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How will hawk John Bolton affect foreign policy?

In naming John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, President Trump has picked a long time foreign policy commentator and practitioner, and conservative hawk who has called for military action against North Korea and Iran. What change will Bolton bring to the job? Judy Woodruff gets assessments from former diplomat and NSC staff member Nancy McEldowney and Matthew Kroenig of Georgetown University.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the most recent shakeup by President Trump of his national security leadership. What change will John Bolton bring to the job of national security adviser?

    For that, we get two views.

    Nancy McEldowney was a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador. to Bulgaria. She served on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration and is now director of Georgetown University's Master of Science in Foreign Service Program. And Matthew Kroenig worked for the office of the secretary of defense during the Bush and Obama years, and at the CIA. He is now a professor of government at Georgetown University.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Nancy McEldowney, to you first.

    What do you think of the choice of John Bolton for this job?

  • Nancy McEldowney:

    I think John Bolton is a spectacularly bad choice for this job. He is a hard-line nationalist. He is someone with disdain for diplomacy.

    He has — is almost a knee-jerk advocate for war. Whatever problem you look at, from North Korea, to Iran, even to Russia, he's talked about war against all of these countries. And when you look at a White House that is already leaning in a very extreme direction, with a president who seems inclined to make decisions that isolate the United States even further, John Bolton is going to take us in the wrong direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Matthew Kroenig, what is your take on John Bolton?

  • Matthew Kroenig:

    Well, first, I would like to thank H.R. McMaster for his service to the country. I think he was a very good public servant and national security adviser.

    And I think Bolton will be a very good national security adviser for President Trump. He has high-level experience at the State Department and at the U.N. He understands the national security challenges facing the country as well as anyone else. He has a good relationship with the president, it seems, which is essential to be successful in this job.

    And he has good ties with the Republican establishment, and may present an opportunity to heal some of the rifts in the party since the election, maybe bring in more traditional foreign policy hands into the process. So it's not getting the attention of some of the more negative countries — excuse me — negative coverage, but many Republican foreign policy experts have been celebrating this appointment in the past 24 hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it sounds like, Nancy McEldowney, the two of you coming from very different places.

  • Nancy McEldowney:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    How — why do you believe it's so bad, given what Matthew was just saying how he really is more in the mainstream than people recognize?

  • Nancy McEldowney:

    Yes, actually, I think he is so far from the mainstream, and I disagree both on policy, but also on personality.

    We have seen Bolton for years advocate the most extreme, the most militaristic positions possible, a preemptive strike against North Korea, a preemptive strike against Iran, regime change in both countries. Those are not things that are responsible policy courses for our country to look at.

    Secondly, his personality. We can come back to this, but the role of the national security adviser is someone who is supposed to bring all policy options to the table. That is not John Bolton. He is very argumentative, vindictive with those who disagree with him.

    And the reason he was never confirmed as Bush's nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. was because of Republican opposition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Matthew Kroenig, let's divide those in two. Let's start with what Nancy McEldowney is describing as someone who has advocated for a more militaristic approach, a more aggressive approach abroad.

    But you're saying that's the right approach right now for this country?

  • Matthew Kroenig:

    The use of force has been an important tool of international diplomacy going back to the days of Thucydides.

    And a credible threat of military force often contributes to peace, contributes to successful diplomacy. There's a bipartisan consensus in the United States that the United States needs to keep the military option on the table for Iran and for North Korea.

    So I think it's good that we have a national security adviser who's willing to consider all options to advance U.S. national security interests.

    When it comes to his role as national security adviser, I think there are two models historically. One is the honest broker model that Brent Scowcroft really kind of perfected of bringing all options to the president.

    But there's a second successful model too. And that is more the strategist role that Henry Kissinger played. And I suspect that Bolton will be a little bit more in the strategist role of having strong opinions.

    And I think which one works best really depends on the personalities involved and depends on the needs of the president. So I think he can be successful in this role.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the idea, Nancy McEldowney, that he's going to have strong opinions and that's what's needed right now?

  • Nancy McEldowney:

    Well, there's no question that he's going to have strong opinions. And I'm not advocating for people not to express their opinion.

    But having worked on the National Security Council, the role of the person who whispers in the ear of the president, who is the most intimate adviser when the president is trying to deliberate, we know the direction that Bolton is going to go in.

    And we don't have to speculate about what he's going to do in the future, because we have seen what he's done in the past. He was an ardent advocate for the Iraq War. He still claims that it was a brilliant decision.

    So I think people need to be very worried about the policy choices this national security adviser is going to advocate for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Matthew Kroenig, what about that?

  • Matthew Kroenig:

    Well, you know, I'm a political scientist by training. There's some good political science research on how advisers influence decisions of presidents.

    And what political scientists have found is that actually advisers are most influential when they argue against type. So that's why Colin Powell was so central to debates over the Iraq War. People saw him as a cautious voice within the Bush administration. So when he was even willing to advocate for the war, people took notice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what are you saying that means?


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

    Yes, what are you saying that means?

  • Matthew Kroenig:

    What that means for Bolton is, he's known for having tough views, so I think when he argues for these tough-minded policies, that's not going to come as a surprise.

    I think he will be most influential when he argues for restraint. When even Bolton argues for restraint, that's when Trump is going to take notice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask both of you, finally, of course, it's John Bolton, national security adviser, but there is going to be a new secretary of state. Everybody assumes Mike Pompeo gets confirmed.

    What do you see in terms of how the two of them work together, Nancy McEldowney?

  • Nancy McEldowney:

    It's clear to me that what Donald Trump is doing is assembling a war cabinet.

    He's got Pompeo, who is very much of a hawk, who has made a number of controversial statements while he was a member of Congress, and now coming in with a very sort of right-leaning, militaristic approach, Bolton carrying the same message from the NSC.

    And I think, with those two taken together, we are in for a very bumpy ride, even though we have very seniors of our military, from the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, advocating in favor of a different approach.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Matthew Kroenig, a war cabinet likely to take military action?

  • Matthew Kroenig:

    Well, part of the description there was a right-leaning cabinet. And, yes, it is a right-leaning cabinet. There was an election in the country and the Republicans won, and so there are Republican officials.

    You know, the Iran nuclear deal has been mentioned as one of the controversial issues that Pompeo and Bolton don't support, but let's remember the Iran nuclear deal was incredibly controversial. There was bipartisan opposition.

    Every Republican in Congress and some Democrats opposed it. It was only the Obama administration and their supporters who supported it. So the idea that the Trump administration is taking another look at this makes a lot of sense.

    So, again, controversial, it seems, in some circles, but many conservative foreign policy experts I have talked to is excited about this Cabinet, one of the — the maybe strongest national security cabinets we have had in some time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to watch it all unfold.

    Matthew Kroenig, Nancy McEldowney, we thank you both.

  • Nancy McEldowney:

    Thank you.

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