Bolton: A One-Man War Cabinet

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North Korean peace and the Iran deal are both in serious danger with Bolton in the White House says historian and Investigative Journalist, Gareth Porter

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Story Transcript

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

In a tweet. President Trump announced the appointment of John Bolton as his third national security adviser on Thursday. Bolton replaces Gen. H.R. McMaster, who resigned in disagreements with Trump over a number of foreign policy issues. Bolton is a well-known spokesperson for U.S. military intervention around the world. He was an early advocate for the war in Iraq. He has recently been arguing in favor of preemptive strikes and regime change in North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Joining me now to analyze the appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor is Gareth Porter. Gareth is a historian and investigative journalist specializing in U.S. foreign and military policy. He’s the author of many books. The latest among them is “Manufacturing Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.” Thanks for joining me, Gareth.

GARETH PORTER: Thanks very much, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Garrett, Bolton has been called the hawks of hawks, and the New York Times in an editorial today said yes, Bolton is that dangerous. Now, give us a sense of your take on Bolton and whether the New York Times and hawks of hawks as a title for him is accurate.

GARETH PORTER: Yes, I agree that Bolton is the most hawkish figure that we have seen in the White House in recent history, for sure. He is the person who is the most extreme in his devotion to the idea of basically making war on anybody who is regarded in some fashion as an adversary of the United States. He hasn’t said that we should attack Russia and China, it’s true. But any sort of second-level adversary of the United States, Bolton seems to be all excited to go to war. And one has to wonder if there’s something really psychological at work here, that he has some sort of complex that he’s working out by his aggressiveness in calling for war.

I mean, that’s certainly, that’s just a theory. I mean, you know, I don’t really know what’s going on with Bolton. What we do know is that more than anyone else, Bolton has come back over and over again over the last 10 years since he left the Bush administration. Every time I have heard him on Fox News or have seen a video of his appearance on Fox News when he’s been asked about Iran, he’s called for bombing Iran. He said now is the time for the United States to bomb Iran, to attack Iran.

That’s an extraordinary situation. No one else in history has ever been so extreme as him. And that raises all kinds of questions about what is going on with Trump that we that we don’t really have clear answers to at this point.

SHARMINI PERIES: Gareth, now, you’re one that has been really following Bolton’s career for a very long time. He’s been serving various administrations for now 30 years. Now, in his capacity serving the Bush administration on what was his role, as I believe, undersecretary and then ambassador to the U.N., give us a sense of his track record in a deep kind of way. You know, today we saw various news outlets, you know, having various clips of him arguing for the dismantling of the U.N. and as well as his position on Iraq. But in a, in a deeper way give us a sense of what he’s all about.

GARETH PORTER: Well, this is really the important thing that is not so well known about John Bolton. I mean, everybody knows that he is a hawk’s hawk, and that he has publicly been advocating war, not only against Iran but a first strike against North Korea, and so forth. What is not really known well about John Bolton is that when he was undersecretary of state from 2003-2007, in the, I’m sorry, 2003-2005 in the Bush administration, he was involved very deeply with with Dick Cheney in carrying out a policy that was aimed at positioning the United States for a war against Iran that Dick Cheney was clearly very much not just in favor of, but it was really his idea in the first place. Dick Cheney was surrounded by people who were violently anti Iran, and he was all on board for eventually going to war with Iran once the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been successful. So John Bolton’s role as undersecretary was largely to carry out a policy toward Iran and its nuclear program that would make it possible for the United States to be in a position politically and diplomatically to carry out the war that Dick Cheney wanted.

And so what he did was, in the first phase in 2003-2004, he began to essentially try to frustrate the effort by Mohamed El Baradei, the secretary general of, or director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to try to figure out a way to come to an agreement with Iran with the support, by the way, Of the major U.S. allies in Europe, the British, French, and Germans, to come up with an agreement that would resolve the issues about the Iranian nuclear program that had been arising since 2002. And of course, this was exactly the opposite of what Dick Cheney and John Bolton wanted. They were determined, essentially, to make sure that there was no agreement between the Europeans and the Iranians or the IAEA and the Iranians that would frustrate their plan.

So what Bolton did was to have a strategy that would move the Iranian file out of the IAEA and into the U.N. Security Council, where the United States had the power along with its European allies as long as it could bring them into line, to essentially accuse Iran of having a covert nuclear weapons program which is what the IAEA at that point in 2003, 2004 was unwilling to do. And so Bolton was all about coming up with a scheme that would be, would allow him to move the file to the U.N. Security Council. What he did was to come up with a mysterious set of aerial photographs of a key military base in Iran where they were carrying out testing of conventional weapons, and various sites within that military reservation were depicted in these aerial photographs. And Bolton went public through leaks to the networks, ABC in particular. And turning them over to the IAEA claiming that these were pictures that showed that the Iranians were carrying out nuclear weapons-related testing in this military reservation. Now, what the pictures actually showed, and they were on the ABC network and they were on the Internet later on, so we’ve we’ve had an opportunity to see all these pictures, all they showed was places like bunkers which were used to test ordinary, conventional bombs.

But Bolton tried to turn this into a, an issue of the IAEA needs to go into this military reservation and investigate. Obviously what he was hoping was that the Iranians would say no, you can’t come into our very sensitive testing area and just muck around and look for yourself. Instead, the Iranians invited the IAEA to come in twice, not just once but twice, and looked at ten different sites of their own choice. And and they of course found nothing. So Bolton’s strategy was frustrated in 2003-2004.

But that was the first phase of what he tried to do. And the second phase, which is much more murky, was a phase that had to do with the Israeli contribution to the effort to accuse Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program. And that took the form of leaking a set of documents, a whole cache of documents that were supposedly from this covert Iranian nuclear weapons research program. The documents which later on recalled, the laptop documents, were supposedly from the laptop computer of one of the Iranian participants in this program. And they supposedly fell into the hands of Western intelligence because this guy, his computer was stolen or fell into the hands of somebody else, and were turned over to Western intelligence.

But I found out from a former senior official of the German Foreign Office who had been brought in by high officials of the German foreign intelligence agency, the Bundensachrichtendiest, that, that they knew all about these documents, that they were upset that the U.S. government was making a public issue of these documents as though it were evidence of an Iranian secret nuclear weapons program, because they had been given those documents by one of their sometime sources. An Iranian obviously who they didn’t trust, because they knew that this person was a member of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the Iranian anti-regime armed organization which had been used by the Saddam Hussein regime to make war against Iran, and then was used by Israel to make public information that the Israelis did not want associated with themselves.

So there is a string of influence here which ties these very questionable documents which I reveal in my book to be fakes to the Mossad. Now, this goes back to the Bolton scheme because in 2003 and 2004 Bolton was taking unannounced trips to Israel which were not approved by the State Department’s Regional Bureau, as is normally the case, and meeting with the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, where no one was there to take notes, and to send a report on what was discussed back to the State Department. So it was a secret between Bolton and, and Mossad. And that furthermore Mossad created a new organization that was not made public, but it was revealed by two American journalists later on, which had the job of circulating information to the news media and to governments about the Iranian nuclear program.

So all of this leads to the conclusion which I talk about in my book, that Bolton probably knew what was going on with Mossad’s program to create and circulate these, these documents that were used as evidence by the Bush administration against Iran.

SHARMINI PERIES: So Gareth, given the role that Bolton has played in what one would consider manufacturing consent for war, both in Iraq and, as you describe now here, on Iran, what can we expect when it comes to North Korea, what can we expect when it comes to other countries that he has advocated for in terms of regime change and preemptive strikes such as Venezuela and Cuba, but more importantly I guess North Korea and Iran? Because when he was appointed and there was a critique of this nature being carried out about such an important post being held by Bolton he said, you know, what I have said in the past is the past, and now I am at the service of President Trump. Could we even believe that he’s capable of taking a more diplomatic route when it comes to these relationships?

GARETH PORTER: Well, first of all, certainly there’s, there’s no reason to credit Trump saying, oh, well, those are my positions, public positions before, they don’t mean anything now. I wouldn’t certainly trust that for a moment. But what I do believe is true is that once Bolton is in the Oval Office or next to the Oval Office and talking to the president, he has to take into account what he can get away with in terms of pushing Trump in a direction that might be different from what he already is on. And that, that really has a lot to do with the problem of North Korea. Because Trump is now in the limelight with regard to the upcoming summit meeting that is planned with Kim Jong un of North Korea, to try to come up with a solution to this problem of the North Korean missile program and nuclear, nuclear weapons program.

And the North Koreans have told South Korea, according to the South Korean government officials, that the North Koreans are prepared to negotiate away both their missile program and their nuclear weapons program, provided that the United States is ready to negotiate some very far-reaching political and security concessions to the North Koreans.

So so this is going to be a major task for President Trump, and he has already committed himself to this in a way that makes it very difficult for him to sort of immediately back down and say, well, I’m not really interested in this. So I would suggest that I don’t think that we’re going to see Bolton pushing very hard for Trump to move away from that position. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

On Iran, on the other hand, we have a very different situation because there Bolton has already been influencing Trump’s position in the direction of a confrontation with Iran, because it was Bolton last October who, on the phone from Las Vegas were Bolton had been meeting with Sheldon Adelson, Trump’s leading finance, financial contributor, in the 2016 election, as well as Netanyahu as a main contributor in past elections. He called from Las Vegas to Trump and convinced Trump to use very specific language saying that unless Congress and the Europeans forced the Iranians, or agreed to force the Iranians to make major changes in the Iran nuclear deal, he would withdraw from the deal.

Now, that’s a major pronouncement by Trump which puts him on record and puts him in the position of being committed to a policy that almost guarantees that there will be a confrontation of some sort. Because the Europeans are not going to be able to deliver on trying to negotiate with the Iranians on making these changes that Trump wants, and therefore we can see that the Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to either go along with the ending of this agreement with the U.S. commitment to all of the concessions that the United States made without doing anything, or they’re going to have to pull back on their commitment to the to the Iran nuclear deal, and thus move toward a new confrontation with the United States. So I think that’s where the real danger lies of Bolton in the White House.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. So this is the man to really deliver on Trump’s objectives, which is an America first policy, and ignore the P5 plus 1 agreement with Iran. Now, one thing interesting about Bolton is, although he served as the U.N. ambassador from the U.S. at the United Nations appointed by George W. Bush, he didn’t actually believe in the institution. In fact, he advised bypassing it, which is a very dangerous scenario with these issues of North Korea and Iran at stake, and war with them at stake. Do you think he will continue in that thrust, trying to advocate for bypassing the United Nations in these sorts of decisions, particularly the U.N. Security Council?

GARETH PORTER: Well, look, I think that with regards to-.

SHARMINI PERIES: As he did on Iraq, I must add.

GARETH PORTER: Right. I mean, let’s face it, though, on the questions of North Korea and Iran the United States is going to continue to do what it has done under both this administration and previous administrations. It’s going to use the U.N. Security Council to the maximum that it can to be able to, to try to get resolutions that it can use to accuse its adversaries of being on the wrong side of what it calls international law, because it treats any U.N. Security Council resolution as somehow the voice of international law. And I would expect that that’s going to be the main use of the Security Council under the Trump administration just as it has in the recent past.

So I don’t look to the Security Council as a place where peace is going to be made. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s much more problematic in the role that that the Security Council has played and the, of course the United States using the Security Council by essentially rallying its European allies, plus other members that it has influence over to to gain a majority. And then, you know, using that, as I say, to, to position itself to, to accuse whichever foe that it needs to accuse of some violation of international law. I think that’s what we can expect Bolton to try to push with regard to the U.N.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Gareth, very quickly, with Bolton in this position as national security adviser, with Pompeo as secretary of state, with Haspel at the CIA, many people are speculating that Trump is finally putting together his war cabinet. Would you agree with that?

GARETH PORTER: Yeah, that’s very difficult to disagree with. In fact, you know, I would be willing to say that John Bolton by himself is a one-man war cabinet in terms of his influence, potentially, on situations.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Gareth, I thank you so much for joining us today. I imagine this is going to be an ongoing conversation, and looking forward to having you back.

GARETH PORTER: Thanks very much, Sharmini.

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