Bolton has called for an “end” to North Korea and argued recently in The Wall Street Journal for a preventive first strike against the regime of Kim Jong Un, who Trump is expected to meet in May. Like Trump, he believes the nuclear deal China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union signed with Iran is a sham that does little to curb Tehran’s activities. His appointment increases the likelihood the president will withdraw from the agreement in May.
Bolton served in government as a political appointee in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He served at the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development in a variety of positions. His hawkish views on foreign policy won him many admirers (as well as critics). He remained a polarizing figure during the presidency of George W. Bush. He was named, at Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence, undersecretary of state for arms control in Colin Powell’s State Department. There, he made the case for the U.S. withdrawal from the antiballistic missile treaty with Russia, but later helped negotiate a pact with Russia that saw both countries commit to large reductions in their nuclear-weapons stockpiles. He did not win many admirers among U.S. allies during this time, with U.K. officials, in particular, seeing him as an obstacle to negotiations with difficult countries like Iran and Libya, and persuading Bush to keep Bolton off the negotiating teams.
Bolton, in his memoir, Surrender Is Not an Option, made clear what he thought about the State Department: “State careerists are schooled in accommodation and compromise with foreigners, rather than aggressive advocacy of U.S. interests, which might inconveniently disrupt the serenity of diplomatic exchanges, not to mention dinner parties and receptions.” He called the department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau, which works on issues including North Korea and China, the “EAPeasers.” Those “State careerists” could be similarly skeptical of him. Christopher Hill, a diplomat of long standing who conducted negotiations with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration, characterized Bolton’s appointment as a “major promotion.” Bolton, Hill told me via email, has “never had this level of responsibility before. [He was] always a kind of in-house free electron, amusing but not particularly consequential. All that changes now.”
Condoleezza Rice, who succeeded Powell as U.S. secretary of state, resisted the White House’s efforts to make Bolton her deputy. Instead, he was dispatched to the UN as U.S. ambassador. Bolton was a longtime critic of the United Nations. In 1994, he famously said: “The (UN) Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” When U.S. senators asked Bolton what he meant by those remarks, he said he was making the case for a leaner bureaucracy in an organization notorious for its red tape. But comments like that, along with his other views, ensured that Bolton could never win over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bush named him to the UN post as a recess appointment. Bolton served in the position for about a year before stepping down.