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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

With the appointment of John Bolton, the militarisation of US foreign policy looks more feasible

From Iran to Israel to North Korea, Bolton has a clear agenda, based on US supremacy and exclusion

Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will replace HR McMaster as US National Security Adviser, with far-reaching consequences for the region. Justin Lane / EPA
Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will replace HR McMaster as US National Security Adviser, with far-reaching consequences for the region. Justin Lane / EPA

One by one, Donald Trump is sacking the members of the so-called axis of adults in his administration, replacing the grown-ups with ideologues. This deliberate arbitrariness will have major implications for US foreign policy. After firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser HR McMaster, Mr Trump is reportedly thinking of doing the same with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Others like Gary Cohn, the senior economic adviser, have left of their own volition.

From Iran to North Korea, Mr McMaster’s replacement John Bolton is a known foreign policy hawk. He is a good fit with the likes of US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, whose first priority is Israel. The Palestinian issue could be the first victim of the emerging axis of ideologues, which could also include the incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This will no doubt cause difficulties for Washington's Arab allies, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, because the new team in Washington may seek to impose decisions, rather than coax agreements. However, Mr Bolton and Ms Haley believe US belligerence on Iran will quell any strong objections regarding the Palestinian issue, especially if Washington succeeds in forcing Iran to leave Yemen and contains its expansion in Syria.

When Mr Bolton served as the US Ambassador to the UN, he often emerged from the Security Council hall and addressed reporters. He showed disregard for the opinions of others, caring little what effect this had on his international counterparts. Mr Bolton represented the world’s sole superpower, and all others belonged to a second league.

On this point, Mr Bolton, Ms Haley and Mr Trump agree the most. For all three it is "America First". As a result, the pre-emption doctrine for guaranteeing American military, economic and even moral superiority is the main engine behind their thinking. Should the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not toe this line, he could also face the sack. At risk too is Defence Secretary James Mattis, seen by some in Mr Trump’s circle as a closet liberal.

The job of the National Security Adviser is to consolidate the policy advice given to the president from various agencies. But this may irritate Mr Bolton who assigns little value to the advice and opinions of others. He may accommodate Ms Haley – who is very close to Mr Trump – because her views on various foreign policy issues are close to his. But ultimately, Mr Bolton comes to the White House with a very clear agenda.

Its main qualities are isolationism and exclusion. However the methods do not discount military action and provocations to ensure continued US supremacy and dissuade any power from challenging its might.

In the coming weeks and months, the gap between Washington and Beijing is set to widen, largely at Mr Trump's instruction, in a bid to stop China from overtaking the US in the near and distant future.

Tensions with Russia will also rise, despite what seems like a cordial relationship between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The tensions will be shaped not by Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election – which Mr Trump vehemently denies – but by the US-Russia dynamic in Syria, Iran, and Ukraine.

In truth, Mr McMaster’s recent acknowledgement of "incontrovertible" Russian meddling could be behind his sacking. Mr Trump – desperate to silence claims that discredit his victory – seems not to have considered the man’s competence, experience, loyalty, and attitudes. In doing so, Mr Trump has shown himself again to be vain and intolerant, a man who places personal prestige above the public interest. This makes him very dangerous and adds risk for those hoping to cultivate a special relationship with him.

Mr Bolton knows Mr Trump's boundaries, weighs his words, and is confident in his ability to translate them into deeds. On many policy issues, including the commitment to Israel's military agenda at the expense of others, the two men are on the same page.

This is ominous because Israel has been pushing to add fuel to the Sunni-Shia conflict, in an effort to divert attention away from Palestine and the two-state solution, which Israel continues to reject, despite its rhetoric. Inflaming the Sunni-Shia conflict requires sustaining wars where Iran is involved, from Syria and Yemen to Iraq and Lebanon.

The US administration with Mr Bolton in its ranks will deliver everything Israel wants. He will faithfully pursue the agenda against Iran and its associates with lethal sanctions and attrition. He will not hesitate to push for the repeal of the nuclear deal with Iran if the other signatories fail to observe America’s conditions for tightening its terms and intensifying its monitoring.

Perhaps holding Iran accountable for its role in Yemen will be taken more seriously by Mr Bolton, in tandem with Ms Haley who has reportedly been compiling evidence on Iranian intervention there. Today she is pushing for Security Council resolutions that resemble those Mr Bolton helped draft in 2005 and 2006, before the administration of Barack Obama discarded them. Indeed, Mr Bolton is credited with the resolutions that ban Iran from exporting weapons and ammunition; Hezbollah and Iran’s proxies in Iraq are firmly on his radar. But the deal with Iran agreed by Mr Obama and other world leaders effectively invalidated Mr Bolton’s resolutions – adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter – turning a blind eye to Iran’s excursions in Syria.

Therefore, Mr Bolton – like Mr McMaster had started to do – could push for a tougher approach to prevent Iran from achieving its aims in Syria and thwart the Shia crescent it is establishing from Tehran to Beirut. To do so, he may lobby for strikes against Iranian and Syrian regime military sites.

From North Korea to Iran, the militarisation of US policy has now become more feasible. It is now in the hands of ideologues and isolationists.

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