Three O'Clock in the Morning with John Bolton

Three O'Clock in the Morning with John Bolton

Last Friday, Willis offered some initial takes on the replacement of H.R. McMaster with John Bolton as national security adviser. Here are a few more thoughts on the elevation of a man who advocates US-backed regime change in Iran and North Korea, still stands by the decision to invade Iraq, sees the EU as a drag on US power, and never met an alliance or multilateral institution he wouldn’t use as a doormat:


Trump’s foreign policy team is now much more uniformly hawkish and aligned with Trump’s own impulses, particularly his disdain for alliances and constraints on American power. With Mike Pompeo at the State Department and Bolton as national security adviser, what Trump feels viscerally about foreign policy issues that he largely doesn’t understand will now be corroborated intellectually by the men around him who do. Only in this group could a mad dog be considered a dove.

It’s worth remembering that the national security adviser’s job is to filter and interpret for the president the vast amounts of information that come from the various national security bureaucracies. It’s a job best suited to a careful listener without overt ideological passions. That’s not a description of John Bolton.

Bolton’s shares Trump’s unilateralist disposition, but… his strong support for regime change and pre-emptive war places him in the Dick Cheney school of ass-kicking interventionism, rather than the nationalistic isolationism of his one-time strategist Steve Bannon. That’s a subtle but steady shift for Trump now, whose 2016 campaign, you may recall, painted HER as the warmongering threat to world peace and American interests. How Trump’s base interprets Bolton’s influence on his foreign policy will be interesting to watch.

There is a certain high-stakes logic to picking an unabashed militarist like Bolton. Walking into a negotiation with him as your national security adviser is like placing a gun on the table before the chit-chat even starts. Adversaries will now understand that the threat of US military action is realer than at any previous point in their dealings with Washington. That may give Trump room to play the role of the reasonable dealmaker with his killers at bay. The trouble is, as every playwright knows: if you introduce a gun in the first act, it has to go off before the final curtain. If the Iranians or North Koreans do call Trump’s Bolton bluff, what happens next?

Lastly, I’d worry more about the 3am phone call than the 6am tweet now. If a domestic or international security crisis happens on Bolton’s watch, that wee-hours phone call is coming from, or going to, Bolton. Trump is notoriously impressed by the last person he’s spoken with before making a critical decision. In the event of a massive terrorist attack, a military accident in the skies over Syria or Korea, or some other unforeseen crisis… that person will now be John Bolton.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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