Just for the hell of it, let’s look for the silver lining first. If the terrifying John Bolton ends up getting hauled out of his padded crypt at the American Enterprise Institute to serve as Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, he’ll be the first dude with a ‘stache to oversee the joint since Dean Acheson was helping Harry S. Truman organize the Cold War. And what a mustache Bolton’s is, too, capable of decking impertinent barbers with a single judo chop.
But that’s about it for good news, because Bolton in charge of U.S. foreign policy would stand an excellent chance of being America’s last Secretary of State. We’ve never had a top “diplomat” who’s so openly contemptuous of diplomacy’s give-and-take. Asked once about taking a carrot-and-stick approach to negotiations, he famously answered, “I don’t do carrots.” Nor have we had a Secretary of State so sure that the U.S. playing ruthless superpower is the solution to the world’s ills. Want to guess how popular that ideology made him as George W. Bush’s 2005-2006 ambassador to the United Nations, an organization he all too predictably despises?
Bolton may make Yosemite Sam look like Mahatma Gandhi, but he isn’t the dottiest potential pick on Trump’s short list. That oddball honor goes to Rudolph Giuliani—the apparent front-runner for the gig, even if only God and the Donald know why. (Newt Gingrich, the third big name in the troika, seems to be fading out of contention, although with Trump you never know.) No matter how badly Bolton would be frothing to trade in the Secretary’s limo for a bulldozer, he does have a background in foreign affairs. Rudy? Not so much. He’s as parochial as any other New York mayor and his only federal experience was in the Justice Department—an outfit whose skillset is pretty much the opposite of State’s, at least most of the time.
It’s anybody’s guess why Giuliani even wants the post except that it’s the most illustrious reward he can extract for supporting Trump during the campaign. Except for POTUS himself, Secretaries of State are the foremost projectors of our government’s image abroad; “cacklingly sinister”—aka Guiliani’s late-life Halloween costume—is not a good look in that role. Since he was originally tipped to be the administration’s Attorney General (which makes slightly more sense), one can only imagine that Trump just asked him whether he’d prefer to scare the living crap out of Muslims worldwide or domestically.
In any case, Trump is clearly looking for a Secretary of State whose bazooka temperament mirrors his own and not someone who’s necessarily on board with the gibberish of his own foreign-policy campaign pronouncements. For instance, besides having urged a war with Iraq in 1998, three years before 9/11 provided a mighty fishy excuse for one, Bolton is an anti-Russia hard-liner who’s long wanted the U.S. to treat Vladimir Putin as the adversary he is. This could considerably gum up his hypothetical boss’s bromance with Moscow’s answer to Voldemort.
What Bolton has most in common with Giuliani though—and Gingrich, too—is that all three are mind-numbingly ill-equipped to play the traditional SoS role of being the cooler head that sometimes prevails. Trump wants a Secretary who inflames his improvised worldview, not a cautious voice of continuity and reason. Any of them could also easily provoke a State Department mutiny—something Trump might not mind a bit, since any career people who quit in despair will only open up more slots for bazookas.
As a rule, the State Department doesn’t do mutiny. Ever since the days when my Foreign Service dad (a dyed-in-the-wool JFK Democrat) was respectfully calling Richard Nixon “Mr. President” at White House briefings, the pros have taken pride in carrying on no matter who’s president, let alone who’s occupying the big office on 2201 C Street’s seventh floor. But as we all learned last week, there’s a first time for everything.