Today is John Bolton’s first day as national security adviser. Here Paul Pillar recalls the infamous temper that White House staff, and perhaps many regions of the world, may have in store.
By Paul R. Pillar
John Bolton has a glaring record of extreme and bombastic views and behavior. First-hand recollections of that record include, for example, former State Department officer Greg Thielmann’s description of Bolton’s performance as one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the Iraq War.
The following passage from my 2011 book Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy describes how, even compared to other proponents of that disastrous expedition, Bolton was exceptionally heavy-handed in trying to crush opposing viewpoints and distort intelligence. While reading it, think about how one of the most important functions of the job of national security adviser, to which Bolton has been appointed, is to ensure that the president receives all relevant options and insights and the best possible information before making policy decisions.
The most egregious recent instances of arm twisting arose in George W. Bush’s administration but did not involve Iraq. The twister was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who pressured intelligence officers to endorse his views of other rogue states, especially Syria and Cuba.
Bolton wrote his own public statements on the issues and then tried to get intelligence officers to endorse them. According to what later came to light when Bolton was nominated to become ambassador to the United Nations, the biggest altercation involved Bolton’s statements about Cuba’s allegedly pursuing a biological weapons program.
When the relevant analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) refused to agree with Bolton’s language, the undersecretary summoned the analyst and scolded him in a red-faced, finger-waving rage.
The director of INR at the time, Carl Ford, told the congressional committee considering Bolton’s nomination that he had never before seen such abuse of a subordinate—and this comment came from someone who described himself as a…