John Bolton’s answer for Syria is to destroy the current U.S.-Russian relationship and then sabotage negotiations with Iran:
First and foremost, we should cut Syria off from its major supporters. The television images from Syria will not change permanently until the underlying strategic terrain changes permanently. Russia should be told in no uncertain terms that it can forget about sustained good relations with the United States as long as it continues to back Assad. We should resume full-scale, indeed accelerated, efforts to construct the limited missile-defense system designed by George W. Bush to protect American territory not against Russia but against rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. But we should immediately make it clear to Moscow that we will begin to consider broadening our missile-defense program to deal with Russian and Chinese ballistic-missile capabilities. We should also announce our withdrawal from the New START arms-control treaty, and our utter disinterest in negotiations to prevent an “arms race” in space. Let Moscow and Beijing think about all that for a while.
The second part of Bolton’s article is little more than a laundry list of all of his usual hobbyhorses concerning arms control and Iran’s nuclear program, neither of which is relevant to the conflict in Syria. What’s curious about the argument he makes is that he has no illusions about the impracticality and risks of the various proposals for indirect intervention in Syria. He seems to have parted company with interventionists on Syria, but that isn’t really the case. After he outlines all the reasons why even indirect intervention in Syria would be very difficult and risky, he then turns around and proposes a far more implausible plan for regime change in Syria, which is just a combination of his usual bad ideas for policy toward Russia and Iran. According to Bolton, Assad will be “cut off” from his foreign patrons after the U.S. does several unrelated things that will displease Russia and Iran. It doesn’t trouble Bolton that none of this will have any effect on Russian and Iranian support for Assad.
Apparently Bolton believes that Putin responds positively to unchecked antagonism and provocation. The record of Putin’s responses to Bush-era provocations suggests that Bolton is once again as wrong as can be. Bolton proposes sabotaging U.S. security interests for the sake of interfering in another country’s conflict in which the U.S. has nothing at stake. Withdrawing from New START wouldn’t do anything to the Russians except annoy them and convince them that the U.S. can’t be trusted to abide by any agreements Moscow makes with our government. His proposal for pressuring Iran makes just as much sense as his recommendations for Russia policy, and it also conveniently happens to be the position Bolton has had on negotiations with Iran all along (i.e., negotiations are pointless and undesirable, and he prefers that current negotiations fail).
Here is one of his more imaginative recommendations for Iran policy:
We should also reverse the fantasy still trumpeted by Obama that, despite its repeated violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty over 20 years, Iran is somehow entitled to a “peaceful” nuclear program. Until there is a new, trustworthy regime in Tehran, there can be no claim to benefits or “rights” under a treaty Iran has grossly abused. We should introduce this new reality to our European friends as well, perhaps by simply being unambiguous with them.
In other words, Bolton’s “solution” to the impasse with Iran is to ignore what the NPT actually says. He wants the U.S. rewrite the terms of the treaty just for Iran, because an even more inconsistent and selective implementation of the nonproliferation regime is what is required. If the U.S. “introduced” European governments to this new “reality” (which no other government would recognize as legitimate), their support for the U.S. position would disappear very quickly.
Obviously, none of this would prevent Russia and Iran from continuing to support Assad to whatever degree they saw fit. I suspect that Bolton doesn’t really expect that Russia and Iran would respond favorably to the actions he proposes. He seems to regard the pointless hostility they represent as valuable in itself.