On the Issues: Bolton vs. McMaster

US President Donald J. Trump announced on March 22 that John R. Bolton will take over as the next US national security advisor on April 9. Here’s a look at some of Bolton’s positions on key foreign policy issues over the years, contrasted with those of his predecessor, LTG H.R. Mcmaster.

On North Korea


“It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”

February 28, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

“Question: How do you know that the North Korean regime is lying? Answer: Their lips are moving.”

March 9, 2018, on Fox News


“We want the resolution to be peaceful, but as the president has said, all options are on the table. And we have to be prepared if necessary to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime.”

December 19, 2017 in BBC

On Iran nuclear deal


“No fix will remedy the diplomatic Waterloo Mr. Obama negotiated.”

“Mr. Trump correctly sees Mr. Obama’s deal as a massive strategic blunder, but his advisers have inexplicably persuaded him not to withdraw,” he added.

January wrote 15, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

“Time is terribly short, but a strike [on Iranian nuclear facilities] can still succeed… Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

March 26, 2015, in the New York Times 


It is time to address the “serious flaws in the Iran deal and counter Iran’s destabilising activities including its development and proliferation of missiles.

“As a matter of international security and moral conscience we must stop doing business with (Iran Revolutionary Guard) affiliated interests, encourage the development of a true commercial sector in Iran and pressure the regime to respect the rights of its people.” 

February 17, 2018 at the Munich Security Conference

On Afghanistan/Pakistan


Afghanistan will be won or lost in Pakistan.”

August 21, 2017 on Fox News


“In Afghanistan, our heroic Afghan partners are working alongside American, NATO, and international forces to ensure a better future for their children. If we all work together, we have an opportunity to act against Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders, many of whom live in safety and luxury outside Afghanistan while plotting the murder of innocents.”

February 17, 2018 at the Munich Security Conference

On Russia


“Trump got to experience Putin looking him in the eyes and lying to him, denying Russian interference in the election. It was predictable Putin would say just that, as he has before (offering the gratuitous, nearly insulting suggestion that individual hackers might have been responsible).”

July 10, 2017, in the Telegraph


“We have to look at what Russia’s actually doing. Of course we have to counter Russia’s destabilising behaviour, and the sophisticated campaigns of propaganda and disinformation.

“I believe that Russia is engaged in a very sophisticated campaign of subversion to affect our confidence in democratic institutions, in democratic processes – including elections.”

December 19, 2017 in BBC

On China


“It’s time for constructive clarity. We support the people of Taiwan. We support their continued self-government, independent of China.”

February 27, 2017, remarks at Conservative Political Action Conference


“Geopolitics are back and are back with a vengeance after this holiday from history we took in the so-called post-Cold War period.

China and Russia “are undermining the international order and stability. They’re ignoring the sovereign rights of their neighbors and the rule of law.”

December 12, 2017 in Bloomberg

“China recognizes that this is a problem, really, between North Korea and the whole world, including a problem between North Korea and China. There used to be old talk about, ‘Well, this is really a problem between the United States and North Korea.’ China recognizes that it is in China’s interest to denuclearize the peninsula.”

January 3, 2018 on Voice of America

On Syria


“It should surprise no one that the Syrian government continues to develop new chemical weapons. The Assad regime has a record of killing its own people and the international community hasn’t done enough to deter this continuing behavior.”

February 7, 2018 on Twitter


“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing.

“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

February 17, 2018 at the Munich Security Conference

On poisoning of former Russian spy in Salisbury


“It’s an act of defiance. It’s [Russia] saying to London and the other Western capitals, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ Well, I think there should be a very strong answer to that.

“The response needs to be such that we begin to create, in Vladimir Putin’s mind, deterrence theories that he will understand, if he undertakes this again the cost that Moscow will bear will be significantly greater. That’s how deterrence works.”

March 15, 2018, on Fox News


“We believe that Russia was responsible for this attack, and we call on the Russian government to answer all questions related to this incident, and to provide full information to the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]. No nation—Russia, China, or anybody else, any other nation—should be using chemical weapons and nerve agents.”

March 15, 2018 in the Daily Beast Beast

Ashish Kumar Sen is deputy director of communications at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @AshishSen.

Rachel Ansley is assistant director of editorial content at the Atlantic Council.