For an author who is a known advocate of peace and non-interventionism, this headline may appear to be somewhat shocking, but as it is with many things in politics – the devil is in the details. John Bolton is currently Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor and in spite of Trump’s occasional tendency to favour non-interventionism, Bolton is clearly as pro-war as ever. In spite of being generally sidelined in the Korean peace process and later being slapped down by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who refused to meet with Bolton during his last trip to Ankara, when it comes to staging an illegal coup in Venezuela, Bolton is clearly front and centre.
Bolton of course is no stranger to the United Nations. He briefly served as George W. Bush’s Ambassador to the UN between August the 2nd, 2005 and December the 31st, 2006. Ultimately, Bolton’s time at the UN was cut short because Bush could not command enough votes in the Senate to officially confirm Bolton as America’s Ambassador to the UN. As such, knowing that a combination of virtually all Senate Democrats and even some Senate Republicans were prepared to vote against Bolton’s confirmation due to his extremely hawkish views and his frequently insulting remarks about the UN itself, Bolton decided to resign in the face of inevitable humiliation at the hands of the US Senate.
Since then, Bolton hasn’t changed one iota, but Congressional politics in the United States has changed in some significant ways. In 2006, Democrats looking to end the Bush legacy were on the verge of rallying behind Senator Barack Obama, a man who in 2008 won an election on a campaign of “peace, change and hope”. Of course, once Obama got into the White House, he ended up going to more wars than George W. Bush, while failing to do anything to extricate the US from the Bush era disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, he broke his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. In a post-Obama age, Democrats had clearly forgotten their anti-war lip service of the Bush era.
When Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 on a platform that was somewhat opposed to foreign war and intervention, he became the closest thing to a peace candidate that had a viable chance of securing victory. As such, one saw the Democrats and Republicans swap their traditional post-Reagan era roles insofar as the Democrats tended to become more hawkish on foreign policy than Donald Trump’s Republican campaign.
In reality, for decades both parties have voted for war at a Congressional level and Presidents from both parties have taken the US into multiple unjustifiable wars without congressional approval. But the fact is that during the era of George W. Bush, the Democrats paid a lot of lip service to peace and when it came to opposing the militant John Bolton, the Democrats rallied to defeat one of the most pro-war men to ever enter Washington politics.
Today however, mainstream Democratic opinion is vastly closer to Bolton’s ultra hawkishness than it is to Donald Trump’s occasional anti-war tendencies. Therefore, now that Heather Nauert has withdrawn her consideration to be Trump’s new Ambassador to the UN, if Trump nominated Bolton, it would result in several important things.
First of all, while the role of Ambassador to the UN carries prestige, it rarely carries much influence when it comes to US policy making. In spite of Bolton’s uniquely caustic rhetoric, the role of America’s Ambassador to the UN has traditionally been a fairly binary one. As such, US Ambassadors to the UN do little more than veto anything that pushes the world closer to peace, whilst proposing and voting for resolutions that attempt to give a legal justification to otherwise completely illegal acts of war. As such, a once and future Bolton voting record at the UN would hardly be any different than that of his predecessors.
More importantly, by forcing the Senate which has a Republican majority of only six to confirm Bolton, both the Democrats whose forebearers were prepared to vote against Bolton in 2006, as well as Republicans, some of whose forebeareres were also put off by Bolton in 2006, would be forced to make a decision that would expose a great deal about their true beliefs. If Democrats and so-called moderate Republicans of the Bush era felt that Bolton was too hawkish and disrespectful to be the Ambassador to the UN, it would be very telling if somehow they now rushed to approve Bolton because in the bizarre world of post-2016 US politics, Trump’s mildly anti-war position is considered “extreme”, while the hawkishness of someone like Bolton is perversely considered “moderate”.
In this sense, a Bolton nomination to the UN would help to expose the fact that most politicians in Washington have few convictions about war and peace, but instead exploit this incredibly important matter to stake their own claim to future political gain. In 2006, the political tide briefly turned against the wars of George W. Bush whilst today, almost every Democrat and deep down most Republicans also think that Donald Trump’s partial aversion to war and foreign intervention is as rotten as last month’s milk.
As Bolton would likely have less of an influence on actual policy making at the UN in New York, compared to that which he enjoys as National Security Advisor in the White House, such an experiment in exposing political hypocrisy might if anything, partly de-fang one of the biggest threats to peace to ever blight the American political landscape.