Conservative and hawkish pro-Israel Jews have been buoyed by President Trump’s appointment of former Ambassador John Bolton as national security adviser. “If [Bolton] had only orchestrated repeal of the U.N.’s infamous ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution, dayenu,” exulted the Jewish Policy Center, a think tank associated with the Republican Jewish Coalition, echoing the Passover song testifying that any of God’s miracles “would have been enough.” “If [Bolton] had only stood firmly against [the 2015 Iran nuclear deal], dayenu.”
Bolton, a Fox News personality and interim U.N. ambassador in the George W. Bush administration, was similarly lauded by Israeli leaders, even as he was denounced by Palestinian officials. But before jumping on the Bolton bandwagon it is important to consider his public pronouncements and views. Bolton displays an apparent impatience with diplomacy and frightening willingness to use force, particularly against Iran and North Korea.
“I don’t make any disguise of the idea that ultimately it may take an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program to stop it,” he told the conservative Washington Free Beacon in August. And according to The Atlantic, he’s also a prominent proponent of launching a U.S. military strike against North Korea, “risking the most destructive war in living memory, to prevent it from threatening the United States with nuclear weapons later.”
The prospect of the out-of-the-mainstream Bolton having a central role in the development of U.S. foreign policy is alarming. It led six liberal Jewish organizations to issue a joint statement condemning the appointment. But putting aside both the full-throated endorsements of the ultra-right and the full-throated denunciations of the ultra-left, we take what we believe to be a more nuanced view.
We don’t see the harm in having someone opposed to the Iran deal, a deeply flawed document, advising the president. Nor do we see someone who agrees with Trump as inherently dangerous. U.S. foreign policy could use a healthy dose of across-the-board agreement these days, if only to get away from the uncertainty and international unease that has marked the last year and a half.
But Bolton’s tendency to stake out an aggressive position and point to the U.S. military as the go-to option is disquieting. Our country has a proud tradition of pursuing diplomacy first as the means to achieve our goals. While that approach doesn’t always work, doing so in the first instance ends up costing much less in blood and treasure.
With regard to Israel, it’s important to note that the last time the Bolton-supported pre-emptive strike against Iran was considered, it was near-unanimously struck down as too dangerous by Israel’s military chiefs. So maybe it isn’t such a great idea. Which makes us even more concerned that Bolton appears too willing to risk lives — American, as well as Israeli — even at a time and in a circumstance where diplomacy might actually be working.