Home/Daniel Larison/Bolton’s Advice for Republicans: More Aggression Needed

Bolton’s Advice for Republicans: More Aggression Needed

John Bolton offers this comment from the parallel universe in which he apparently resides:

I think the entire Republican party has spent four years making a huge mistake really retreating from its historic role as the main advocate of sound national security policies [bold mine-DL]. And in that sense the campaign’s unwillingness to take on Obama’s failed foreign and defense policies was symptomatic of the problem of the party as a whole.

Granted, I don’t expect John Bolton to offer a lot of solid policy or political analysis, but this is an extraordinary thing to say all the same. Activists and ideologues normally believe that a party would always do much better if it adopted their preferred tactics and ideas. On its own, that isn’t surprising or remarkable. It’s a given that a national security hard-liner such as Bolton thinks that Republicans should spend more time talking about national security. What makes the statement so strange is that it’s so completely divorced from what’s actually been happening over the last four years.

It’s quite clear that Republican hawks have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to throw everything they could come up with at Obama in the hope that something would stick to him, and their efforts were in vain. They haven’t been in “retreat” on these issues, except in the sense that most Americans don’t trust them on national security and foreign policy. It’s not that they have been retreating on these policies. They continue to support the same bad policies, and most of the public has been running away from them. Republican hawks didn’t realize that they were at a disadvantage on national security and foreign policy for the last four years, and they spent that time railing against virtually every Obama decision for being too slow, too “weak,” too accommodating to authoritarian governments, and not supportive enough of U.S. allies and clients. For the most part, these hawkish complaints were bogus and fell flat. That didn’t stop Republican politicians and especially their presidential nominee from frequently repeating them. Needless to say, John Bolton and hard-liners like him were among the only people in the world that thought that the Romney campaign failed in part because it was insufficiently aggressive and combative on foreign policy.

It was precisely the aggressiveness and the ignorance that went with it that made Romney’s difficult task of unseating an incumbent president that much harder, since voters had good reason to fear what a Romney administration might do once in power (including the remote but frighteningly plausible possibility of appointing Bolton to a government position). Romney also inflicted a number of unnecessary injuries on himself during the campaign because he thought it was to his advantage to press the attack on these issues. We saw this with his ridiculous remarks about Russia as our top geopolitical foe, his ham-fisted reaction to the handling of the Chen Guangcheng case, and his overeager readiness to exploit the protests in Cairo and the attack on the mission in Benghazi. A less aggressive candidate might not have won because the odds were already against him for many other reasons, but he wouldn’t have made so many avoidable errors that hastened defeat.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment