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Opinion State Department stakeout

Former ambassador John Bolton, mentioned frequently as a possible pick for secretary of state, gives us a preview today of what a Secretary Bolton might focus on if installed in Foggy Bottom. He argues that “in the Middle East itself, despite long-overdue territorial gains against ISIS, governments have been disintegrating or gravely weakened, thus providing safe havens where ISIS and other terrorists can again take root.” He continues:

If Trump does not quickly reverse Obama’s strategy, regional chaos will only grow, and the terrorist threat here and in Europe will increase. Destroying ISIS should certainly be a priority, but not Obama’s approach, which actually strengthens Iran’s hand at the expense of America’s traditional allies in the region, Israel and Arab states alike.

It’s not clear, however, how that would translate into action. Reverse what parts of Obama’s agenda and do what instead? Trump, for example, wants Bashar al-Assad to stay, but that would be cementing in place one of Iran’s and Russia’s main policy objectives. (That’s also Obama’s approach, frankly.)  Bolton points to Iran and North Korea and to what he considers to be disastrous nuclear deals. Does that mean he will rip them up? That’s not clear either.

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Conservatives should be greatly comforted by his strong attack on Vladimir Putin:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is on the prowl in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in ways unprecedented since the Cold War. Unchecked by Obama’s weak and feckless policies, Putin has had every reason to believe that persistence will achieve any objective Russia has the capacity to seek. He sees little incentive to restrain his ambitions or engage in genuine cooperation when Washington is bereft of strong, decisive leadership. Rebuilding protective structures of deterrence in Europe; reducing Moscow’s Middle East influence to pre-Obama days; and utilizing Russia effectively against Islamic terrorism and in the epic struggle with China may seem contradictory, but all are possible with renewed U.S. strength of purpose and the attendant resources, political and economic as well as military.

This doesn’t sound much like Trump, but then Trump may decide it’s best not to cozy up to Putin. (That may aggravate retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, also under consideration for an administration post. He’s been among the worst apologists for Putin.)

Bolton sounds another tough note on China. “Continued failure to deal firmly with Chinese adventurism and intransigence will result in more Asian states falling under Beijing’s sway, as the Philippines appears to be doing, simply accepting their fate as Middle Kingdom vassals. While no one seeks confrontation with China, submissiveness such as Obama’s only encourages more aggressive behavior.”

This sounds like tough-minded hawkish foreign policy thinking, not the eclectic isolationism and Putin-worship we heard from Trump. (President Obama, now an official Trump whisperer, says Trump is committed to NATO, after all.) Trump, we are increasingly persuaded, has few views about foreign policy and even less knowledge. An aggressive defender of U.S. interests such as Bolton could earn the  new president’s trust. Aside from making America great, does Trump know what he wants to accomplish? We are betting he has few concrete ideas. Those “details” can be left to Bolton.

Bolton could not get confirmed for his last appointment to the United Nations, but now with a GOP Senate majority he’d almost certainly get confirmed promptly. Bolton, a familiar figure on Fox News, whom Trump praised during the campaign, would generate excitement among Trump’s base. He also would be about as far from John F. Kerry as you could get. In signaling an entirely new world outlook, a Bolton appointment would certainly get the attention of foes and friends alike.