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Foreign Policy Expert Discusses John Bolton's National Security Adviser Appointment


Another personnel change at the White House - President Trump announced in a tweet that former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton will replace Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser. It is the latest in a string of departures from top levels of the administration. Bolton is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy. Just last month in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, it said it would be perfectly legitimate for the U.S. to defend itself by striking North Korea first.

With us for a view on Bolton is Mike Green. He's a former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. Welcome.

MIKE GREEN: Thank you.

CHANG: So what do you think of Bolton as the choice for the job?

GREEN: Well, I worked with him for a while in the Bush administration. He's a very smart and very aggressive advocate of his positions. He developed a reputation as more of a bomb thrower than a consensus builder when he was in the State Department. At the U.N. as ambassador, he was seen as more diplomatic and more of a colleague. So I think people around the world, especially allies, will look at this and be a bit worried frankly that this might...

CHANG: Why is that?

GREEN: Well, this - you know, they're looking at the departures and the changes in personnel. They want a strong United States, our allies. So the muscular views on defense will play well with many allies. But they're also worried about a tilt towards sort of America First unilateralism not listening to allies, and they'll be worried about that.

And they'll be looking to Secretary of Defense Mattis as the one sort of traditional Republican internationalist they know. So there'll be some anxiety. But I think people who know Ambassador Bolton will know him as a smart and, as I said, very aggressive advocate for his positions and for a strong U.S. security position in the world.

CHANG: What do you think his arrival means for the White House's approach to North Korea specifically?

GREEN: Well, Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson were generally seen as more careful about military options on North Korea even though all options are on the table. General McMaster was seen by allies as more aggressive, more forward-leaning. So I'm not sure there's a change in that sense.

The one thing about McMaster the allies liked was that he listened to them. He really reached out. He developed very close working relationships with the British, the Korean, the Japanese, Australian national security advisers. And they will very much want that relationship with John Bolton because their image of him is that he is not a consensus builder. He's more of a bomb thrower. And he'd do well to take the time to develop those relationships. But in terms of the position on military force, it may not be such a big change after all.

CHANG: And what about the Iran nuclear deal? I mean, when that deal was in the works in 2015, Bolton wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying military action is the only viable option to deal with Iran. What does that suggest for what shape U.S. policy towards the regime might take going forward?

GREEN: Well, you know, on Fox TV and in his commentary, Ambassador Bolton was taking positions that were very, you know, hawkish in many different areas. And you can't fight everyone at once, so he's going to get an earful from European allies, from Asian allies, from the Congress about not, you know, taking on too much risk in American foreign policy. And hopefully he will listen.

And this role is a different one from his previous roles. The national security adviser's supposed to represent the president but also build some consensus or at least present the variety of positions that friends, allies, members of the Cabinet have to help the president make choices.

CHANG: Though you do call him a bomb thrower.

GREEN: Well, that was clearly his reputation in earlier iterations of government, and that's what, you know...

CHANG: All right.

GREEN: ...The image is among allies.


GREEN: But he also did well at the U.N. as ambassador. So...

CHANG: We'll have to leave it there.

GREEN: People will look to see which we get - yep. Thank you.

CHANG: All right, Mike Green is senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you.

GREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.