John Bolton: Dog Of War
Like TAC’s Daniel Larison, Damon Linker says we should all be very, very worried about the John Bolton appointment. Excerpt:
Having a man who so consistently — one might almost say instinctually — favors military action serving as the national security adviser to the president would be dangerous in any White House. But in the Trump administration it could be catastrophic.
Trump is utterly ignorant of the world, prone to making impulsive decisions, and tends to defer to the most forceful voice in the room, especially when it conveys information with confident bluster. That would give Bolton enormous power to shape policy — which means the power to get the United States to launch big new wars as well as expand the numerous ones we’re already waging across wide swaths of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.
One of those wars (in Iraq) was launched by another president lacking foreign policy experience who deferred to the hawks in the room (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld), who combined paranoia about threats with absurdly optimistic prognostications about the efficacy of using American bombs to shape the future course of the region. It ended up destabilizing much of the Middle East.
Eight years later another inexperienced president deferred to his hawkish advisers (Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Powers) in launching another war (in Libya) on the basis of an overly sanguine assessment of the likely consequences. It ended up destabilizing much of North Africa.
Both acts of destabilization have led to enormous refugee flows from those areas of the world to Europe, where they have helped to provoke a right-wing populist-nationalist reaction that is transforming politics in an anti-liberal direction across the European Union.
Are we really supposed to believe that the results of putting John Bolton in a senior advisory position from which he could persuade President Trump to launch wars against North Korea and Iran would have less disastrous consequences for the United States and the world? If the stakes weren’t so high, the suggestion might be considered a punchline.
Fifteen years after the invasion of Iraq, a Republican president who called the war a “big, fat mistake” has named one of its leading proponents as his national security adviser.
If one wanted to make the case that U.S. policymakers have learned little from their biggest foreign-policy blunder of the past two decades, John Bolton’s appointment would be Exhibit A. Bolton, set to take the job in April from current national security adviser H.R. McMaster after Trump tweeted the news on Thursday night, played an important role in shaping prewar intelligence and seems to be itching for a repeat elsewhere.
I’ll never forget the moment that I first thought Donald Trump would be an improvement over any other Republican possibility for president: when, in the South Carolina GOP debate, he said from the stage that the Iraq War was a mistake. It had taken 13 years for a major GOP presidential candidate (I’m excluding Ron Paul) to state the bleeding obvious, but Trump did. One big point in favor of voting for him, from my point of view, was that he would be more realistic and less belligerent on foreign policy than Hillary Clinton.
And now he has appointed the worst possible Republican on matters of war as his national security adviser.
Antle is right: the Republican Party establishment has learned nothing from the Iraq disaster. Andrew Sullivan foresees worse to come. I wish I didn’t think he was right about this:
And then last night, we saw McMaster fall on his sword, replaced by John Bolton, an unrepentant architect of the most disastrous war since Vietnam, a fanatical advocate for regime change in Iran, an anti-Muslim extremist, and a believer in the use of military force as if it were a religion. And this, of course, is also part of the second phase for Plato’s tyrant: war. “As his first step, he is always setting some war in motion, so that people will be in need of a leader,” Plato explains. In fact, “it’s necessary for a tyrant always to be stirring up war.”
Trump somewhat confused us on this score at first, because of his contempt for the Bushes and the Iraq War and his use of the term “America First.” For many excited (but utterly conned) conservative realists, he seemed to be returning to an older Republican non-interventionism. But of course, we now realize that his campaign screeds against the Iraq War were just his strategy to take out Jeb Bush and appeal to middle America; and that “America First” can also mean pure nationalist aggression overseas.
And everything we know about Trump’s character tells us that war is probably the only aspect of foreign relations he intuitively understands. He cannot exist as an equal party in an international system. He has to dominate other countries the way he does other human beings. And, when you look back, you see this has been obvious all along.
Sullivan acknowledges his own weakness for “catastrophism” (a trait I share with him), but lays out a plausible scenario in which a cornered Trump launches a war in an attempt to shore up his presidency. Who in the Republican Party would dare to try to stop him? There’s only one Rand Paul. Do you think that the American people would rally against the prospect of a Trump war? I don’t. Some would, but it would be very easy to manipulate many to rally behind the president against (manufactured) threats from abroad. It happened before. I would have thought it not possible to happen again, not so soon anyway, but I think a large number of Americans will rally around Trump, no matter what. Where is the constituency within the GOP base for realism, for restraint? Does anyone really believe that Trump is not capable of doing anything to save himself — even launching a war?
We could be talking about war with China. It’s not a joke. You think Beijing is going to sit back if we launch an attack on North Korea?
It’s not hard to imagine a situation in which impeaching and convicting the president might be the only way to keep the nation from committing to a disastrous war. Far-fetched? I wish.
UPDATE: From 2013:
All former Bush administration officials should have zero standing on Syria. Iraq was a waste of blood & treasure.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013