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On Bolton's First Day, a Huge Foreign Policy Decision Awaits

New national security adviser will have to help president shape response to Syria
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2018 10:04 AM CDT
On Bolton's First Day, a Huge Foreign Policy Decision Awaits
Then-US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 24, 2017, in Oxon Hill, Md.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(Newser) – Monday is the first official day on the job for John Bolton, President Trump's "hawkish" new national security adviser. Bolton takes over for HR McMaster just as the Trump administration is facing one of its biggest foreign policy decisions yet—how to respond to an apparent chemical attack on civilians in Syria. Trump himself already has suggested that Syria and ally Russia will pay a "big price," and Bolton's first big task will be to help determine what that might be, reports CNN. Details and developments:

  • Days away: Any such decision is likely a "few days" away as investigators determine exactly what kind of chemical weapons were used, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bolton's immediate job is to gather assessments from the military, civilian, and intelligence components of the US national security operation to find common ground on a response, per CNN.

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  • Options: Axios lays out the basics, beginning with a punitive but relatively "limited" response of a missile strike similar to one the US launched last year on a Syrian air base. More aggressive options would be to take out a large part of the Syrian air force and to drop the idea of withdrawing US troops from Syria. One expert quoted says the US would be wise to make any military response a coalition effort, perhaps with France as a co-leader. The big wild card is how Vladimir Putin responds.
  • Bolton's history: He has publicly advocated for a more aggressive stance against Syria's Bashar Assad, saying just last month on Fox News that military strikes would be "justified," per Haaretz.
  • Trump's choice: Trump has made clear that he wants to bring US troops home from Syria, but his angry tweet over the weekend about the chemical attack suggests that he also wants to punish Assad. "The seesaw of withdrawal and deeper engagement, without the articulation of a clear strategy for the region, is sure to confuse allies and enemies alike," write Ben Hubbard and Julie Hirschfeld Davis at the New York Times in an analysis exploring the quandary.
  • Check against Bolton: His hawkish views emerged in the era after the Cold War, when US power went largely unchallenged, writes Elizabeth Saunders in the Washington Post. That era is no more, and Bolton and Trump "will have less power to shape other regions' conflicts than they may wish."
  • Another departure: As Bolton arrives, the top national security spokesman, Michael Anton, is on his way out. Anton was no mere spokesman, however; he has been "one of the earliest and sharpest defenders of (Trump's) 'America First' foreign policy," reports Politico.
(Read more John Bolton stories.)

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