Theresa May Steps Down

Cartoon by Joep Bertrams

Theresa May never had a grip on the crown that fell into her lap 

The Guardian: Theresa May will ultimately be remembered as the prime minister who was defeated by Brexit. Her task was to reconcile a nation split by the surprise referendum result. But if it was possible to achieve a graceful exit from the European Union, or indeed any exit, May utterly failed to negotiate it.

The crown had fallen unexpectedly into her lap. David Cameron and George Osborne had already catastrophically misjudged the public mood over Europe (as May was to three years later). Boris Johnson had misjudged his relationship with Michael Gove.

She gave the appearance of the only remaining grown-up in the race, and when her last remaining rival, Andrea Leadsom, pulled out, May entered No 10 in July 2016, just three weeks after the referendum. However, the meticulous but cautious home secretary had had no real time to work up an agenda for government.

There was no obvious blueprint for Brexit, which May had, ironically, come out against during the referendum campaign. So as the new prime minister arrived in Downing Street, she made a pledge about something else.

May promised to fight “burning injustice” – and on her first day in office said she aimed to reverse the disadvantages of race, class, gender and even youth. She fired Osborne, brought in chief Brexiter Johnson as foreign secretary and promised in her first party conference speech “change is going to come”.

They were ideas that came from one of the two key advisers in the first phase of her premiership, Nick Timothy, who sought to position May as a supporter of ordinary Britons. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere,” she declared in an anti-elitist sideswipe from the same conference speech.

In reality, May delivered only limited social reforms. Ultimately, Brexit dominated her premiership and, in the end, little else could be achieved.

She repeatedly described politics as a duty, sticking to her Brexit plans with a grim determination or stubbornness that surprised and ultimately alienated even her closest supporters. Famously introverted, she relied on a tight circle of advisers – officials and aides normally – and rarely on elected colleagues.

But she struggled to engender loyalty among those who once served her closely. Key supporters were easily discarded and many later turned on her – Timothy, who took the blame for the 2017 election disaster, or Gavin Williamson who propped her up after it only to be sacked from the cabinet two years later over the Huawei leaks.

Chris Wilkins, a speechwriter who had worked with her as home secretary and prime minister, said: “There was a long period when I would have run through walls for her. But once she you had stopped working for her, there was no warmth, no ongoing relationship.”

The new prime minister began uncompromisingly enough though. She made a Brexit speech at the same 2016 party conference promising that Britain would become “a fully independent, sovereign country”.

It was a hard Brexit vision that implied leaving the customs union and single market, which it was not obvious a majority of Britons had voted for. But it defined the pure Brexit that for her gradually growing numbers of rightwing critics became an article of faith >>>

Trump Time

Cartoon by Arcadio Esquivel

Tensions rise between Pompeo and Bolton

CNN: Washington (CNN)As national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jockey for influence amid a variety of pressing international concerns, including Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, there is growing tension between the two men, four people familiar with the matter say.

That tension, sources say, doesn't stem so much from policy differences as it does from clashes over their personal operating styles.

Multiple sources tell CNN that Bolton's more calculating methods have rubbed Pompeo the wrong way and caused him to feel that Bolton is overstepping the role of national security adviser and infringing on his turf as the country's top foreign policy official.

That has fueled a sense around the administration that, as one source puts it, "John Bolton is playing secretary of state," and that he has taken too vocal a role, including on Twitter, on some of the most critical conflicts.

While internal tension over national security matters is nothing new, a source who has witnessed the conflict between Bolton and Pompeo describes it as spilling over in national security meetings at the White House.

"There are disagreements and they're noticed," said the person. Other sources who have been in meetings with Bolton and Pompeo however say they have kept things cordial.

In the year or so that Pompeo and Bolton have been in their current jobs, they have been more or less aligned on policy. Both men consider themselves hawks on foreign affairs. Both favored tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and striking a harder line with Russia, China and even some of America's allies. Though they did not have a close relationship before they came into the Trump administration, Bolton's PAC did endorse and contribute to Pompeo's 2014 congressional race so there was a familiarity between the two.

Still, Pompeo and Bolton have diverged dramatically when it comes to how they operate, fueling a growing animosity between the two men, sources say.

While Pompeo is careful with his public statements, and more diplomatic in his efforts to build consensus, Bolton has taken a more vocal approach publicly, tweeting and putting himself front and center in certain policy debates. Bolton, a veteran government operative with experience in four Republican administrations, also prefers to use backdoor approaches to limit information and decision-making to small groups.

Appearing on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Tuesday, Pompeo downplayed any notion of a split between him and Bolton on Iran policy.

"There's no difference between and amongst us. Those make great stories. They're wonderful for coffee klatches and social parties in Washington, D.C.," said Pompeo. "I get the parlor game. But make no mistake about it. These are complicated issues that we're all trying to work through, and we're trying to get to the right answer so that we can deliver to the President of the United States."

"This is another tall tale using gossip as sourcing," said National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis. "Amb. Bolton is pursuing the President's national security agenda, and has a strong working relationship with Secretary Pompeo."

"The Administration is united on policy," Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokesperson told CNN.

Bolton the operator

As national security adviser, one of Bolton's primary responsibilities is to facilitate interagency coordination but he has, at times, opted to use his role to circumvent what he believes to be bureaucratic roadblocks and push his own message even if it is inconsistent with what is coming from Pompeo or other agencies.

Since becoming national security adviser last April, Bolton has convened fewer "principals meetings" of top level cabinet officials to hash out foreign policy and strategy, according to people familiar with the matter.

Instead, Bolton has preferred to arrange shorter and more informal sessions with the President and other National Security Council officials, believing that a smaller environment is better suited to Trump's style. As a result, the NSC is now more effective in driving decisions than it was under McMaster, according to a source familiar with the internal process.

But Bolton's critics suggest the approach is designed to keep opposing views from reaching the President, and that he is centralizing the national security adviser role into a decision-making perch instead of a position meant to funnel information to the President.

At times, that's left other top-ranking officials, including Pompeo, feeling excluded and out of the loop.

During a recent debate over how to handle North Korea, Bolton left Pompeo off messages he sent to the CIA that included a list of questions he wanted answered, according to a source in the intelligence community.

That infuriated Pompeo, who as secretary of state has led negotiations with the North Koreans. In its replies to Bolton, the CIA started sharing information with both Bolton and Pompeo.

Afterward, as a way to keep intelligence to himself, Bolton started having his deputy, Allison Hooker, call up the CIA for information ahead of meetings with Trump.

Bolton regularly coordinates with core intelligence officials, those close to him say, as evident by his recent trip to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to review intelligence related to Iran.

Two former senior intelligence officials tell CNN that Bolton convened the meeting at CIA not because the material was so sensitive it had to be reviewed on site, but because it was an easy way to keep people out, namely State Department officials and career staffers on the NSC who are outside Bolton's inner circle.

"John's predilection is to do it all himself and that impinges on Pompeo," says one person with knowledge of the inner workings of both the White House and State Department. This person considers Bolton a friend yet believes he is not running the National Security Council properly. "The NSC is overreaching," this person says >>>

Peace Plan

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

Trump's economic peace plan for Mideast is doomed before it begins

By Hadas Gold and Andrew Carey

Jerusalem (CNN) - The White House's economic workshop, the first step in its much-heralded Mideast peace plan, puts investment in the Palestinian economy front and center.

But leading Palestinian businessmen say they will stay away from the conference, scheduled to take place in Bahrain at the end of next month.

The workshop is purposely focused on the economic aspect, with finance ministers, business leaders and donors invited to take part, but assiduously avoids hot button political issues such as borders, settlements and the status of Jerusalem.

Bashar Al Masri, the man behind the creation of Rawabi, a new planned Palestinian town in the West Bank aimed at fostering economic regeneration, wrote on Facebook that he would not participate in the meeting -- and nor would anyone else from his companies.

"We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus," he wrote, explaining his decision. "We Palestinians are capable of advancing our economy away from external interventions. The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now being asked differently, and as our people have previously rejected it, we reject it now."

In a similar vein, Palestinian-American business consultant Sam Bahour, based in the West Bank, writing in the online magazine +972, described the proposed workshop as the latest attempt by the Trump administration to "batter the Palestinians into political surrender" using money as its "weapon of choice."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, through his spokesman, said an economic focus was "futile" without a conversation about the political horizon.

The Palestinian Authority hasn't spoken to the Trump administration at an official level since December 2017, when the US President recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's Secretary General Dr. Saeb Erekat said in a statement to CNN that the group had not been consulted ahead of the announcement, and that such attempts to promote an "economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected."

"This is not about improving living conditions under occupation, but about reaching Palestine's full potential by ending the Israeli occupation,"Erekat said.

"The basic requirements for peace are well known within the context of full implementation of the long overdue inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as per international law and UN resolutions, with an independent State of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem its capital and a just solution to all final status issues based on international law and the Arab Peace Initiative," he said, referring to a peace plan from 2002 proposed by Saudi Arabia.

Ghassan Al Khatib, a former Palestinian minister and political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, told CNN the workshop would be a "complete failure" because the Palestinian leadership will not attend.

"I think the Arab potential donors are not going to be enthusiastic to contribute, mainly because of the absence of the Palestinian leadership. So, I don't expect success in this," Al Khatib said. "It's only crazy people who would think to gamble with their money and invest in the Palestinian territories, given the Israeli restrictions that are making investments impossible and not profitable." >>>

John Bolton's Dream

Cartoon by Pete Kreiner

Opinion: Who gets to decide about war with Iran?

The Seattle Times: It doesn’t happen often, but when I agree with President Donald Trump I acknowledge it: Last week a reporter shouted a question at the president: Are we going to war with Iran? The president replied, “I hope not.” So should we all.

But to hope is to relinquish agency and power over the course of events, implying that others have as much or more control than we do. Who actually has the power to spark a disastrous war with Iran?

The Trump administration’s approach to Iran feels dangerously confrontational, as well as improvisational and haphazard. Clearly, many of the administration’s actions are belligerent: the abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, the designation of the Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, the termination of waivers for countries that trade with Iran and the movement of an aircraft carrier into the region.

But none of this means that war is inevitable. Despite these aggressive actions, the president appears to be hesitating. He says, as he often does, “We’ll see what happens.” But this is a disconcerting relinquishment of power to others.

Could the mullahs who control Iran or the Revolutionary Guards start the war? Easily. An attack on an American vessel or American troops would make war nearly inevitable. The mullahs, however, may be fanatical, but they’re not irrational, and such an attack would not serve their interests as well as do negotiations with the Europeans.

A war could easily be sparked, as well, by an attack from one of the 30 or so Shia militias in the area that have varying degrees of affiliation with Iran.

Or more likely, perhaps, a simple miscalculation could start the war.

In short, peace hangs by a thinner thread than usual in the Middle East, and the Trump administration is granting other factions significant control over what happens next.

Why is war with Iran such a bad idea? I depend on the insights of experts — academics, diplomats and journalists such as Vali Nasr, Sandra Mackey and Kenneth Pollack — to help explain why we should not fight Iran.

Apart from Israel, politics in the Middle East is driven by two balancing factions: One is Persian and Shiite (Iran); the other is Arab and Sunni (Saudi Arabia). We probably should not take sides, at all, but to the extent that we have, we have chosen the wrong side. Iran could be a natural ally; Saudi Arabia has a lot to answer for.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia dates only to 1932, and it’s always been a family-run monarchy. Iranians, on the other hand, trace their origins back two millennia, to the great Persian empires of Cyrus and Xerxes. Iranians’ pride in their history cannot be discounted in negotiations or in the contemplation of war.

Further, Iran has democratic tendencies unheard of in Saudi Arabia. Inclinations toward democracy date to the Iranian revolution of 1906, which replaced a dynasty with a constitution and parliament. Unfortunately Iranian democracy was thwarted by the oil-hungry West, first by the British in 1921 and then by the United States in 1953.

For most of the 20th century Iran was ruled by a tyrannical shah supported by the U.S. as a bulwark against communism. His autocratic, corrupt, repressive regime made the 1979 revolution almost inevitable.

But despite the oppressive theocracy imposed by the mullahs, Iran has a young population that is inclined toward moderation, openness and modernity.

Yes, Iranians are involved in disruptive activities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, but they are playing hardball on their home field in a game that we hardly understand.

Iran’s history implies that it will respond better to respectful diplomacy than to threats and intimidation. Yet here we are, on the brink of war, and others are fully capable of tipping us into the abyss.

In fact, however, neither Trump nor the mullahs nor the Shia militias should be able to control whether we go to war. That power resides in Article I of the Constitution, which reserves for congress the responsibility “To Declare War.” Democrats and Republicans must insist on this prerogative.

John M. Crisp is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.

Drum of War

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

Guess who doesn't want war with Iran? Trump supporters 

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books on international affairs

The Guardian: Supporters of Donald Trump who hoped that he would adopt a new, less interventionist foreign policy for the United States have ample reasons to feel disappointed. The administration’s increasingly belligerent policy toward Iran, which may lead to war, is just the most recent case in which the president has betrayed those supporters.

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly condemned Washington’s regime-change wars and nation-building crusades. Much to the shock and fury of the other Republican candidates, he did not confine his criticism to policies that Barack Obama’s administration pursued; instead he excoriated George W Bush for the Iraq war and the seemingly endless military mission in Afghanistan.

An increasingly war-weary American public seemed receptive to Trump’s message. Even a sizable faction of Republican voters broke with the party’s more conventional presidential candidates, who continued to express rote endorsements of Bush’s actions and the underlying policy rationale. Those voters also reacted favorably to Trump’s demands for greater burden-sharing by Washington’s allies in Europe and east Asia.

It is hard to measure just how large a factor Trump’s break with the bipartisan orthodoxy on foreign policy was in his demolition of opponents in the Republican primaries and his upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the general election. But it certainly was a factor. Even voters who were wary about some of Trump’s other policy views – and questions about his character and demeanor– were uneasy about Clinton’s hawkish record.

As secretary of state, she had been a key architect of the Obama administration’s ill-advised military intervention to unseat Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi – a move that created chaos in that country. After she left office, Clinton lobbied heavily for a similar US intervention to help rebels overthrow the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps most troubling, she pushed for a highly confrontational policy toward Russia, even comparing President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Antagonizing a nuclear-armed power did not seem like a prudent strategy to worried voters who then gravitated toward Trump’s call for improved US relations with Moscow.

Once in office, though, it was not long before Trump’s actions contrasted sharply with his campaign rhetoric. Vice-President Mike Pence and the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, quickly assured the European allies of Washington’s undying devotion to its Nato commitments. Trump himself voiced similar sentiments. Although he also continued making brusque demands for greater burden-sharing, such comments undercut the latter message >>>

Dangerous Decline

Cartoon by The New Yorker

Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the summary of which was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, meeting on 29 April – 4 May in Paris.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said.

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz (Argentina), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Josef Settele (Germany) and Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio (Brazil and USA). “The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reefforming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius – with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics – impacts expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Prof. Brondízio. “Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions.” >>>

Bicycle Ban

Cartoon by Touka Neyestani

CHRI: Isfahan Prosecutor Bans “Sinful Act” of Women Riding Bicycles

Trump's Iran Deal

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

Saudi Newspaper, Owned by MBS' Brother, Urges U.S. 'Surgical Strikes' on Iran

Haaretz: A state-aligned Saudi newspaper is calling for "surgical" U.S. strikes in retaliation against alleged threats from Iran.

The Arab News published an editorial in English on Thursday, arguing that after incidents this week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step "should be surgical strikes."

It added that it's "clear that [U.S.] sanctions are not sending the right message" and that Iran "must be hit hard," without elaborating on what specific targets should be struck.

The newspaper's publisher is the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a company that had long been chaired by various sons of King Salman until 2014 and is regarded as reflecting official position. Turki bin Salman al Saud owns the group and is the brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia's deputy defense minister on Thursday accused Iran of ordering an attack on Saudi oil pumping stations which Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia claimed responsibility for.

The attack "proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda," tweeted Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of King Salman.

"The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts."

The Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen for four years, said they carried out Tuesday's drone strikes against the East-West pipeline, which caused a fire but Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports.

Other Saudi officials fired off similar tweets, ratcheting up pressure on the kingdom's regional archenemy amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran over sanctions and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf.

"The Houthis are an integral part of the Revolutionary Guard forces of Iran and follow their orders, as proven by them targeting installations in the kingdom," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir tweeted.

The ambassador to Yemen followed up, writing that the Houthis had "made Yemen a platform for Iranian terrorism against Yemenis and their interests, and a tool to attack Saudi Arabia."

The coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western nations, carried out airstrikes on Thursday in and around the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa. It intervened in 2015 to restore Yemen's internationally recognised government.

The drone attack happened two days after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were damaged by sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The other ships were a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE-flagged bunker barge.

The most dangerous man in the world

Cartoon by R.J. Matson

Is John Bolton the most dangerous man in the world?

The Guardian: Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton wants the United States to go to war with Iran.

We know this because he has been saying it for nearly two decades.

And everything that the Trump administration has done over its Iran policy, particularly since Bolton became Trump’s top foreign policy adviser in April of 2018, must be viewed through this lens, including the alarming US military posturing in the Middle East of the past two weeks.

Just after one month on the job, Bolton gave Trump the final push he needed to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, which at the time was (and still is, for now) successfully boxing in Iran’s nuclear program and blocking all pathways for Iran to build a bomb. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the Iran deal is formally known – was the biggest obstacle to Bolton’s drive for a regime change war, because it eliminated a helpful pretext that served so useful to sell the war in Iraq 17 years ago.

Since walking away from the deal, the Trump administration has claimed that with a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, it can achieve a “better deal” that magically turns Iran into a Jeffersonian democracy bowing to every and any American wish. But this has always been a fantastically bad-faith argument meant to obscure the actual goal (regime change) and provide cover for the incremental steps – the crushing sanctions, bellicose rhetoric, and antagonizing military maneuvers – that have now put the United States closer to war with Iran than it has been since at least the latter half of the Bush administration, or perhaps ever.

And Bolton has no qualms about manipulating or outright ignoring intelligence to advance his agenda, which is exactly what’s happening right now.

In his White House statement 10 days ago announcing (an already pre-planned) carrier and bomber deployment to the Middle East, Bolton cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran to justify the bolstered US military presence. But multiple sources who have seen the same intelligence have since said that Bolton and the Trump administration blew it “out of proportion, characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was”. Even a British general operating in the region pushed back this week, saying he has seen no evidence of an increased Iranian threat.

What’s even more worrying is that Bolton knows what he’s doing. He’s “a seasoned bureaucratic infighter who has the skills to press forcefully for his views” – and he has a long history of using those skills to undermine American diplomacy and work toward killing arms control agreements.

As a senior official in the George W Bush administration, he played key role in the collapse of the Agreed Framework, the Clinton-era deal that froze North Korea’s plutonium nuclear program (the North Koreans tested their first bomb four years later).

He said he “felt like a kid on Christmas day” after he orchestrated the US withdrawal from the international criminal court in 2002. And now as a senior official in the Trump administration, he pushed for the US to withdrawal from a crucial nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

While it’s unclear how much of a role he played in scuttling Trump’s negotiations with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi last year, he publicly called for the so-called “Libya model” with the North Koreans (in other words, regime change by force). Just months before joining the administration, he tried to make the legal case for a preventive war against Pyongyang. And if you think he cares about the aftermath of war with North Korea, he doesn’t. Bolton was reportedly “unmoved” by a presentation during his time in the Bush administration of the catastrophic consequences of such a war. “I don’t do war. I do policy,” he said then.

So far, Bolton has been successful in moving the United States toward his desired outcome with Iran – if getting the Pentagon to draw up plans to send 120,000 US troops to the region to confront Iran is any indication. There are hopeful signs that we can avoid war, as US officials and our European allies, seemingly alarmed by what Bolton is up to, are sounding the alarm about the Trump administration skewing intelligence on Iran.

But Bolton is on a fast track, seemingly aware that Trump’s time in office may be limited. The question, ultimately, is whether the president can stick to his instincts of avoiding more military conflict, or acquiesce to a man hellbent on boxing him into a corner with no way out other than war with Iran.

Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress.

Trump's war whisperer

Cartoon by Steve Sack

John Bolton is Donald Trump's war whisperer

by Peter Bergen 

CNN: John Bolton, President Trump's national security adviser, seemingly hasn't met a war he doesn't love.

Bolton was a prominent proponent of the Iraq War and he has never evinced any doubt about the wisdom of that decision, telling the Washington Examiner four years ago, "I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct."

By contrast, last year President Trump said the Iraq War was "the single worst decision ever made."

Just before he was installed a little over a year ago as Trump's national security adviser, Bolton advocated for a pre-emptive war against North Korea in the Wall Street Journal.

The US government is now ramping up tensions with the volatile North Korean regime, announcing Thursday that it had "recently" taken into custody a North Korean ship that was defying sanctions on the nuclear-armed state -- the first time the US has taken such an action.

But Trump's general approach on North Korea has been to engage in negotiations with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

In recent weeks Bolton pushed for a coup in Venezuela involving opposition leader Juan Guaido that was believed to have the backing of key officers of the nation's military. The US-backed uprising seems to have fizzled.

Trump has since expressed frustration to White House officials about Bolton's overly aggressive Venezuela policy.

On Thursday, President Trump said that he actually moderates the bellicose Bolton: "I'm the one who tempers him, which is OK. I have John Bolton and I have people who are a little more dovish than him."

Bolton's enthusiasm for the muscular use of the military seems out of place in the administration of a President who has repeatedly questioned and sought to end America's wars in the Middle East.

Yet while Trump and Bolton may be out of step with each other on policy toward Venezuela and North Korea, one country they both seem to be on the same page about is Iran.

Bolton, 70, has espoused deeply conservative views since he was a teenager. The son of a Baltimore firefighter, Bolton worked on the Barry Goldwater Republican presidential campaign in 1964, and he later interned for President Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew. Bolton went to Yale and then to Yale Law School. He has worked in Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan's first term.

Bolton has long rejected any constraints on American power. The happiest moment Bolton had when he was working for the US State Department was when he "unsigned" the agreement that made the United States a party to the International Criminal Court, which he saw as a risk for US political and military leaders who might be charged with war crimes. After Bolton pulled the United States out of the agreement in 2002, he said he felt like a kid on Christmas Day.

When Bolton became Trump's national security adviser, he ensured that anyone on the International Criminal Court who was investigating American soldiers or intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan was denied visas to the United States.

Bolton's dislike of the Iranian regime is longstanding. In 2015, Bolton wrote in the New York Times that the United States should bomb Iran because "Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program," which is exactly what Iran did that same year when it negotiated an agreement with the Obama administration to halt its nuclear weapons program.

The New York Times reported Monday that Bolton has ordered up military options that were presented to top Trump national security officials last week. They include the potential deployment of as many as 120,000 American troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American targets in the region or resumes work on its nuclear weapons program >>>

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.