John R. Bolton

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Individual liberty is the whole purpose of political life, and I thought it was threatened then and I think it's threatened now.

John Robert Bolton (born November 20, 1948) is an American diplomat, Republican consultant, attorney and political commentator. He served as the 25th United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006, and as the 27th United States National Security Advisor from 2018 to 2019.

Bolton served as a United States Assistant Attorney General for President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1989. He served in the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs from 1989 to 1993, and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs from 2001 to 2005. He was an advocate of the Iraq War as a Director of the Project for the New American Century, which favored going to war with Iraq. He is a former senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Fox News Channel commentator.


  • There is no United Nations. There is a international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world (that's the United States) when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along."
  • The only thing that will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is regime change in Tehran.

"The Man with the Mustache"

"The Man with the Mustache", interview by Jay Nordlinger in National Review (December 31, 2010)
  • Individual liberty is the whole purpose of political life, and I thought it was threatened then [in 1964 becoming politically engaged at age 15] and I think it's threatened now.
  • There were a lot of people who were Reaganauts going in, as there are always people who are conservatives going in. But they don't act like conservatives after they get there. There is skill to maneuvering the bureaucracy. And I think one argument I could make would be, I've never run for office, I'm not a conventional politician, that's for sure, but I have been in government, and I know how it works. I have actually gotten things done in the government.
  • [A]s I followed his [candidate Barack Obama] obsession with restructuring our entire domestic way of life, it became completely clear to me that our willful ignoring of national-security policy was going to cost us...I was watching what was happening in 2008, and I thought, How can this be?
  • People have said to me, "Well, if you ran you might get more speaking appearances, and you could sell another book." Frankly, that's the last thing on my mind. If I get in, I'll get in to win.
  • [Recalling George H. W. Bush's Secretary of State James Baker:] [T]he best secretary of state since Dean Acheson. I say that because he and Bush 41 had an incredibly tempestuous period in history, and they navigated through it with great success.
  • [I]t's absolutely critical that we have a more informed debate on foreign and national-security policy than we've had the last two years.[regarding first half of Obama term]
  • [Obama] will be very good at that point at pretending to be the commander-in-chief. We have to have a Republican who will be able to look him in the eye and beat him in that debate. You can have lots of people writing talking points for you, and you can have lots of people writing posts on your website, but, out there, it's one on one. And if we're not prepared to win that debate-we're gonna be in trouble.
  • I've heard over and over that people don't vote on the basis of foreign policy.
  • [On the Tea Party movement] I like it because their view of government is essentially the same as mine, and I like it because they're regular people who, but for the shock of Obama's radicalism, probably would not have gotten active in politics.
  • What's needed in this next campaign is to say, with clarity, why a pro-individual-liberty, small-government perspective is what most Americans really want.
  • [On entitlements] I think we've got to go after them root and branch...if we're ever gonna do it, this is the time to do it.
  • I think this [Obama] administration, if its policies were pursued for an extended period of time, would take us into decline, but there's nothing wrong with this country that a real president couldn't cure.
  • One attraction of being National Security Advisor is the sheer multiplicity and volume of challenges that confront you. If you don't like turmoil, uncertainty, and risk- all while being constantly overwhelmed with information, decisions to be made, and the sheer amount of work, and enlivened by international and domestic personality and ego conflicts beyond description- try something else. It is exhilarating, but it is nearly impossible to explain to outsiders how the pieces fit together, which they often don't in any coherent way.
    • p. 1
  • I cannot offer a comprehensive theory of the Trump Administration's transformation because none is possible. Washington's conventional wisdom on Trump's trajectory, however, is wrong.
    • p. 1
  • Appearance only takes you so far.
    • p. 2
  • Through the week, more information on the attacks came in, and I spent considerable time reviewing this data, as well as reams of classified material on the rest of the world. My practice in prior government jobs had been to consume as much intelligence as I could. I might have agreed or disagreed with analyses or conclusions, but I was always ready to absorb more information. Proof of the Assad regime's chemical-weapons usage was increasingly clear in public reporting, although left-wing commentators, and even some on Fox, were saying there was no evidence. They were wrong.
    • p. 50
  • War by radical Islamist terrorists against the United States began long before 9/11 and will continue long after. You can like it or not, but it is reality. Donald Trump didn't like it, and acted like it wasn't true. He opposed "endless wars" in the Middle East but had no coherent plan for what followed withdrawing US forces and effectively abandoning key regional allies as the withdrawal unfolded. Trump liked to say, wrongly, it was all "thousands of miles away." By contrast, during my time at the White House I tried to operate in reality, with mixed success.
    • p. 183
  • Mattis had tried to force his preferred candidate on Trump, but many Trump supporters believed that the last thing he needed was a Mattis clone as chairman. By pushing prematurely, perhaps because Mattis knew he would be leaving well before Dunford's term expired on September 30, 2019, Mattis had hurt his own cause. At our next Ward Room breakfast, Thursday, December 13, the mood was decidedly unhappy for several reasons, but largely because we all felt, silently to be sure, Mattis was coming to the end of his ride. It didn't bother me that Mattis' obstructionism would be leaving with him, but his departure was part of a problematic, almost inevitable pattern. None of the three prior Republican Administrations in which I served had seen anything approaching this extent and manner of senior-level turnover.
    • p. 193
  • I felt that withdrawing from Syria was a huge mistake, because of both the continuing global threat of ISIS and the fact that Iran's substantial influence would undoubtedly grow. I had argued to Pompeo and Mattis as far back as June that we should end our piecemeal policy in Syria, looking at one province or area at a time (e.g., Manbij, Idlib, the southwest exclusion zone, etc.) and focus on the big picture. With most of the ISIS territorial caliphate gone (although the ISIS threat itself was far from eliminated) the big picture was stopping Iran. Now, however, if the US abandoned the Kurds, they would either have to ally with Assad against Turkey, which the Kurds rightly considered the greater threat (thereby enhancing Assad, Iran's proxy), or fight on alone, facing almost certain defeat, caught in the vise between Assad and Erdogan.
    • p. 195
  • Trump spoke with Xi Jinping by phone on June 18, ahead of 2019's Osaka G20 summit, when they would next meet. Trump began by telling Xi he missed him and then said that the most popular thing he had ever been involved with was making a trade deal with China, which would be a big plus politically. They agreed their economic teams could continue meeting. The G20 bilateral arrived, and during the usual media mayhem at the start, Trump said, "we've become friends. My trip to Beijing with my family was one of the most incredible of my life." With the press gone, Xi said this is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. He said that some (unnamed) political figures in the United States were making erroneous judgments by calling for a new cold war, this time between China and the United States. Whether Xi meant to finger the Democrats, or some of us sitting on the US side of the table, I don't know, but Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility among the Democrats. He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China's economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he'd win. He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump's exact words, but the government's prepublication review process has decided otherwise.
  • In an October 2019 interview, in the midst of the Ukraine impeachment crisis, Kelly said he had told Trump, "Whatever you do- and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place- I said whatever you do, don't hire a 'yes man', someone who won't tell you the truth- don't do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached." Trump flatly denied Kelly had made such a statement: "John Kelly never said that, he never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office." He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does." And Stephanie Grisham, previously one of the First Lady's Furies, now White House press secretary, pronounced ex cathedra, "I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President." These quotes speak volumes about the people who uttered them. With Kelly's departure and Mulvaney's appointment, all effective efforts at managing the Executive Office of the President ceased. Both domestic policy strategy and political strategy, never strong suits, all but disappeared; personal decisions deteriorated further, and the general chaos spread. The crisis over Ukraine followed. There was a lot of evidence that Kelly's hypothesis was entirely correct.
    • p. 245
  • Venezuela's illegitimate regime, one of the Western Hemisphere's most oppressive, presented the Trump Administration an opportunity. But it required steady determination on our part and consistent, all-out, unrelenting pressure. We failed to meet that standard. The President vacillated and wobbled, exacerbating internal Administration disagreements rather than resolving them, and repeatedly impeding our efforts to carry out a policy. We were never confident of success regarding the Venezuelan opposition's efforts to replace Nicholas Maduro, Hugo Chavez's heir. It was almost the opposite. Maduro's opponents acted in January 2019 because they felt this could be their last opportunity for freedom, after years of trying and failing. America responded because it was in our national interest to do so. It still is, and the struggle continues.
    • p. 247
  • After I left the White House, when Trump abandoned the Kurds in Syria, there was speculation about who he might abandon next. Taiwan was right near the top of the list, and would probably stay there as long as Trump remained President, not a happy prospect.
    • p. 314
  • With 2020 being a presidential election year, it was inevitable that Trump's performance in this global health emergency would become a campaign issue, which it did almost immediately. And there was plenty to criticize, starting with the Administration's early, relentless assertion that the disease was "contained" and would have little or no economic effect.
    • p. 315
  • Trump's reflex effort to talk his way out of anything, however, even a public health crisis, only undercut his and the nation's credibility, with his statements looking more like political damage control than responsible public-health advice. One particularly egregious example was a news report that the Administration tried to classify certain public-health information regarding the United States on the spurious excuse that China was involved. Of course China was involved, which is a reason to disseminate the information broadly, not restrict it. This, Trump was reluctant to do throughout the crisis, for fear of adversely affecting the elusive definitive trade deal with China, or offending the ever-so-sensitive Xi Jinping.
    • p. 315
  • On Tuesday, September 10, in the morning, I came in at my regular early hour, fulfilled a few remaining obligations, and then left to be at home when the firestorm hit. I asked Christine to take the letter down to the Outer Oval and deliver copies to Pence, Mulvaney, Cipolone, and Grisham at 11:30 a.m. I am confident Trump did not expect it, tweeting at about 11:50 to get his story out first. I should have struck preemptively- there's a lesson in that- but I was content to countertweet with the facts. I know how it actually ended. And with that, I was a free man again.
    • p. 482
  • Trump's subsequent acquittal demonstrated yet another consequence of the impeachment malpractice committed by the House of Representatives. Democrats argued that impeachment itself would forever taint the Trump presidency, thus justifying their actions in the House. Inexplicably, they ignored the palpable reality that the inevitable consequence of a failed impeachment effort meant that Trump could claim vindication, and act accordingly, which is precisely what he did.
    • p. 488-489
  • Impeachment, of course, is, for the most part, only a theoretical guardrail constitutionally. The real guardrail is elections, which Trump faces in November 2020. Should he win, the Twenty-Second Amendment precludes (and should continue to preclude) any further electoral constraint on Trump. While liberals and Democrats focus on impeachment, conservatives and Republicans should worry about the removal of the political guardrail of Trump having to face reelection. As this memoir demonstrates, many of Trump's national security decisions hinged more on political than on philosophy, strategy or foreign policy and defense rationales. More widely, faced with the coronavirus crisis, Trump said, "When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the way it's got to be." He threatened to adjourn Congress, wrongly citing a constitutional provision that has never been used. No conservative who has read the Constitution could be anything but astonished at these assertions.
    • p. 489
  • Of course, politics is ever present in government, but a second-term Trump will be far less constrained by politics than he was in his first term. The irony could well be that Democrats will find themselves more pleased substantively with a "legacy"-seeking Trump in his second term than conservatives and Republicans. Something to think about.
    • p. 489
  • As if impeachment were not enough, I also found myself confronting the daunting challenge of fighting against an incumbent President determined to prevent publication of a book about my White House experiences. Trump behaved typically, directing the seizure and withholding of my advisors' personal and other unclassified documents, despite numerous requests for their return; obstructing my Twitter account; and outright threats of censorship. His reaction thus ranged from the mean-spirited to the constitutionally impossible. My reaction... my response? Game on.
    • p. 490
  • Any number of commentators have observed that the government's pre-clearance review process is riddled with constitutional deficiencies; the potential for obstruction, censorship, and abuse; and harmful to timely debate on critical public policy issues. You can add my name to the list of critics, especially when the process is in the hands of a President so averse to criticism that the idea of banning books comes to him naturally and serenely.
    • p. 492

Quotes about John R. Bolton

  • Imagine if John Bolton and people like him faced this level of moral scrutiny every time they went on TV.
    • Peter Beinart on Twitter (October 14, 2020), video of Mehdi Hasan saying "All those innocent Iraqi civilians. All the men and women, children killed by U.S. airstrikes. Some in massacres... None of those weigh on your conscience? None of those keep you up at night?" and John Bolton responding "You don't know what you're talking about."
  • I'm trying to understand the level of cowardice you have to have to stay quiet during Trump's impeachment and then months later come out and say that he should have been impeached for much more than Ukraine.
  • Chickenhawks like John Bolton are saying the quiet part out loud on why the ruling class should support the Venezuela coup: "It will make a big difference to the US economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in & produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela."
  • Bolton was in power in 2002 when the Bush administration promoted a coup against Chavez that failed after 48 hours. Again, this is an ongoing policy. It's been escalating out of Washington [D.C.] so this is not new. This happens to be a very bold and impulsive administration in Washington that's decided to move forward with no holds barred. And at the same time, it's not just Bolton. I think the person who's most got Trump's ear on Latin America is Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio who has a widespread constituency of expat Venezuelans who are very wealthy.
  • Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton erupted in fury, warning in September that: "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," adding that the UN International Court must not be so bold as to investigate "Israel or other U.S. allies." That prompted a senior judge, Christoph Flügge from Germany, to resign in protest. Indeed, Bolton told the court to keep out of any affairs involving the United States, promising to ban the Court’s “judges and prosecutors from entering the United States.”
  • Chickenhawks like John Bolton are saying the quiet part out loud on why the ruling class should support the Venezuela coup: “It will make a big difference to the US economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in & produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela."
  • Although the US is militarily superior to Iran by a wide margin, the Iranians as a last resort could fire rockets or otherwise attack Saudi and UAE oil facilities. Such apocalyptic events are unlikely – but powerful figures in Washington, such as the national security adviser John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo, appear prepared to take the risk of a war breaking out... Bolton and Pompeo are reported to have used some mortar rounds landing near the US embassy in Baghdad in February as an excuse to get a reluctant Pentagon to prepare a list of military options against Iran... the US and Saudi Arabia have been talking up war against Iran just as economic sanctions are seriously biting.
  • We are very concerned about what’s happening now. The U.S. has taken so many measures just in the last year or two to move towards a war with Iran, starting with pulling out of the nuclear deal, designating the Iran Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, trying to get the Iranian oil exports down to zero, creating chaos in the Iranian economy. And of course, Iran is going to prepare itself for what looks like an attack. And this also can be put on John Bolton, who has been calling for an attack on Iran since before he ever got into the administration...
    It is I think important to understand that these policies are being organized by John Bolton. John Bolton, who is so close to the MEK in the case of Iran. John Bolton who has said before that he wants to bomb Iran. John Bolton that is so close to the Saudis and to Israel.
  • National Security Advisor John Bolton admitted during an interview with Fox News that Washington seeks “regime change” in Venezuela to benefit US corporations.
    The Trump administration has in its incompetence brought to the fore how US foreign policy can be both highly destructive while simultaneously an utter failure – even on its own narrow terms... The memory of failure in Venezuela will reverberate for many decades to come and make these allies think twice next time they are asked to support the next US foreign escapade.
  • John Bolton was one of the dumbest people in government that I’ve had the “pleasure” to work with. A sullen, dull and quiet guy, he added nothing to National Security except, “Gee, let’s go to war.” Also, illegally released much Classified Information. A real dope!.
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