John Bolton infamously promoted the false justification for the Iraq War. He recently made a case for a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea and for bombing Iran. He vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal. He’s promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories, supported anti-Islam groups and joked that President Barack Obama was Muslim.
Bolton’s espousing those ideas as a pundit on Fox News was dangerous and offensive enough. But as President Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Bolton’s warped worldview could shape U.S. policy.
Here are some of the main responsibilities of the National Security Council and why the role of the national security adviser is so important.
What does the National Security Council do?
President Harry Truman created the NSC in 1947 as an advisory body on national security and foreign policy matters. The council consists of the president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, treasury secretary and a national security adviser, who gets appointed by the president directly.
The NSC serves as the primary coordinator of national security and foreign policy proposals from other agencies around the federal government. Its staff produces intelligence reports, briefings and research on these issues.
But the influence of the national security apparatus varies from administration to administration as it adapts to the personality of the president, David Rothkopf, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained in 2008. The national security adviser’s power also depends on the president.
The national security adviser briefs the president on the NSC’s findings and helps to shape policy around them. This official is supposed to manage the national security and foreign policy information going to the president and then communicate the president’s decisions on how to respond to situations around the world to the relevant federal agencies.
How important is the national security adviser’s role?
The clout that he or she wields is heavily dependent on the person’s relationship to the president. In the Nixon and Carter administrations, Rothkopf noted, national security advisers positioned themselves to influence the president more than their counterparts at the State Department. Henry Kissinger was famously close to Richard Nixon. Under George W. Bush, Rothkopf said, the most important foreign policy actor was not national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but Vice President Dick Cheney.
What kind of relationship Trump will form with Bolton is not clear yet. The two men have reportedly been discussing the possibility of Bolton’s new role for weeks, and Bolton promised Trump “he wouldn’t start any wars” if he was selected, according to CNN. (A source close to Bolton reportedly denied he made any such pledge.) Although Bolton has been a marginal figure in politics for years, he has been a frequent Fox News analyst. A White House official told Politico that the president was impressed by Bolton’s “many appearances on Fox News” and that helped clinch the job.
While Trump is reportedly not a fan of Bolton’s facial hair, he hasn’t voiced any public concern about Bolton’s notoriously hawkish views, which don’t align with the isolationist foreign policy platform that Trump campaigned on.
What troubles the experts about Bolton is that over his three-decade career in government, he largely supported military answers to foreign policy questions, instead of diplomacy. And since Trump reportedly doesn’t read his own daily intelligence reports and largely relies on oral briefings, or cable news, for gathering and assessing information about the world, Bolton may play an outsized role in the formation of U.S. policy.
Who is the typical contender for the job?
There have been 26 national security advisers to the president. The first was Robert Cutler, a lawyer, War Department official and campaign adviser who served twice in the Eisenhower administration.
The position has since been filled by generals and diplomats alike, some lauded and some not ― from Kissinger (who served Nixon and Gerald Ford), to Gen. Colin Powell (under Ronald Reagan), to Condoleezza Rice (the first woman), to Susan Rice (under Barack Obama), to former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first pick who had the shortest tenure of any of them.
Bolton, who assumes his new role on April 9, is a lawyer, former official in the Justice and State departments, and onetime U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He replaces Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who served the president as national security adviser for about a year.