Global crises are shining a very bright spotlight on John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser.
Critics and supporters alike see Bolton’s fingerprints on Trump’s foreign policy, particularly as tensions with Iran and Venezuela appear close to boiling over.
Detractors fear he is pushing Trump toward military action against Caracas and Tehran, while the president’s allies say Bolton is simply doing his job in providing options, and that Trump’s natural inclination is nonintervention regardless of who his adviser is.
“Bolton is a savvy, successful, seasoned bureaucratic infighter who knows when he can push and when he cannot,” Andy Keiser, a principal at the lobbying firm Navigators Global who worked on the Trump transition team’s national security section, said in an email. “The president seems eager to hear his opinion, but everyone in the White House complex fully understands who sets the policy.”
Democrats in Congress who have been critical of Bolton in the past told The Hill this week they’re leery of Bolton, but not to the point where they suspect he is pushing for war with Iran or Venezuela.
“I haven’t come to the conclusion that that’s what he’s doing yet,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Still, Menendez said he didn’t “understand why we’re sending carriers into the region, unless we were going to go there anyhow and we just said that. So, I’m cautiously looking at what’s happening, because you use your muscle only when you intend to use it, not when you just want to flex.”
After the North Korea dust-up, Bolton appeared to recede into the background of the administration. But more recently, he has been the face of the U.S. response to crises in Venezuela and Iran.
Iran has zeroed in on Bolton’s role in the administration, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dubbing him part of a “B Team” pushing Trump into a “trap.” The other members of that team, according to Zarif, are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Rouhani’s address was preceded by an announcement from Bolton this week that the United States was deploying a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region in response to unspecified threats from Iran.
Bolton and other administration officials have categorically denied that their goal is regime change in Iran, arguing they want the government to change its “behavior.”
James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation who is close with the administration, said Bolton knows his place in the administration and won’t push Trump too far.