John Bolton

John Bolton

(Detta är ett inlägg författat av Trita Parsi, grundare av och ordförande för

National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Washington DC)

“This is a grade 10 emergency!” my friend tells me with unmistakable desperation in his voice. It’s been almost a week since Trump shocked the establishment in Washington DC, and ever since, the fear of what lies ahead has grown rather than subdued. Having worked several years inside of the US Government, my friend insists that the world has yet to come to grips with the disaster that awaits. “I know these people,” he tells me. “I have seen what they have tried to do, I have seen the disregard they have for democracy and rule of law. Trust me, Trump will be the most balanced person in the Trump administration, and that says a lot.”

The US has never known so little about a president-elect’s policy views. The 2016 election campaign has been ridiculously void of substance. In the case of Hillary Clinton, it meant that very few of her highly questionable policy positions were scrutinized: From questions about her judgment mindful of her support and later regret of the Iraq war though she still ended up being a driving force behind the disastrous military endeavour in Libya, to her position on the coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009, to her economic policies. In the case of Trump, it meant that the media treated his Twitter account as his official party platform. There was simply nothing else policy-wise to go on.

For the past month, pundits and diplomats in Washington have been trying to decipher whatever possible policy positions, however incoherent or contradictory, that can be extracted from his comments and tweets.

But the more we study Trump, the more confusing the picture becomes. On the one hand he criticizes the Iraq war and questions the wisdom of the US arming rebels in Syria. “We are arming people, but now we have no idea who they are,” he told Fox News recently. “They’re all splintered up. They will eventually probably join ISIS, and they’ll have all our weapons.” These statements have given the impression that he may have more sympathy with the “restrainer school” – foreign policy thinkers like John Mearsheimer and Andrew Bacevich who argue for a less militant American foreign policy with a more limited definition of America’s vital national interests.

Yet, in the same breath he reveals that the Bush administration’s mistake in Iraq was that it didn’t steal Iraq’s oil, that it hasn’t bombed “the shit out of ISIS” in Syria and that terrorism should be deterred by killing the family members of terrorists. One moment he is a tree-hugging pacifist, the next moment he makes Dick Cheney look like Mother Theresa.

In reality, the most likely scenario is that Trump simply doesn’t have well developed ideas and thoughts about foreign policy. After all, he has spent his entire life in real estate. The closest he has gotten to international affairs is his management of the Miss Universe pageant.

As a result, his ideas are most likely ambiguous, contradictory – and most importantly – shallow. Whatever views he holds, he hasn’t thought about it long enough to be fully committed to his own views.

Which is why the people he surrounds himself with in the White House is going be essential in determining his policies, domestic and international. He is, as a former White House staffer told me, an empty shell. Whoever he takes with him the White House will fill that shell and determine what kind of President he will be.

He may have restrainer instinct, but even so, after 10 minutes alone with John Bolton – the Number 2 in his State Department, he may very well transform into a neoconservative mini-me of the hawkish former UN Ambassador.

There is a precedent for this. In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on a platform of reducing America’s military footprint abroad and stop using US armed forces to do nation building. But after populating his administration with neoconservative hawks with far deeper beliefs on foreign policy, Bush quickly transformed into a mirror image of his advisors.

So who are the folks around him? Two of his foreign policy advisors stand out: Former UN Ambassador John Bolton and General Michael Flynn.

The former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and respected former military intelligence officer, Flynn has emerged as one of Trump’s key foreign policy advisors. He has accused Obama of being a “weak, spineless president more worried about issuing apologies than protecting American.”

He has also played loose with intelligence. Flynn stunned his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency when he instructed the agency to find evidence that Iran was the culprit for the 9/11 Benghazi attacks (Iran had no role in the attack).

Rather than reducing America’s footprint in the Middle East, Flynn has argued for re-establishing America’s military hegemony over the region. “The U.S. must put the Middle East at the forefront of its foreign policy or this will unravel quickly,” he said in September 2015. “Retreat, retrenchment and disarmament are historically a recipe for disaster.” Simply put: America needs to be more militant, not less.

John Bolton was George W. Bush’s hawkish UN Ambassador who once famously declared that “If the UN secretary building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” He was an ardent supporter of war with Iran and an equally passionate opponent of the International Criminal Court. To Bolton, international law is a nuisance primary put into place to constrain America’s military might.

Many people voted for Trump because they were abhorred by Clinton’s perceived militarism and saw in Trump a restrainer who would focus on rebuilding America at home rather than dragging it into ill-fated adventures abroad. But if Trump’s foreign policy will be set by the likes of Flynn and Bolton, these voters will be in for a terrible surprise. Trump may very well end up the most balanced person in his administration.

Trita Parsi, Washington DC

(delar av texten har publicerats på på svenska)

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