WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s decision to replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with former UN Ambassador John Bolton and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo signals the commander-in-chief is moving toward a more hawkish approach on foreign policy matters, say national security and foreign affairs experts.
The president’s move to surround himself with two figureheads with a reputation for choosing military intervention over diplomacy comes as he prepares to meet with North Korea for denuclearization talks, and as he continues to voice his displeasure with the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
“These are two men who have very belligerent tendencies and belligerent commitments when it comes to Iran, Syria and North Korea,” said Jeremi Suri, a professor of global leadership and public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of several books about American foreign relations.
Bolton, who served as United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush, has been described as a “bomb thrower” by foreign policy scholars for his penchant to recommend militaristic options as a first recourse. In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Bolton called for a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea and on Twitter he has advocated for harsher sanctions on Russia and its leader Vladmir Putin for alleged cyber attacks on the United States.
“He believes in a strong military, going after terrorists, taking the gloves off,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said of Bolton on an appearance on “Fox and Friends.” Graham said he was supportive of Bolton’s appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation.
Bolton’s support for U.S. intervention overseas stands in contrast to the statements Trump made as a candidate on the campaign trail, where he called for increased military spending, but also questioned the scale of U.S. military spending to maintain a presence in South Korea, criticized the longstanding NATO alliance, and said he did not “think we should be nation-building anymore.”
Corri Zoli, director of research at Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, said in selecting Bolton, Trump is probably attempting to have a “bad cop” in place ahead of his discussions with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“I would say he’s chosen Bolton very much thinking about North Korea . . . so he can have a bad cop . . . so that Bolton can be the real hardliner in the discussions, so that Trump can negotiate on even terms, so the president can play the pure negotiator role,” Zoli said.
Pompeo likewise brings hardline credentials to the table — a former West Point graduate and GOP congressman, he has sided with Trump in calling for an end to the international nuclear agreement with Iran aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear ability. He has called it a “disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Ahead of talks with North Korea, he asserted in a recent interview on Fox News that the United States would make “no concessions” to Kim
“He’s definitely more of a hawk than Tillerson,” said Suri. “We can expect that Pompeo will be more of an advocate for toughness, and the possible use of military force.”
Paul Fritz, a political science professor at Hofstra University who focuses on foreign relations, said Pompeo, if confirmed by the Senate this month, could play a bigger role in shaping Trump’s decisions on foreign policy matters than Tillerson, who shared a rocky relationship with the president.
“Pompeo’s walking into a situation where he may have some advantages over a few cabinet members,” Fritz said. “Because Pompeo apparently does have a better relationship with Trump, there’s a better chance, that he could have the ear of the president.”