Wed 11 Sep 2019 09.12 EDT
Our long international nightmare of John Bolton is over. For now.
Did Bolton resign? Was he fired? It doesn’t matter. John Bolton is now no longer in charge of US national security policy and thus, we can all breathe a little easier.
Trump wants to build a legacy, Bolton to break things – something had to give
Indeed, Bolton’s top priority has always been to go to war with Iran. One of the biggest concerns among those of us who understand that going to war with Iran is a bad idea was that Bolton, an experienced bureaucrat, would take advantage of a naive commander-in-chief and use innocuous enough policy decisions to slow-walk Donald Trump into a corner where war was the only way out.
Bolton – who has made a career of scuttling arms control agreements – also had his sights on cancelling the Obama-era New Start Treaty, an agreement between the US and Russia that placed limits on the number of deployed nuclear warheads, missiles, bombers and launchers.
Bolton has spent the better part of his tenure in the Trump administration disparaging the treaty, repeatedly signaling that the US wouldn’t put much effort toward renewing it before it expires in February 2021.
But while our collective outlook going forward is promising without Bolton anywhere near the levers of power, the trail of flames he has left behind will have lasting damage.
Yes he wasn’t successful in convincing Trump to attack Iran, but Bolton helped create the conditions for war by pushing Trump to finally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal mere weeks after assuming the top national security job. As predicted (even by the CIA), that policy has turned out to be a complete disaster, with the US isolated from its European allies, Iran’s nuclear program less constrained, and the Trump administration failing miserably in its quest to rein in Iran’s nefarious regional behavior or to spark internal strife toward the regime.
And even though Bolton’s departure gives New Start a new lease on life, he convinced Trump to ditch diplomatic efforts at saving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and instead shepherded a US withdrawal, which officially went into effect last month. Experts are already citing the move as the catalyst for a renewed cold war-esque arms race.
Mere months before joining the Trump administration, Bolton attempted to make a legal argument for an unprovoked first strike on North Korea, and he made sure to preserve that option by standing in the way of Trump’s diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions (Trump himself created) with Kim Jong-un. Bolton’s efforts became so intrusive that Trump apparently banished him to Mongolia when he decided to pay a visit to Kim at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
It’s unclear whether we will be able to reverse Bolton’s path of destruction, as it probably also depends on whether Trump wins the presidential election again.
But the tragic subplot to the Trump-era Bolton debacle is the persistence of the constant revolving door of failure in Washington that is fueled by deep pockets and an insider media environment that is incapable of holding anyone to account.
Bolton’s disastrous ideas have been thoroughly discredited and his political and policy career should have been cast aside long ago, perhaps even after the Senate declined to bless his nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations back in 2005 because of his extremist views.
But instead, his post-Bush administration career flourished, presiding over a grotesquely anti-Muslim “thinktank”; landing a lucrative gig as a Fox News contributor; regularly calling for war on the op-ed pages of, for example, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times; generally hanging around Washington undeterred from, as Media Matters put it, establishing “a record of warmongering, bigotry and pushing conspiracy theories”; and then ultimately becoming one of the most powerful national security officials in the US government.
It’s likely then that we have not heard the last of John Bolton. He will probably return to Fox News or the rightwing machine will give him piles of cash to continue his quest to kill American diplomacy, and perhaps even run for president.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as national security editor at ThinkProgress