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Politics

Who is John Bolton, the new 'hawk' in the White House?

The new National Security Adviser has had a long and controversial political career since the Reagan presidency. He is considered a 'neocon,' the extreme right-wing ideologues who took George W Bush to war in Iraq.
25 Mar 2018 – 03:05 PM EDT
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Former Ambassador John Bolton waits backstage before speaking at the Conservative Principles Conference hosted by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Saturday, March 26, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. Crédito: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

John Bolton, 69, is a hard-line conservative known for his controversial positions on foreign policy and his work as a analyst on Fox News.

A harsh critic of the United Nations, Bolton is known for advocating a tougher policy towards Iran and North Korea, two countries who's nuclear programs are targeted by U.S. sanctions. His views are in line with Mike Pompeo, nominated to be President Donald Trump's new Secretary of State.

- Career highlights: “the kind of man with whom I'd like to stand at Armageddon" -

This will be the fourth U.S. President that Bolton has served. He previously held posts under George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. He was also a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

Bolton began his career as a protégé of North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, a powerful member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and ardent critic of the United Nations. A passionate advocate of Reagan’s policy to defeat the communist threat in Central America in the 1980s, Helms once described Bolton as "the kind of man with whom I'd like to stand at Armageddon."

- United Nations: "could lose a few floors" -

Between August 2005 and December 2006 Bolton served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., although he had previously expressed harsh criticism and questioned the usefulness of the international forum.

Bolton once said that the U.N.'s New York-based headquarters "could lose a few floors floors" without affecting its functioning - a reference to its oft-criticized multi-national bureaucracy.

- Florida's historic 2000 election -

In November 2000, Bolton was among a group of Republicans that burst into the offices of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections on behalf of the George W Bush’s presidential campaign to stop a recount in the famously razor thin Florida election. He spent weeks objecting to 'hanging chads' in Miami and fighting issues over a notorious 'butterfly ballot' in Palm Beach county.

Bush ended up winning Florida, and the presidency, by a mere 537 votes.

Bolton recalled the 2000 recount when he spoke to Florida delegates at a breakfast during the Republican National Convention in 2016. “I spent 31 wonderful days in Florida in November and December of 2000. I can still draw a floor plan of the Emergency Operations Center in West Palm,” he said.

- Bioterrorism and Cuba -

From 2001 to 2005 Bolton was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Bush administration.

In 2005, Bolton was accused of using his State Department position to bully intelligence officials about Cuba's supposed bioterrorist threat. He famously visited CIA headquarters to personally demand the replacement of a senior analyst who downplayed Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.

The allegation touched a raw nerve at the time as memories were still fresh that intelligence analysts working on Iraq may have been pressured to provide faulty assessments that fit the administration's case to go to war in 2003.

In a May 2002 speech to the conservative heritage Foundation in which Bolton boldly declared U.S. intelligence indicated that Cuba "has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort."

It was the first time any senior U.S. official had made such a serious allegation about Fidel Castro's government. Bolton also accused Cuba of sharing dual-use biotechnology with "rogue states."

Top administration officials at the time failed to endorse his remarks. Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to directly contradict Bolton. "We didn't say it (Cuba) actually had some weapons, but it has the capacity to conduct such research," he said.

Bolton insisted he could back it up his assertions with intelligence data. "We are very confident about our data," he said.
Later that year when the State Department put out its annual report on trends in global terrorism. A short section on Cuba made no mention of biological warfare research.

- Cuba and Obama -

Bolton continues to have strong views on Cuba. Some analysts wonder if Bolton could turn up the pressure on the communist-run island which is on the verge of a historic political handover as Raul Castro is stepping down as president April 19.

Bolton was critical of President Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015. Trump has trimmed back some of Obama’s policy towards Cuba, and relations have cooled again, but the renewed diplomatic ties remain intact.

Bolton enjoys the strong support of Florida’s Cuban American Senator Marco Rubio, an influential member of the Senate Foreign relations committee who has called for cutting diplomatic ties.

“I know John Bolton well and believe he is an excellent choice who will do a great job as national security adviser,” Rubio said in a statement on Thursday.

- Venezuela -

Bolton is expected to adopt a hard line on Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela.

Bolton raised concerns about Venezuela in 2013. During a hearing on Syria and Iran, Bolton said Iranians were operating in Caracas. “These are expert smugglers with—the largest Iranian diplomatic facility in the world is in Caracas, Venezuela,” Bolton said at the time. “Because of their close cultural ties? No, because they are laundering their money through the Venezuelan banks."

Trump has already taken a hard line against the Venezuelan government, applying more than 20 individual and economic sanctions including restricting U.S. financial transactions involving its new digital currency.

- Russia -

Bolton’s remarks to the Florida RNC delegates in 2016 also included criticism of Trump and his stance toward Russia.

Bolton questioned comments by Trump in which the candidate was ambivalent about coming to the aid of NATO members in case of an attack by Russia. Bolton said: “When an American leader says ‘I’ll look at what the situation is after the Russians attack,’ that is an open invitation to Vladimir Putin…When he (Putin) reads this kind of statement, it’s an encouragement to him. We’re not deterring him, we’re in effect giving him a free hand. So I hope that whoever advised Mr. Trump on this rethinks it.”

Trump is reportedly considering expelling Russian diplomats on Monday in solidarity with the U.K. after the March 4 'novichok' nerve agent poisoning of two Russians, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in Salisbury.

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