Former National Security Leaders Uneasy With Bolton's Tough Talk

(Bloomberg) -- Two former national security officials said Sunday they don’t agree with the saber-rattling rhetoric of President Donald Trump’s pick to become the new national security chief.

John Bolton, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and proponent of the 2003 Iraq War best known for his hawkish views, has spoken in interviews about the need for preemptive strikes against North Korea. Trump’s appointment of Bolton last week raises questions about whether he will take a militaristic approach, said Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Democrat and Republican presidents.

“I wonder, are we going backwards in terms of those countries we’ve focused on the past, and the ‘axis of evil,’ the ones that still present huge challenges for us,” Mullen said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser for President George W. Bush, said on ABC that Bolton’s comments were “a little bit extreme for my taste.”

Speaking on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the appointment “a disastrous pick” and questioned whether Bolton can get a full security clearance because of reports about a speech he gave in Russia in 2013.

Read more: This is John Bolton’s view of the world

“These kinds of contacts raise real questions in my mind about whether he could get a full security clearance or not,” Kaine said.

Mullen and Hadley said Trump deserves to have a national security team he is comfortable with and that it is the president who ultimately makes foreign policy, not advisers such as Bolton.

While Hadley said he didn’t agree with the heightened rhetoric sometimes favored by Trump and Bolton, the administration deserved some credit for its tough talk on North Korea -- which may have helped pressure that nation to agree to talks with Trump.

“They’ve set the table pretty well for these conversations,” he said. “And that’s going to be a real opportunity for the president and for John Bolton.”

Bolton is a good choice, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who sits on the Armed Services Committee

“John Bolton is the right guy at the right time with a world view that I think will reinforce the president’s instincts to go after our enemies and reinforce our allies,” Graham said Friday on Fox News.

Still, the appointment of Bolton makes the job of Secretary of Defense James Mattis “tougher,” Mullen said. Mattis is one of the few holdovers from Trump’s initial national security team and is seen as having a tempering influence on the president.

“I am hopeful that Mattis can continue to influence, to a point where we lead with diplomacy and not with the military,” Mullen said.

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