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Why Are We Still Listening to John Bolton?

Former Ambassador John Bolton is again raising the battle cry for pre-emptive war [1] on television and in the newspapers, this time with North Korea, though this is hardly new, considering he did his best to derail diplomatic talks [2] between the U.S. and the Kim regime when he was a member of the Bush Administration in 2001. Like a bad broken record, Bolton offers the same reckless militarism that’s proven him wrong so many times before, though his reputation as a foreign policy “expert”—particularly in conservative media circles—didn’t seem to suffer much.

His latest call is for reunifying the Korean peninsula [3]—with China leading the charge. If that fails, the U.S. should consider its own military attack on the regime. He admits that it would “undoubtedly be dangerous and somewhat chaotic,” but “whatever the risks, they pale before the risks of nuclear conflict emanating from the erratic Kim regime.”

On paper, Bolton’s got the credentials of an established Washington policy official and seasoned public servant. He’s an alumnus of three different Republican administrations—Reagan and Bush I—and worked in the State Department and served as Ambassador to the United Nations under Bush II. He advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign on foreign policy, and he’s a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

His public statements throughout the last 16 years of war, however, have been more in line with the radical warmongers of the extreme right of the Republican Party, and are as predictable as a daytime soap opera.


He also maintains the situation is analogous [4] to the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, as U.S. Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols points out [5], we are “nowhere near a Cold War scenario.” Nevertheless, Bolton likes to say [6] it isn’t warmongering to suggest the use of preemptive military force against the Kim regime, which General Gary E. Luck, former commander of both U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea, says [7] would result in a “horrendous loss of life.”

But why should we even listen? Like many of the prominent neoconservatives of the Bush era, Bolton has been incredibly wrong on the key foreign policy and national security issues of our time. Reason journalist Eric Boehm has a nice summary [8] of the Bolton follies, including his continued insistence that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, he was a cheerleader for Obama’s intervention in Libya, despite the fraudulent justifications, the destabilizing sectarian conflicts, and the subsequent rise of ISIS.

Parallel to all of this, Bolton maintains a staunchly hawkish position on Iran, often advocating strikes against its nuclear facilities in concert with our Israeli allies. He wants the U.S. to jettison the Iran nuclear deal [9] that was negotiated under the Obama administration, despite the fact that international monitors say Iran has been holding up its end of the bargain, and the agreement is working [10], so far, exactly as intended.

It’s ironic that Bolton is now on television evangelizing about military options in North Korea, as Kim Jong-Un’s insistence on obtaining a functional nuclear capability is at least partially driven by the regime change precedent [11] set by the U.S. in Iraq and Libya. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias and the New Republic’s Jeet Heer noted on Twitter [12], there’s very little discussion in D.C. policy circles about the negative impacts American foreign policy will have on rogue states pursuing nukes [13] because people like Bolton, who almost reflexively advocate regime change, still [14] dominate the conversation.

Bolton, who might have been Secretary of State under Trump if he was clean shaven [15], has done nothing but beat war drums since the 1990s [16]. And, partly because of his role as key voice for the pro-war Right wing, regime change [17] is still considered [18] a serious policy option among the Republican establishment and conservative base today. There is clearly no easy answer for North Korea, but overthrowing the government of a population that resembles the “abused victims of a cult ideology, [19]” is bound to present more problems than it solves. As Suki Kim, author of Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, says, “[e]ven if the Great Leader is gone, another form of dictatorship will take its place…Every path is a catastrophe.”

Obviously, the marketplace for ideas at the highest levels of foreign policy is hugely inefficient. The cost of being wrong is too low, and being wrong doesn’t impact credibility as long as one subscribes to Washington’s pro-war ideology. Lest we think this is solely a phenomenon of Fox News, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, who called people who denied the effectiveness [20] of torture “interrogation deniers,” is a regular on CNN. Neoconservative war cheerleader and Weekly Standard editor-at-large Bill Kristol is a frequent guest on MSNBC now. Erik Prince, founder of the infamous private security firm Blackwater USA, has recently popped up on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post with his plan to turn the Afghan conflict over to private mercenaries [21].

A surgeon who botches operations doesn’t get to be a surgeon anymore. A mechanic who can’t fix cars is fired from the shop. But in the D.C. media and policy bubble, awful pundits fail up the ladder. They get an indefinite number of opportunities to be wrong again. Sadly, Bolton & Company’s legacy of wrongness already has a pretty high body count. And that should mean something in the real world.

Jerrod A. Laber is a writer, former classical singer, and non-profit program director residing in Northern Virginia. He is a Young Voices Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @JerrodLaber.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Why Are We Still Listening to John Bolton?"

#1 Comment By Taras77 On September 13, 2017 @ 11:19 pm

This is an incredibly appropriate article which asks why:
-why is anyone listening to this demented war monger-maybe mccain but look at the press this guy is getting-absolutely astonishing!
-why is there no accountability for the endless failures of these war mongers-answer money, they are well funded; war is very profitable for some, including the war mongers.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On September 14, 2017 @ 7:57 am

Yes, a war with North Korea would indeed be “dangerous.” Even if Kim cannot nuke the continental US, he would nuke South Korea and possibly Japan. In addition, you have thousands of artillery tubes pointed at Seoul, which would result in perhaps hundreds of thousands of deaths. You are looking at the deaths of several million people on both sides. I would say that this is “dangerous.”

#3 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On September 14, 2017 @ 8:05 am

Perhaps it is past due to ask if the overly-ambitious and dazzalingly idealistic Jewish-American viewpoint and worldview is highly overrepresented in Americam politics, foreign policy, and commentary. It’s like a big ivy league echo chamber out of the Northeast, Florida, and California. Bolton, Kristol, Feith, Wolfowitz, Krauthammer, Abrams – if these perennially-wrong guys are the “experts” then give me the dunces.

#4 Comment By George Crosley On September 14, 2017 @ 8:25 am

Like so many armchair warriors, Mr. Bolton has no skin in the game; it won’t be his son who is sent home in a casket or with a closed-head injury, incapacitated for life.

John Bolton, Bill Kristol, and their ilk remind me of the hot-tempered old clubman in the famous Bill Mauldin cartoon from roughly 70 years ago: “I say it’s war, Throckmorton, and I say let’s fight!”


#5 Comment By Christian Chuba On September 14, 2017 @ 9:25 am

He also is passionate about the U.S. withdrawing from the JCPOA which would send an unequivocal message to N. Korea that the U.S. does not honor agreements. This would guarantee that we would have to use the option that would require the maximum loss of human life.
U.S. track record on keeping agreements with ‘rogue’ regimes.
1. Saddam – gave up WMD, we hanged him.
2. Gaddafi – gave up WMD program, opened up his books, we killed him.
3. Iran – pending with J.B. encouraging unilateral abridgment.

Why would N. Korea make any agreement with us?

#6 Comment By Peter Palms On September 14, 2017 @ 11:47 am

The Vanishing American Dream
September 4, 2017 | Categories: Articles & Columns | Tags: | Print This Article Print This Article

The Vanishing American Dream

Paul Craig Roberts

Today is Labor Day, a difficult day to celebrate now that American labor has been cast aside and US jobs offshored and given to foreigners. The remainder of the jobs is slated to be replaced by robotics.

Friday’s payroll jobs report was full of bad news. Full-time jobs declined by 166,000. The meager 156,000 new jobs claimed are really only 115,000 net of the prior month’s revision, and this 115,000 jobs estimate is within the range of statistical insignificance. In other words, there is no confidence that the jobs are actually there.

The US work force continues to develop a Third Word complexion of lowly paid part-time domestic service employment. The American Dream continues its closedown.

Meanwhile the government tells us that we are at full employment with an unemployment rate of 4.4%.

#7 Comment By Peter Palms On September 14, 2017 @ 11:48 am

Who Is Interferring in Our Elections: Russia or Israel?
July 30, 2017 | Categories: Guest Contributions | Tags: | Print This Article Print This Article

Who Is Interferring in Our Elections: Russia or Israel?


#8 Comment By Peter Palms On September 14, 2017 @ 11:51 am

The Terrorist Superower: The United States of America
September 13, 2017 | Categories: Guest Contributions | Tags: | Print This Article Print This Article

The Terrorist Superower: The United States of America

Klaus Madersbacher

A European gives us a different perspective on ourselves.


#9 Comment By Mysteries On September 14, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

“Meanwhile, he was a cheerleader for Obama’s intervention in Libya, despite the fraudulent justifications, the destabilizing sectarian conflicts, and the subsequent rise of ISIS.”

Yes, but to be clear, the Libyan intervention also destabilized Europe, i.e. the refugee floods out of Libya and Syria destabilized the European project and shook allies like Germany and Italy to their political cores. Even dismissing the needless deaths and misery the interventions caused and the failed military and political objectives, the fact that we undermined and endangered our own allies that way ought to have fatally discredited the basic judgment and decision-making capacities of Bolton and several others,

Why it hasn’t is, to me at least, one of the great mysteries of the post 9/11 era.

#10 Comment By Brendan Sexton On September 14, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

This:” Kim Jong-Un’s insistence on obtaining a functional nuclear capability is at least partially driven by the regime change precedent set by the U.S. in Iraq and Libya”; combined with the allied point about there being no real penalty in America for getting everything wrong in international affairs, is gonna get us all building fallout shelters and teaching our kids to duck under desks again. Just like the good old days. MAGA.

#11 Comment By Mary Myers On September 14, 2017 @ 7:58 pm

Lt. Col. Ralph (Barney Fife) Peters needs to be added to the list of warmongers and Chicken Littles who constantly tell us the sky is falling. Kudos to Tucker Carlson for showing up this little twerp.

FOX keeps giving Bolton, Gen. Jack Keane, Peters, Krauthammer etc. air time, and is complicit in our foreign misadventures.

#12 Comment By HKGuy On September 14, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

The problem is paying attention cable news channels, which, in their constant churn, look for provocative talking heads with impressive-sounding credentials. Truth is, Bolton is like one of those players who did fairly well in the Minors for a while, was bumped up briefly to the Majors before being sent permanently to the nether regions of infomercials & fan meet-ups.

#13 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On September 15, 2017 @ 2:18 am

So, where were all the conservatives when war-mongering people like Kirkpatrick…oh, it’s okay she was a ‘Reaganite..’
And we had the ignorant Susan Rice…oh, it’s okay she was with Obama.
Then Samantha Powers by Obama and she was lousy.
Then we had the very hate filled Bolton.
What is it with these U.N. appointees?
The true diplomats of most of the world are, I’m sure, as amazed as I am how a great nation like the U.S. fields these terrible reps.
Ah, but I have gotta keep reminding myself:
the U.S, is always threatening one nation after another, while diplomats from in the Embassies just shake their head. And amazed.
Now, we have Haley.
Are you kidding me?
Are you the people in the state department nuts…
Ah, need I ask, ha ha…
American diplomacy is
clown city

#14 Comment By bill shea On September 15, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

Bolton along with Kristol, Krauthammer,Feith,Wolowitz,Cheny, Bush and don’t forget Lieberman all are big on war but they all ran when it was their time. Guiliani and Peter King brought up the rear. Cowards period.

#15 Comment By Danny Marcus On September 15, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

John Bolton, like many other neocons desperately seeking wars in the Middle East, gets his backing, livelihood, and prominence from the all-dominant Israeli lobbies in America.
Getting rid of the Israeli lobbies in the US will effectively silence dangerous fools such as John Bolton and his ilk.

#16 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On September 15, 2017 @ 8:54 pm

Why didn’t you put my comment on?
From yesterday!

#17 Comment By cka2nd On September 16, 2017 @ 2:52 am

The majority of the American ruling class fundamentally buys into the neo-conservative world view. They are imperialists in thought and deed, which is why the intellectuals, pundits, politicians and journalists who espouse these ideas retain their prominence. So to do the liberals and centrists in these professions who can be counted on to call for regime change in Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria and Venezuela, or look the other way when it occurs in Haiti or Honduras, or when our imperial clients in Rwanda and Saudi Arabia are responsible for deaths in the tens and hundreds of thousands.

#18 Comment By Cynthia McLean On September 17, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

John Bolton makes me gag, but let’s not forget that Clinton was a big fan of regime change and Obama began Drone Warfare and left a legacy of billions of dollars of weapons sales and “aid” to Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was amazing how little discussion there was during the 2016 election about foreign policy and the monies poured into war-making. Traditional US allies are beginning to question their military alliances with the US, like NATO and NORAD, as it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the US makes all the decisions which only serve US interests.

#19 Comment By David Bonacci On September 18, 2017 @ 7:13 am

Saddam gave up his WMD? Are you insane? He used them against the Kurds and the Shiites. He “gave them up” because we overthrew him!

As for North Korea, the same people that criticize “warmongers” like Bolton will be criticizing them when North Korea has nuclear-capable ICMs and starts blackmailing the US every month:

Get your troops out off South Korea or else…
Give us fuel aid or else…
Close your bases in Japan & Guam or else….

I must have a completely different world view. North Korea will *never* give up their nuclear program, no matter what sanctions we place on them. We have 2 choices. Remove them by force or live with a dictator who has nuclear missiles capable of killing millions of Americans and sending America back to the 18th century.

#20 Comment By Lynn Wexler On March 7, 2018 @ 10:07 am

The following comment from the world’s most impressive female leader ever says it all:

“We can forgive them for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” Golda Meir, Isreal Prime Minister

As Americans, as citizens of the Constitution – one of the greatest documents governing humankind – we all do not want to kill others, let alone sacrifice our own. There is no relief from such atrocious thought or reality. We must blame those who cause such atrocity, not those who live to prevent it.

#21 Comment By Nicolas Martin On March 24, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

“A surgeon who botches operations doesn’t get to be a surgeon anymore.”

That assertion is false. Rarely are surgeons fired, disciplined, or even deprived of pay for their preventable errors. An estimated 400,000 people die in US hospitals each year due to errors, and the perps almost always continue to be employed.