Good riddance, John Bolton

Former national security advisor John Bolton — recently fired by President Trump — has been wrong about a lot.

After 18 years of fighting and no end in sight, Bolton wanted America to double down on the war in Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls the same area of land they did a decade ago. Meanwhile, in a far cry from the false humanitarian narrative some in Washington offer as justification for the war, American troops are forced to defend brutal warlords who are no better than the Taliban.

Bolton was likewise one of the architects of the failed war in Iraq, guaranteeing the campaign would be quick and painless. It wasn’t. When America removed troops from Iraq in 2012 and the Islamic State came to regional power, Bolton and his ilk could only blame the troop drawdown, ignoring that they had destabilized Iraq in the first place. 

The rise of ISIS brings us to Syria’s civil war, where Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states allegedly supported ISIS’s fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and certainly spent billions arming other “rebels,” many of them jihadists. Because Assad was allied with Iran, Bolton’s crowd was also intent on taking him out. This required Bolton — along with the entire D.C. foreign policy establishment — to ignore Saudi Arabia’s role in fueling Sunni terrorism

Indeed, though Bolton’s crowd complained about the bloodshed in Syria, they ignored their own role in fueling that bloodshed. Aside from aiding and abetting gun-running by our allies, America’s CIA under President Obama spent $1 billion a year arming questionable rebel fighters, a move supported by the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. The program was later determined to have both armed terrorists and been completely ineffective. When President Trump axed that program, Bolton’s establishment howled. 

There was no consideration of what would fill the vacuum if Assad was actually toppled. Bolton’s answer was always American boots on the ground. In his thinking, America “lost” in Syria and Libya because we didn’t put large numbers of troops on the ground — this same reasoning says we are only losing in Afghanistan because, after nearly two decades, we don’t have enough troops on the ground. For interventionists like Bolton, it’s never enough, despite spending anywhere from $3 trillion to $5 trillion on Middle East wars since 9/11. In other words, in their own minds, nothing could ever prove these people wrong.  

In broader geopolitics, Bolton’s record is equally bad. He sought to cozy up to Saudi Arabia and take a hard line on Iran, asking America to take sides in a 1,400-year-old religious struggle between Islam’s Shias and Sunnis. It never occurred to Bolton that a strong and newly energy independent America would be best served by opting out of such a petty and awful spat. 

In great power politics, Bolton sought an equally hard line on both Russia — which spends about $65 billion on its military, has an economy the size of Canada’s and has a population of about 145 million people — and China —which spends nearly $250 billion on its military, has the world’s second-largest economy  and has a population of 1.4 billion people. Now, despite years of mistrust between Russia and China, two countries that should be natural enemies are cozying up to each other

But it’s only fair to defend Bolton for just a bit. On the left, Bolton is characterized as a radical. Really, he represented one wing of America’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment — an establishment that has been wrong about everything for the past two decades. 

Yet Trump ran against that bipartisan consensus. Not for nothing did The Wall Street Journal call Bolton a “counterweight to Trump’s foreign policy.” It is even likely Bolton was fired for working against Trump’s wish to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, along with the president’s other diplomatic efforts. That’s why, going forward — in order for Trump to fulfill his campaign promise to get America out of endless war — Trump needs to opt out of the foreign policy establishment altogether. 

The national security advisor is a conduit of the intelligence and foreign policy apparatus to the president. It is an incredibly important position. The next person to fill this role should have a strong foreign policy pedigree, but also be well versed in time-tested truths the Washington establishment seems to have forgotten: 

Pursue only America’s core interests; never enter a conflict without an exit strategy; and treat American soldiers’ lives as if they were the lives of your own sons or daughters. Jim Webb — former Democratic senator from Virginia, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan and a Vietnam vet — comes to mind.  

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a J.D. and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas and is a project analyst at U.S. Bank. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of U.S. Bank. 

Tags American Enterprise Institute Bashar al-Assad Donald Trump Donald Trump Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant John Bolton John R. Bolton Politics by country Saudi Arabia

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