The appointment of Bolton, who has adopted a tough stance toward both Iran and the Palestinians, was widely welcomed by members of Israel’s right-wing government. Education Minister Naftali Bennett called Bolton an “extraordinary security expert, experienced diplomat and a stalwart friend of Israel.”
But even in Israel, his return stirred concern.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied for the United States to “fix or nix” the Iran nuclear deal, some Israeli security officials have warned against a complete collapse of the deal — a prospect that may be more likely with Bolton as national security adviser. They argue that a flawed agreement is better than none at all. Bolton has said that the deal was a “strategic mistake” and should be “abrogated.”
Meanwhile, Israel is likely to be at the sharp-end of any conflict with Iran, something Bolton has repeatedly floated.
Writing in the New York Times in 2015, Bolton suggested that Israel should bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, while the United States simultaneously provided support for Iran’s opposition in order to bring about “regime change.” [Continue reading…]
Of the Cabinet selections and staff picks cheered by Trump critics, including McMaster, Kelly and former chairman of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, [Defense Secretary James] Mattis is the only one who seems to still have job security. Trump remains as enthused about Mattis, one of his first Cabinet picks, as he was when he tapped him for the job in December 2016, according to several White House aides.
Even his detractors on the right are reluctant to criticize Mattis, a retired Marine general who fought in both Gulf wars and Afghanistan, on the record, either because they are looking to join the administration or because, despite their disagreements, they are happy he’s there. Those critics say privately that Mattis is too cautious and conventional in his thinking, and that he doesn’t sufficiently appreciate the political nature of his current job. But “they regard him as better than the likely alternatives,” one such critic told me, and consider him “a restraining hand on an otherwise unpredictable and impulsive president.”
People close to the president sense that on a subset of important issues, he will defer to Mattis, who represents an institution, the military, that the president venerates, and whose status as a combat veteran has earned him Trump’s respect. In contrast with, say, Cohn, who had to contend with the fact that Trump considers himself a business expert, Mattis benefits from serving a president who has never claimed to understand the military or international affairs. White House aides say Trump is cowed and intimidated by Mattis, who peppers his comments with aphorisms and historical arcana gleaned from his extraordinary personal library.
John Bolton’s arrival in April as the president’s new national security adviser will give Mattis a more ardent and skillful adversary at the National Security Council. Mattis outranked McMaster in military terms and always considered him his junior, even though Mattis is retired. He likely won’t view Bolton that way, and Bolton prizes his ability to corral the bureaucracy for his purposes.
Mattis, who was pushed out of the military by President Barack Obama because of his hawkish views on Iran, also sees eye to eye with Trump on plenty of policy matters, chief among them the importance of rebuilding the military. So the secretary of defense has, for example, stayed quiet about the president’s request for a costly military parade, tentatively set for November, but has secured a 10 percent budget increase for the Pentagon. Both White House and Pentagon aides say Mattis has also been more discreet than some of his colleagues when he disagrees with the president, never undermining him publicly except in congressional testimony. “He makes his recommendations, gives his advice, and it’s up to the president to decide,” says Dana White, Mattis’ Pentagon spokeswoman. [Continue reading…]
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