Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
The Wall Street Journal reports on Bolton’s eagerness to attack Iran last year:
President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said.
The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells – launched by a group aligned with Iran – landed in an open lot and harmed no one.
But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
Bolton and like-minded Iran hawks have had a cavalier attitude about attacking Iran for years, so it should come as no surprise that Bolton has brought that same aggressive recklessness into government now that he is National Security Advisor. This episode shows how determined Bolton and his allies have been to turn any incident into a pretext for a larger conflict with Iran. It also shows how willing Bolton is to endorse military action regardless of the situation. The New York Times reported on the same story, and described Bolton’s habit of shutting out dissenting voices from the policy debate:
As the president’s national security adviser, he has largely eliminated the internal policy debates that could air high-level disagreements.
Mr. Bolton does not want to hear opposing views, these officials said, abhors leaks and wants to control everything that flows to the president. But the result is that there is not much consideration of options and, more important, the risk of escalation, according to these people.
Bolton has been a leading advocate for both regime change and bombing Iran, and he is doing what he can to push US policy in that direction. If he and his allies haven’t succeeded yet in maneuvering the US into a war with Iran, it isn’t for lack of desire or effort.
While the Trump administration claims that seeking regime change in Iran is not official US policy, the administration’s actions over the last eight months suggest otherwise. The administration has been pursuing a policy of regime change in all but name, and Bolton just brought on one of the most vocal advocates of regime change to work on the National Security Council. As the report notes, Bolton’s fixation on regime change remains the same:
In talks with other administration officials, Mr. Bolton has made it clear that he personally supports regime change in Iran, a position he aggressively championed before joining the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The combination of a highly ideological National Security Advisor with a fixation on regime change and a pliable president inclined to favor aggressive measures bodes ill for U.S.-Iranian relations in the coming year.
Needless to say, an attack on Iran would be illegal and unauthorized, and more than that it would be unjustified and excessive. The fact that Bolton was so quick to ask for military options in response to such a minor incident shows how biased in favor of illegally attacking Iran he is. That should worry us that any debate inside the administration about a future incident is going to be heavily skewed towards military action without regard for the potential consequences.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.