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Phyllis Bennis says new national security adviser John Bolton orchestrated the ouster of Jose Bustani, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, just as he was close to an agreement with Saddam Hussein to allow intrusive weapons inspections

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

In yet another cabinet shuffle in Washington, President Donald Trump fired H.R. McMaster and replaced him with John Bolton as his security adviser. Bolton was originally considered for a cabinet post, but Trump passed over him in the first round. But that didn’t stop Bolton from auditioning for a post in the White House, since he appeared on Fox News regularly, and apparently President Trump was all ears. The appointment came in a tweet just a week after Trump fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and nominated Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo for the post, and replaced Pompeo with Gina Haspel. John Bolton has served various presidents over a 30-year span. Here is some of his historic statements.

JOHN BOLTON: There is no United Nations. The United States makes the UN work when it wants it to work. And that is exactly the way it should be, because the only question, the only question to the United States is what’s in our national interest?

I think the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, that military action was a resounding success. President Bush’s surge policy. When his administration ended, stability had returned to Iraq.

You have to look either at one more diplomatic play to convince China to reunite the peninsula with us in a constructive way and eliminate North Korea, or you have to look at the military option.

There’s an all-purpose joke here. Question: How do you know that the North Korean regime is lying? Answer: Their lips are moving. They’re not going to give up achieving this objective. Why would they agree, why would they propose talks now? Because they want to buy time, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, whatever it is they need to get across the finish line.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now with Pompeo as secretary of state, John Bolton as national security advisor, and Gina Haspel as the CIA director, many in Washington and around the world are speculating that Trump is formulating a war cabinet to raise the stakes against Iran and North Korea. Joining us now to discuss John Bolton and his history, and what he wants us to dismiss in his history, is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Phyllis, good to have you with us.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Phyllis, the New York Times, in this morning’s editorial, they had a headline saying yes, John Bolton is that dangerous. Phyllis, you have had a specific encounter with John Bolton. Let’s start with that.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I first met John Bolton 25 years ago. We were on opposite sides of a public debate on the question of the nature of the United Nations and the role of the United Nations in what was then still the new post-Cold War era. This was 1994. And it was rather extraordinary. It was a thousand people in the audience, or close to a thousand, all of whom were people who cared very deeply about the United Nations.

And John Bolton got up and said the famous lines that are now being quoted in articles all over the world about how there is no such thing as the United Nations, when the United States leads the United Nations will follow, when it suits our interests to do so we will do so, when we don’t think it suits our interests we will not. And then he goes on to disparage the U.N. further and talks about the 38-story U.N. headquarters in New York and says you could cut off the top ten floors and no one would notice the difference because it doesn’t do anything.

It was a stunning moment. And at the time I didn’t realize how, I mean, I was stunned by it, of course, but I didn’t realize how horrifying it really was until I thought about it later. And then as I watched over the years, watched the world that John Bolton played, at that time he wasn’t even in government. He was outside of government. This was during the Clinton administration. But it was a pretty stunning moment. Very soon, when war with Iraq was on, on the minds of the neoconservative cabal that he was part of, Bolton was very central in the work of popularizing and cheerleading for that war, and for helping to make it happen. He didn’t just cheerlead. I think that’s one of the important things, Sharmini, is that his role has not been that of somebody who just was a pundit who wrote editorials supporting the war in Iraq, for instance. He was actually helping to have it happen.

One of the ways, in 2002, for instance, he was a sort of mid-range, mid-level official in the in the State Department of the Bush, second Bush administration, George W. Bush. This is when the the run up to the war in Iraq is just beginning.

And there was concern in Washington that their claim, that had no basis as we now know, was based fully on lies, the claim that the Iranian government, sorry, the claim that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein had so-called weapons of mass destruction, specifically chemical weapons, maybe biological weapons, something else, that was a big part of the justification for mobilizing support for war. There was a fear that if there were actual weapons inspectors sent into Iraq to find out, they would find out that in fact there were no viable weapons of mass destruction, that it was all based on lies. And one of the things that was the responsibility of John Bolton was to orchestrate the ouster of Jose Bustani, who was a Brazilian diplomat who was at the time the chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And in that context he would have been responsible, he was already negotiating with Saddam Hussein about sending in a whole team of weapons inspectors. This is when Iraq was talking about wanting to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty. To do that he would have had to submit a whole country to massively intrusive inspections. That was not in Washington’s interests because it would have proved that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction.

So the work went on by, led by John Bolton, to get him out, to instead have somebody who would who would respond to the U.S. need to keep the inspectors out of Iraq. And Bolton went directly. This came out publicly some years later. The New York Times and others wrote about it. Bolton went to the office of Bustani and said, you’ve got 24 hours to resign, or else. And if you don’t there will be consequences. And Bustani refused.

This is only 11 months after he had just been reinst-, you know, voted in for a second term by a unanimous vote. 145 members of the treaty. And when he refused to step down Bolton orchestrated a move to vote him out. It had never happened before he was voted out and replaced by someone who was far more willing to abide by Washington’s dictates.

So he played a very key role in setting the stage very directly for the Iraq war. And that was even before he was the ambassador to the United Nations, the other roles that he’s played. So for years he has been pushing for war rather than diplomacy. He wanted war against Iraq. He wants and wanted war against Iran. He wanted and wants war against North Korea. There has never been a an arms treaty or a negotiating process that he didn’t want to get rid of and replace it with a direct military assault in the interest of Israel, in some cases, in the interests of the right wing views in the United States in other circumstances. But he has always supported war and opposed diplomacy.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Phyllis, given what you’re saying about his disbelief in the United Nations, that it is an effective body of any sort to govern the world. And then yet he served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Do you do you expect him to advise Trump to bypass the United Nations in the issues that we’re dealing with now? North Korea, Iran nuclear agreement that’s in place, that’s secure, that others have signed onto?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely. I think there’s no question that he will have absolute dismissiveness towards the United Nations, and more dangerously even than that, he will, and has, made clear that he has no interest in international law. He does not appear to believe that international law is binding on the United States. In his article just three weeks ago, for instance, calling for a first strike against North Korea he used the argument that the international law restrictions on first strike simply don’t apply because he says they don’t apply. He says they don’t apply any longer in this era because it might be a possibility that sometime in the future North Korea might be capable of attacking the United States. He agrees it’s probably not now, but says it might happen sometime. And therefore we have the right to attack them.

It’s this sense of America first on steroids. You know, this notion that there is no accountability that the United States is bound to. Every other country in the world is bound to abide by international law except for the United States, and the United States has the right to use military force of its own volition against any country that might not be abiding by international law. So it’s an extraordinary version of this kind of exceptionalism that is so incredibly dangerous. You now have an administration where the president has surrounded himself with all of the, the most extreme elements. The most Islamophobic, the most opposed to diplomacy, the most favoring war of all of the people that he has had at various points. He’s been replacing his own administration right and left. And what people like to call the adults in the room, most of them are gone. They didn’t do much to keep the others in line, anyway.

His favorite advisers, who were all generals, other than General Mattis who’s still as the secretary of defense, all the others are gone, with the exception, again, of the current Chief of Staff who Trump is now indicating he may fire him and not even replace him. Not even have a chief of staff. Just run the place the way he always ran his businesses. By his gut, by his instinct. And he’s surrounding himself now with people, as you mentioned, like John Bolton. Like Mike Pompeo, who has been at the CIA, who is a supporter of torture, who does not believe, for example, that, that waterboarding is torture, and replaced him with his deputy, who they call Bloody Haspel at the CIA. And she’s somebody who not only supports torture but is known to have overseen a black site torture center in Thailand, is known to have signed off on the order to destroy the evidence of that torture. She’s just been nominated to be the new head of the CIA. So he’s surrounding himself with people who agree with his view that diplomacy has no interest for the United States and that war should replace diplomacy. It’s a very, very dangerous moment. The New York Times editorial board is absolutely right in saying yes, he is that dangerous.

All right, Phyllis, finally, with this scenario and the convergence of the people appointed to advise him that we have just mentioned, Haspel, Pompeo, now Bolton, our saving grace might actually be Trump given that, you know, he had advocated and said that he was against the Iraq war, and also when it comes to North Korea he was very quick to jump on a possible meeting just on Sunday after President Putin won the election in Russia. He was quick to get on the phone and congratulate him, and suggest that there should be a meeting. So what do you think of this, I guess, configuration now in Washington, with Trump being the advocate for peace?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Very dangerous to assume that anything he said yesterday has any bearing on what he does today. I think that’s what we’ve seen with this president. There is no consistency to his policy. The fact that he agreed to a meeting with the South Korean leader on one day doesn’t mean that, number one, he will go ahead without meeting. Number two, if he has people around him like John Bolton advising him, and he will be the national security adviser, which does not require approval by the Senate or by the Congress, he will be told, I have no doubt, that he should go into that meeting and simply say to Kim Jong un, the leader of North Korea, that I’m here to find out what your plan is for surrender and full disarmament, and as soon as I hear that we’ll have something to talk about. Until I hear that we will have nothing to talk about and this will be a very short meeting. I could well imagine that kind of advice on what his meeting should look like.

I think the notion that Trump himself is somehow not reflective of the kind of warmongering anti-diplomacy approach of these advisers that he has chosen himself would be a mistake. And that if we’re looking for saving grace, as you put it, that relies on us. On people who will challenge these positions, who will push Congress not to, not to certify, not to accept these people, those that do need Senate oversight, that do have to be approved by the Senate, at the Senate not vote for them. We should keep in mind that John Bolton was voted down by the Senate when he was nominated to be the ambassador to the United Nations. He only got that position temporarily in a so-called recess appointment because Bush was so eager to have him there that he was willing to challenge the decision, including the majority decision of members who were Republicans, who voted against approving him as the ambassador. And he went ahead, appointed him as a recess, on a recess basis where he could only serve for, I think it was 10 months, and then he could not be approved for a full term.

If he is in this position, again, he doesn’t have to get Senate approval. He will be in that position, and it’s going to be up to mobilization of people that are saying that it’s not acceptable for someone who accepts torture to be the head of the CIA, for someone who is an Islamophobic warmonger to be the national security adviser, for the secretary of state to be someone who disdains diplomacy and prefers war. These are not acceptable appointments. It’s going to have to be a massive movement to change that. It’s not going to come from Trump himself.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right , Phylls. I’ll let you go for now. But I’m sure we’ll be talking about this in the very near future again. Thank you so much.


SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.