When John Bolton becomes Donald Trump’s national security advisor later this month, he’ll assume more influence over U.S foreign policy than he’s ever had before.
That has a lot of people nervous: Bolton has rarely seen a military intervention he didn’t like — he supported the war in Iraq (and still does), regime change in Iran, and a first strike against North Korea’s nuclear program.
But the last time Bolton was up for a big job — his 2005 nomination for ambassador to the United Nations — what tripped him up wasn’t his policies; it was testimony about his penchant for berating subordinates, and a refusal to listen to information that countered his personal beliefs.
Carl Ford, Jr., was the director of the State Department bureau responsible for intelligence analysis in 2002, when Bolton was under secretary of state for Arms Control. At the time, the Bush administration was building up evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq — wrongfully, as it turned out — and Bolton was seeking to make the case that another country, Cuba, was working on its own biological weapons program. (It wasn’t.)
Ford’s analysts disagreed, and Bolton, Ford says, didn’t want to hear it. He called the analyst into his office, and threatened to have him fired. Ford fought back.
“I was steaming,” Ford recalled. “I explained to him… ‘John, if you want to say this, that you believe it — be our guest. But you cannot say that it’s the intelligence community’s view.”
The drama that ensued followed Bolton for years, and nearly kept him out of the UN job. He was later granted a recess appointment by the president. But more than a decade later, former colleagues say it’s much more worrisome as a sign of how Bolton might deal with intelligence that contradicts his views in his much more powerful position.
“It is the best evidence we have of how he will behave in the future,” said Greg Thielmann, another former State Department intel analyst who worked with Bolton. “These things might be academic but this is how you build the case for war.”
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