be "justified," just like the lone strike that Trump carried out against the Assad regime last April, after a previous chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime against its own citizens. He also said that a conflict between the U.S. and Iran in the Syrian arena is a viable possibility.

John Bolton speaks during the American Conservative Unions Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting in National Harbor on March 3, 2016.
Bloomberg

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Those statements were made prior to Bolton's appointment and before the latest chemical attack in Syria, which has already drawn a strong verbal response from Trump. The president said on Sunday that the attack would carry a "heavy price" and called Syrian President Bashar Assad an "animal." He also blamed Iran and Russia for supporting Assad.

Senior U.S. officials said Sunday night that the administration was not ruling out another airstrike against Assad's regime. Trump also discussed a "strong" response to Assad's use of chemical weapons in a phone call with French President Macron. Bolton's official entrance to the White House raises the probability of such action by the U.S., based on the new adviser's history of calls for military action in the Middle East. 

Trump is scheduled to receive a briefing from senior U.S. military commanders on Monday evening, an event that could also be interpreted as another sign of impending U.S. action in Syria. Bolton will join that meeting. He has already held a number of preparation discussions with senior military officers and officials at the Department of Defense leading up to his new job in the White House. 

The White House announced on Sunday night that the current spokesman of the NSC, Michael Anton, is leaving the Trump administration. Bolton is now left with the task of appointing a new spokesperson for his council. Anton, who joined the administration in its earliest days, served under Bolton's two predecessors – McMaster and Michael Flynn. His replacement has not yet been announced.