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Donald Trump won in November 2016 in part because he had promised to turn a new leaf in America’s global engagements. Three years ago he spoke against his opponent’s imperial delusions, voiced doubt about the utility of NATO, expressed certainty that he’d find a common language with Putin (declaring Crimea none of our business), promised there would be no more U.S-led wars in the Middle East (calling the war in Iraq “disastrous”), and pledged there would be no more regime-change operations.
All this was sacrilege to the duopoly of liberal-globalist hawks and neoconservative global hegemonists. These two cosmopolitan camps may differ on many more or less peripheral legislative matters, but on the big issue of opposing Trump’s foreign heresies they are virtually indistinguishable. Giving up the desire to dominate the world was never acceptable to most politicians, to the controllers of the mainstream media discourse and taxpayer-subsidized think-tank nomenklatura. More seriously, key components of the intelligence, national-security and military-industrial machines united in resisting Trump’s attempt to revamp realist criteria in defining “interests” and “threats.” The Swamp pulled ranks, with six lamentable results:
The seemingly irreversible continuity of Washington’s global strategy is apparent in a 250-page dossier published in early May by the official school of the United States’ Special Operations Command. It documents a decades-long history of Pentagon-backed interference around the world, in order to provide guidelines on how best to approach such efforts in the present and future. Support to Resistance: Strategic Purpose and Effectiveness was compiled by Army Special Forces veteran Will Irwin of the official Joint Special Operations University. It provides an exhaustive analysis, in 47 case studies, of the methods used by the U.S. to undermine and overthrow foreign governments between 1941 and 2003. Notably, the numerous U.S.-orchestrated coups d’etats since World War II were not even listed, “as they did not involve legitimate resistance movements.”
This “benchmark reference on resistance movements for the benefit of the special operations community and its civilian leadership” was published too late for John Bolton to study before promoting and engineering the farcical regime change attempt in Venezuela. It probably would not have helped him anyway. Bolton is not only misguided in his assumptions, he is also shockingly unsubtle in his policy arguments and incompetent in their execution, forgetting nothing and learning nothing in the course of four decades of public life.
As Martin Sieff has pointed out, Bolton failed to prevent the first president to take him seriously, Ronald Reagan, to agree to major arms reductions with Mikhail Gorbachev and to push ahead to dismantle the Cold War and effectively win it. “These policies,” Sieff writes, “were anathema to Bolton who prophesied—falsely—that war and catastrophe would flow from them.” But Reagan ignored him. Now Bolton has taken revenge by contributing to the destruction one of Reagan’s greatest achievements, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. He had helped provoke the U.S. invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, but nevertheless failed to persuade him to pull out of any arms control treaties whatsoever.
By now it looks like the Swamp has turned its would-be drainer into its pliant captive. Until March 22, 2018, when the White House announced that John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, it was still possible to imagine that Trump’s many compromises with the globalist-hegemonist establishment had been made under duress. This may have been true once, but it has not been true for at least a year. He has ventured beyond mere surrender under duress to adopt the mindset of his Deep State captors.
John Bolton is not just a trigger-happy neoconservative (a label he rejects in favor of "Goldwater conservative"); he is a war hawk on steroids. As President George W. Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control, he was a strident advocate of attack on Iraq both before and after 9-11. “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq,” Bolton said in early 2002, and reiterated the claim ad nauseam. All along, he knowingly misrepresented and distorted intelligence findings on WMD’s, disregarded or actively suppressed contrary information, and subjected his dissenting or skeptical subordinates to grossly abusive treatment. All of that has been attested by subsequent Congressional reports; but over the years Bolton has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he said in 2015 of the Iraqi debacle. “I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces.”
Exactly four years ago Bolton advocated an Israeli attack on Iran, which would be followed by active U.S. support. “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he wrote. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.” His overall policy recommendation was simple: “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” John McCain approved then, and would approve now . . .
Bolton’s support of groupiscule of obscure Iranian exiles, known as the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK, or People’s Mujahedeen), as America's regime-change partners is a carbon copy of the trust George W. Bush’s administration—on Bolton’s insistence—put in the dubious figure of Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq or Zalil Khalilzad in Afghanistan. Having materially contributed to America’s disastrous involvement in Iraq, John Bolton wants to repeat the exercise on a much grander scale with Iran. It is difficult to think of another great power (today, or at any other age, or region) which would allow a strident advocate of provenly disastrous policies to regain a position of power and influence . . . without ever accepting the error of his past ways, but instead pushing for an even bloodier, riskier repeat of those policies. After the Varian Disaster in 9 CE, no sane Roman suggested sending another army into the forests east of the Rhine. Kara Mustafa Pasha’s reward for the failed siege of Vienna in 1683 was a silk cord around the neck, not the authority to launch another campaign.
Predictably enough, Bolton also advocates a confrontational course with Russia. The Kremlin’s unproven interference in the 2016 presidential election was, in Bolton’s view, a “true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate.” In July 2017, after Putin told Trump that the accusations of meddling were untrue, Bolton asserted that he was “lying with the benefit of the best KGB training.” In February 2018 he advocated a retaliatory cyber campaign against Russia which should be so “decidedly disproportionate” and the costs to them so high “that they will simply consign all their cyber-warfare plans to their computer memories to gather electronic dust.” He also wanted Putin to “hear the rumble of artillery and NATO tank tracks conducting more joint field exercises with Ukraine’s military.”
After the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripial in England, Bolton duly supported the unsubstantiated claim of Russian guilt by the British government and suggested a “very strong answer” from the Western world. In his comments he even managed to pack two Eurasian giants together with the regimes he sees fit for violent replacement: “Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea . . . these are regimes that make agreements and lie about them.” His Russophobia is geopolitical rather than cultural and emotional, as evidenced by his fondness for the rumble of Abrams M1A1s along the Dniepr, but the effect on policies is the same: dangerous, unnecessary, open-ended escalation of tensions.
Bolton’s unrepentant views on the war Iraq, and his crude, visceral positions on other key issues of the day, are a scandal. Far from coordinating, evaluating and presenting policy ideas coming from different departments, which is his theoretical role at the NSC helm, Bolton is trying to get the President to adopt his own worldview and accept his confrontational proposals. Inconvenient assessments passing through Bolton’s hands are doctored or ignored, and intelligence reports filtered, just as they had been in the run-up to the Iraq war. Threats will be inflated, diplomatic options disregarded, risks of military action minimized.
Bolton’s record in government, and his subsequent advocacy of escalating multiple crisis points simultaneously show that he is unable to analyze complex challenges and policy options rationally. His ideological blinkers, his devious and neurotic personality, coupled with his manifest inability to relate costs and risks of proposed policies to their benefits, should disqualify him from holding any position of responsibility anywhere in government.
The structural problem of America's foreign policy establishment is not that Bolton is a wild-eyed outsider. He is merely a cruder, more stridently outspoken representative of the bipartisan, neoliberal-neoconservative consensus shared by the swamp fauna of all color and hue. Trump’s surrender to them, epitomized by Bolton’s continued presence in a key position of influence, is deeply detrimental to the American interest and to the prospects for peace and stability in the world. Only by firing John Bolton he would show that he is still ready, even belatedly, to stop the ongoing kidnapping of his foreign policy by the enemy within the gates.
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