The Trump administration has been steadily revealing the President-Elect’s future cabinet since his election, and, from RNC Chair Reince Priebus being named as Chief of Staff to Executive Chairman of Breitbart News (and white supremacist) Stephen Bannon taking a top-level strategist job, there has been no shortage of controversy over the potential picks. One name that has been recently floated for Secretary of State is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and long-time Yalie, John Bolton YC ’70, LAW ’74.
Although other names have been added to the short list for the office, such as former New York City major Rudy Giuliani, his biggest competition, and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, several sources have reported that they are still leaning towards selecting Bolton. So, what does U.S. diplomacy look like under the leadership of someone that the Huffington Post called an “enemy of Russia and Iran who is among the most hawkish members of the Republican foreign policy community”?
During his tenure as Bush’s undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security, he gained a reputation as a warmonger among Washington’s inner circles with his fierce and unyielding support of the Iraq war based on the false claim that Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction. His approach to foreign policy has been described as Darwinian, forgoing peaceful resolution and treaties for a destructive battle of arms where only the strongest nations will survive. In a 2015 op-ed in The New York Times, he voiced his support for military action in Iran as a quicker alternative to the deal that Obama has diligently worked to get through Congress.
“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program,” he wrote. “Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action…can accomplish what is required.”
But before he made his mark as the Bush administration’s bulldog, Bolton was a Bulldog here at our beloved New Haven institution, spending four years as an undergrad in Calhoun and four more as a law student (and Clinton classmate). He was a member of the Yale Political Union and “the conservative underground,” as he put it in a speech he made at the zenith of anti-Vietnam protests on campus. Most of his extracurricular revolved around his Republican affiliation: he was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Conservative, executive emeritus of the Conservative Party (now the Independent Party), and participated in the Yale Young Republicans. He found himself troubled by the liberal majority on campus—and students’ inclination to “politicize everything.”
“During the late 60s, the big issue was obviously the war in Vietnam—but what was most troubling was how the students from the left wanted to politicize everything, whether you ate granola for breakfast or whether you attended classes when they wanted to strike. Everything became politicized and I just thought that was outrageous in and of itself—but it all centered around the Vietnam war and all of that,” Bolton told Brietbart in an interview last year.
However, those who knew him well on campus painted a picture of a much quieter, more reserved guy. His roommate, Bruce Krueger ’70, described him “very much a subdued, thoughtful, cordial sort of guy,” calling his bellicose behavior “out of character for him.” He was also on a partial scholarship, taking out a loan and working an assortment of jobs to support himself. He originally came from a working class family and earned admission to a high-end prep school, the McDonough School in Maryland, eventually organizing the unsuccessful 1964 Students for Goldwater campaign there. He did not abandon his conservative beliefs amidst Yale’s tumultuous changing political and increasingly leftist climate, studying political science and graduating just a year after women were first admitted to the college. He described feeling like somewhat of an outsider, both because of his beliefs and his socioeconomic standing.
“I certainly didn’t have any relatives who made any contributions or were alumni or anything—I wasn’t an alumni’s son or anything like that,” Bolton commented.
He graduated summa cum laude and entered law school after a stint in the National Guard. Despite his public character as an aggressive mustached radical, those who knew him at Yale still see him has a “virtuous person,” says Bob Stein ’70, who “had opinions, but…wasn’t a bully,” says Charles Jefferson ’70. And if he were to be appointed as Secretary of State, he would be the third consecutive Yale grad to do so, which bodes well for the university’s standing in the international community.
Still, there are still many people, including Democrats, Republicans, and outsiders, who think he’s a dangerous choice for the job. Just take it from Rand Paul:
“Rumors are that Donald Trump might pick John Bolton for Secretary of State,” he wrote in an op-ed this past Tuesday. “Heaven forbid.”