John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations and a fierce foreign policy hawk, will replace current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in that role, the New York Times first reported Thursday.
“H.R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years. He has won many battles and his bravery and toughness are legendary,” President Donald Trump told the paper. “General McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.”
Trump confirmed the news in a tweet:
I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
The move is the latest in a string of staff changes for Trump. On March 13, he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and announced the man he wanted to replace him, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in a tweet. Tillerson was reportedly blindsided by his firing.
The Times cited unnamed White House officials who claimed McMaster’s resignation was a “mutual decision and amicable,” in the paper’s words, a contrast from Tillerson’s ouster.
The same officials said McMaster had spoken with Trump about leaving for weeks, and that McMaster had moved his departure forward because “questions about his status,” the paper said, “were casting a shadow over his conversations with foreign officials.”
McMaster replaced Michael Flynn, who resigned after revelations that he had misled the White House about his pre-inaugural contacts with Russia’s ambassador, as national security adviser.
Importantly for Bolton, who’s long advocated for the United States to take an aggressive stance toward the rest of the world, he does not need Senate confirmation to become the President’s top adviser on national security matters.
President George W. Bush made Bolton U.N. ambassador via a recess appointment — meaning the Senate did not confirm him for the role — in August 2005.
He resigned as ambassador in December 2006 facing near impossible odds at Senate confirmation, his time as a recess appointee having run out. Senators of both parties had blocked a confirmation vote for Bolton several times over the previous year and a half.
Bolton will bring a hawkishness to the White House that many have long feared would end up whispered in Trump’s ear: the neoconservative has called for pre-emptive military attacks against North Korea and Iran, Vox noted, and he famously once joked that the United Nations building in New York City could lose 10 stories without anyone noticing.
And for all of Trump’s talk — during the 2016 campaign and as President — about opposing the War in Iraq, Bolton was one of the Bush administration’s loudest cheerleaders for that war, and one of the strongest holdouts, years later, in asserting that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right move.
In 2002, as the Bush administration’s under secretary of state for arms control and international security, Bolton incorrectly claimed “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.”
In 2015, he told the Washington Examiner: “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct.”
For years, as several outlets noted Thursday, Bolton has aligned himself with anti-Islam groups on the fringe of mainstream politics: In 2012, according to a BuzzFeed News report flagged by HuffPost, Bolton appeared on the well known anti-Islam conspiracist Frank Gaffney’s radio show.
Asked about the conspiracy theory that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the U.S. government, Bolton replied: “What is wrong with raising the question?”
The same report noted an August 2016 speech Bolton gave at an event called “Islam and Western Civilization: Can They Coexist?” hosted by a group called American Freedom Alliance.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, Bolton snarked during the speech, “is not simply the Muslim king of a Muslim country, unlike our President.”
And in 2010, he wrote the forward for a book by two well-known anti-Islam crusaders, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
Bolton appeared on Fox News, where he is a contributor, around 50 minutes after the Times — and the President — reported his next job. The network’s Martha MacCallum asked him what he thought about the move.
“Well, I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” Bolton said, adding: “I didn’t really expect an announcement this afternoon.”
“It came to a conclusion this afternoon,” he said later of Trump’s job offer, after MacCallum noted he’d been at the White House earlier in the day.
Eventually, MacCallum turned her conversation with Bolton to “the topic that we originally brought you on to talk about tonight,” one which Bolton will likely never again personally confront as perhaps the most powerful un-elected, un-confirmed official in the entire government: the Senate’s nominations backlog.
This post has been updated.