In 2002, nearly everyone in the U.S. intelligence community was focused on finding and punishing anyone who was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks the year before as well as preventing future attacks from taking place. But the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control issues, John Bolton, had three goals he was juggling simultaneously. He pressed these goals with as much vigor as his position allowed, giving him a direct line to President George Bush and more importantly to Vice President Dick Cheney.
His first goal is well documented. Bolton was the architect and most outspoken proponent for selling the notion of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) being in the hands of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. While it’s unclear whether he truly believed the WMDs were there or if he was using them as an excuse to push for a march into Baghdad, analysis after-the-fact has demonstrated the so-called evidence for WMDs was not compelling on its own. Moreover, there were troves of alternative intelligence that refuted the limited intelligence supporting the presence of WMDs. In other words, anyone who had access to all of the data, such as Bolton, would have to be either completely unqualified to assess the information or were willfully misleading Americans to use it as a predicate for war. As Jon Schwarz noted in 2016 in The Intercept, Bolton “is arguably the man most responsible for hiding the truth about Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs.”
Cuba was his second priority in 2002. Yes, Cuba. For some reason, his strange theories about Cuba have been partially wiped from his history; it’s hard to find anything about his assertions regarding Cuba on any government websites. The Bolton stance on Cuba, that they were developing advanced chemical weapons to use on the United States in the very near future, was essentially debunked and cleared from intelligence reports by the Obama administration. To this day, there are no indications that a chemical weapons program had ever been started in Cuba, let alone anywhere near Bolton’s 18-year-old claim that they were an imminent threat.
According to center-left investigative news outlet ProPublica, Bolton’s vindictive nature was apparent even when dealing with his unfounded assertion that Cuba was developing chemical weapons.
Bolton, who was then the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control issues, included a warning about the Cuban threat in a draft of a speech and sent it around the department for the necessary clearance. A biological warfare analyst wrote back that Bolton’s proposed comments overstated what U.S. intelligence agencies really knew about the matter, and, as routinely happens, suggested some small changes.
The analyst was summoned to Bolton’s office. “He got very red in the face, and shaking his finger at me, and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position,” the analyst, Christian Westermann, recalled later during a Senate inquiry. Bolton then demanded that Westermann’s supervisor remove him permanently from the biological weapons portfolio, thundering that “he wasn’t going to be told what he could say by a mid-level munchkin.”
His third priority started long before 9/11 and has continued until this day. It is also the most relevant portion of his sordid tale because many attribute his Iranian regime change obsession as the reason he was sacked by President Trump last year. It could also be what motivated him to write in his upcoming book that President Trump told him aid to Ukraine was being withheld until they announced investigations into Democrats and the Bidens. As far-left Mother Jones noted last year, Bolton has been obsessed with Iran for decades.
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As a diplomat and national security official across four Republican administrations, from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, Bolton has made the case for regime change in North Korea and Syria, among other places. But Iran remained a persistent concern for him, due to its alleged links to terrorism and burgeoning nuclear program. Once he left his position as ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush White House in 2006, he began more openly criticizing Bush’s Iran policy as too soft, calling it “four and a half years of failed diplomacy.” In an appearance on Fox News in 2008, Bolton argued in favor of bombing Iranian camps that the US said were training insurgents to oppose American troops in Iraq. “This is not provocative or preemptive—this is entirely responsive,” he said. “If we don’t respond, the Iranians will take it as a sign of weakness.”
Bolton’s history has been pocked by lies, vendettas, and an ego that prevents him from ever being wrong in his own mind. Even today, he remains in the scant camp of people who still believe invading Iraq and Afghanistan were good ideas that somehow benefited America. It is widely believed committing our troops to the quagmire of Iraq was not beneficial to us, Iraq, or the Middle East in general. As for Afghanistan, anyone who has heard anything about the Afghanistan Papers published last month would likely come to the same conclusion about our extended presence there. Yet, Bolton has remained a firm believer in both failed missions. He believes he was right from the start and any insinuations to the contrary are met with indignation and rage.
Much of Bolton’s reputation for lying about and intimidating those who crossed him came out in his Senate hearings when he was nominated to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. Among the 35 people interviewed were several who called into question his personality for the role. He was referenced as one who was willing to lie (something he affirmed in an interview five years later) about those who criticized him. They said he would “bully” and “intimidate” people who disagreed with him. But most notably were instances documented in which he was accused of “retaliating” against those he believed had wronged him, a trait they said would manifest for years.
Former CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong learned this the hard way when he challenged Bolton’s assessment on Cuba. Armstrong was an expert on Havana policies and saw nothing in the intelligence that indicated they were exploring advanced chemical weapons, let alone being on the verge of launching these weapons at Miami very soon, as Bolton attested. How did Bolton respond to the dissenting view? In his Senate hearing, he said he had “one conversation” about Armstrong, but interviews and the Senate report indicate that the campaign against Armstrong lasted for years. One senator described it as “a vendetta.”
The timing of the leak to the press in which he claims President Trump spilled damaging information about Ukraine has drawn scrutiny from the right. They note how convenient it is that the leak happens to coincide perfectly with the launch of his Amazon page for his book’s pre-sale orders. It also comes at a time just before the Senate is to vote on witnesses for the President’s impeachment trial. What we know of Bolton’s past jibes with the scrutiny now being placed on him. It fits with his dedication to vengeance; lying to help remove President Trump from office, whether through impeachment or at the ballot box in November, is about the most Boltonesque thing one can do. The increased book sales is a cherry on top, not his primary goal, contrary to popular theories floating around on social media.
Most John Bolton skeptics are pointing to increasing book sales as the reason for his Ukraine revelations. But the much more likely motivation for calling out President Trump is found in his history of petty ego-boosting and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance.