Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.
And that person is Donald Trump.
How screwed up is that?
Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?
Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.
Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.
.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”
But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”
“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.
Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?
I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)
W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.
Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.
But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”
David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
“If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”
Also in 2002, Bolton is said to have flown to Europe to demand the resignation of Brazilian José Bustani, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and to have orchestrated his removal at a special session of the organization. Bustani was deemed to be an obstacle in creating the case for the invasion of Iraq. The United Nations’ highest administrative tribunal later condemned the action as an “unacceptable violation” of principles protecting international civil servants. Bustani had been unanimously re-elected for a four-year term—with strong U.S. support—in May 2000, and in 2001 was praised for his leadership by Colin Powell. According to Bustani, John Bolton demanded that he step down in 24 hours, adding, “We know where your children are“.
.. According to an article in The New Republic, Bolton was highly successful in pushing his agenda, but his bluntness made him many enemies. “Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called Bolton ‘rude’ and ‘undiplomatic’.” In response to critics, Bolton states that his record “demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy.” Bush administration officials have stated that his past statements would allow him to negotiate from a powerful position. “It’s like the Palestinians having to negotiate with [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon. If you have a deal, you know you have a deal,” an anonymous official told CNN. He also “won widespread praise for his work establishing the Proliferation Security Initiative, a voluntary agreement supported by 60 countries”.
.. In 2002, Bolton held a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he accused Cuba of having a secret biological weapons program, and of collaborating with Libya and Iran. Bolton asserted, “The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.” Bolton made the remarks a week before former president Jimmy Carter was scheduled to meet Fidel Castro in Cuba, becoming the first US President since the Cuban Revolution to visit Cuba in an effort to build bridges between the two countries.
The State Department’s chief bioweapons analyst refused to approve the accusation made in the speech, telling Bolton that the State Department did not have evidence to substantiate Bolton’s accusation. Subsequently, Bolton berated the analyst, unsuccessfully sought to fire him, began to exclude the analyst’s supervisor from meetings, and tried to transfer the analyst to a different office. Bolton was also alleged to have sought to punish other intelligence officers who refused to endorse his claims about Cuba. Paul Pillar described Bolton’s attempts to get the intelligence community to endorse his views as among the most egregious recent instances of “arm-twisting” the intelligence community, while Columbia University international relations scholar Richard K. Betts described the reports about Bolton’s pressure as “most blatant top-down pressure on intelligence” in the Bush administration. Bolton claims that the issue was procedural rather than related to the content of his speech and that the officers, who did not work under him, behaved unprofessionally.
.. Bolton has often been accused of attempting to pressure the intelligence community to endorse his views. According to former coworkers, Bolton withheld information that ran counter to his goals from Secretary of State Colin Powell on multiple occasions, and from Powell’s successor Condoleezza Rice on at least one occasion.
.. Bolton has been a strong critic of the United Nations for much of his career. Bolton’s opposition to the UN was rooted in a disdain for international organizations, who he believed infringed on the sovereignty of the United States. He also opposed the International Criminal Court. In 1994, he stated, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”
He also stated that “The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” When pressed on the statement during the confirmation process, he responded, “There’s not a bureaucracy in the world that couldn’t be made leaner.” In a paper on U.S. participation in the UN, Bolton stated “the United Nations can be a useful instrument in the conduct of American foreign policy.”