One might think President Donald Trump had already gone as far he could causing chaos in the White House and in American foreign policy by firing key internal staffers and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Apparently not so.
The epidemic departure of professed experts, which also includes the lawyers seeking to protect the president from Robert Mueller's investigation, has now been crowned by President Trump's appointment of former UN ambassador John Bolton as his third national security adviser in little over a year.
Mr. Bolton is the old fire-breathing warmonger who helped push President George W. Bush to invade Iraq 15 years ago on the false grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction poised to attack America and her allies.
Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, on hearing the news of the Bolton appointment — which does not require congressional approval — tweeted: "Bolton played a key role in politicizing the intel that misled us into the Iraq War. We cannot let this extreme war hawk blunder us into another terrible conflict."
Mr. Bolton once contemptuously remarked of the 38-story United Nations building in New York that if it lost the top 10 floors, "it could not make a bit of difference." He was a bull in a china shop throughout his service there.
Only recently, he threw verbal cold water on President Trump's decision to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in late May, calling it "diplomatic shock and awe" and advising such a meeting be short and to the point. Mr. Trump, he said, should simply say this: "Tell me you have begun total denuclearization, because we're not going to have protracted negotiations. You can tell me right now or we'll start thinking of something else."
Mr. Bolton left no doubt that, in his view, that "something else" is a pre-emptive U.S. military strike on North Korea, regardless of the consequences, including the potential use of nuclear weapons for the first time since the 1945 American attacks Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "We have to ask ourselves whether we're prepared to take pre-emptive action," he said, "or live in a world where North Korea — and a lot of other people — have nuclear weapons."
Earlier this year, Mr. Bolton on Fox News called for U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear arms agreement with Iran, saying "our goal should be regime change" there. International inspection agencies have avowed that the deal, achieved by former President Barack Obama, has been holding.
Mr. Bolton's appointment as President Trump's national security adviser after the firings of Michael Flynn, now indicted for alleged lying in the Mueller investigation, and this week of H.R. McMaster, trims the roster of American ex-military leaders regarded as watchdogs on Mr. Trump's loose-cannon behavior, leaving only former Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense.
The Bolton choice, twinned with the nomination of former congressman and recent CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state to replace Mr. Tillerson, gives the president a pair of conservative hard-liners in tune with the concept of letting Trump be Trump.
Among other predictable consequences will be a comparable hardening of Democratic and other anti-Trump folks looking to the Mueller investigation, and to the congressional midterm elections in November, to find a way to short-circuit Mr. Trump's presidency.
The president's latest efforts to discredit Mr. Mueller and FBI agents assisting his work have only intensified public attention on that inquiry and the approaching elections in which the Democrats will strive to retake control of the House, thus placing the impeachment tool in their hands.
Short of that latter objective, a Democratic majority in the House would confront Mr. Trump with a much more contentious path to legislative success in the remaining two years in his first term, starting next January. But the Bolton appointment indicates the president's intention to have his way from now on with a team that will do as he tells it to do, with less backtalk than before his purge of the watchdogs and resisters in his first year.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power” (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.