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PolitiFact: Tucker Carlson falsely claims John Bolton was ‘man of the left’

Carlson said Bolton was “one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson (left) and former national security adviser John Bolton [Associated Press]
Fox News host Tucker Carlson (left) and former national security adviser John Bolton [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 14

Fox News host Tucker Carlson celebrated the departure of former national security adviser John Bolton, saying the moustachioed war hawk was actually a lefty.

"If you’re wondering why so many progressives are mourning Bolton’s firing tonight, it’s because Bolton himself fundamentally was a man of the left," Carlson said Sept. 10 on his show.

Carlson said Bolton was "one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration" and alleged that he "promoted Obama loyalists within the National Security Council."

"There was not a human problem John Bolton wasn’t totally convinced could be solved with the brute force of government," Carlson said. "That’s an assumption of the left, not the right."

"Don’t let the moustache fool you," he added.

But it’s Carlson’s claims about the former national security adviser that are ridiculous. (Fox News did not respond to requests for comment.)

A lifelong conservative

First, a note about ideologies: In the United States, we tend to associate the terms "left" and "right" with the Democratic and the Republican Parties, respectively.

In that context, Carlson’s claim is "nonsense," said William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University, who previously served on staff for the Senate Democratic policy committee and the House Democratic caucus task force on Central America.

"Obviously it’s is wrong if you’re defining it in terms of Democratic versus Republican politics," added Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, chief executive officer of Valens Global, a counter-terrorism consulting firm, and a former advisor for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships under both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.

“There’s no question that, based on the American political context, he would be considered a man of the right,” Gartenstein-Ross said.l

That’s because Bolton has spent his entire career in conservative circles and served in every GOP presidential administration going back to President Ronald Reagan, LeoGrande said.

Here are just a few examples of Bolton’s work prior to joining the Trump administration:

• In high school, Bolton volunteered to campaign for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who lost to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 general election.

• Bolton spent the 1972 summer between law school semesters interning for Vice President Spiro Agnew of President Richard Nixon’s administration.

• Bolton joined the Reagan administration in the Agency for International Development in 1981, serving a year as general counsel and a year in an administrative role. He later moved to Reagan’s Justice Department, where he was the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs from 1985 to 1988 and assistant attorney general for a year in 1988.

• Bolton took over in 1989 as the State Department’s assistant secretary for international organization affairs under President George H.W. Bush. He held that post until 1993.

• Bolton served in 2005 as ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, who appointed him on a "recess appointment" after the Republican-led Senate did not confirm his nomination.

• Bolton flirted with running for president in 2012 before endorsing Sen. Mitt Romney.

• Bolton worked for the conservative American Enterprise Institute and contributed to the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, for multiple years. He was also a contributor at Fox News, earning a salary of roughly $569,000 in 2017, per the Washington Post.

• Bolton created a super PAC in 2013 that contributed millions of dollars to Republican congressional candidates in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Foreign policy views

Best known for his foreign policy views, Bolton has criticized international institutions like the United Nations and called for a more aggressive stance toward hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran. He was an outspoken critic of Obama, penning op-eds, a number of tweets and a book about his policies.

But Bolton’s hawkishness — which Carlson described as a preference for "the brute force of government" — does not make him liberal, LeoGrande said. "In the foreign policy field, Bolton’s speciality, the interventionists have been conservative Republicans."

"From Central America in the 1980s to the Middle East today, conservatives have been the ones who think that the United States can get its abroad way by ‘brute force,’" he said.

Here are some of Bolton’s recent statements about foreign policy:

• In a 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bolton argued in favor of preemptively striking 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."

• In a 2015 New York Times op-ed, Bolton called for military action against Iran: "Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. 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."

• In a 2015 interview with the Washington Examiner, Bolton said he still believes invading Iraq was the right move: "I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct."

• In a 2017 Telegraph op-ed, Bolton said Russia’s interference in U.S. elections is "a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate."

• In an address at the 2018 CPAC conservative conference, Bolton called for a "massive military buildup" and "a comprehensive national debate on why preventing China from becoming the dominant world power" should be a top concern for Americans.

• In a 2018 address, Bolton said Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua represent a "troika of tyranny" and announced new sanctions against Venezuela.

The National Security Council

We also found no evidence to support Carlson’s claim that Bolton "promoted Obama loyalists within the National Security Council." (The NSC did not respond to requests for comment.)

The Washington Post and Politico detailed the shuffling that occurred after Bolton took over as national security adviser. Many officials left their posts, while others were moved to new roles. Bolton left some openings vacant and filled others with people from outside of government.

For example, Bolton brought on Mauricio Claver-Carone, a political fundraiser and lobbyist, to replace a CIA officer as the NSC director for Latin America, according to the Washington Post.

Similarly, he gave Richard Goldberg, an adviser for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a key post focused on Iran. He had Charles Kupperman, a former defense industry executive who once worked for Reagan, appointed as deputy national security adviser.

But none of them were "Obama loyalists," as far as we could tell.

On the contrary, LeoGrande said Claver-Carone "denounced Obama’s opening to Cuba and has a long history of lobbying for the hardline foreign policy positions of the Cuban-American right."

Plus, government bureaucracies like the NSC are often full of career government officials who stay on staff from one administration to the next, Gartenstein-Ross said.

"If someone has served in the Obama administration, that doesn’t mean they’re an Obama loyalist," he said. "It’s very typical for career civil servants to serve across administrations."

Our ruling

Carlson said Bolton "fundamentally was a man of the left."

Bolton spent his whole career in Republican politics, and experts said his views have always tilted more to the American right than left.

We found no proof that he had elevated "Obama loyalists," either.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!


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