John Bolton is out as Donald Trump’s second National Security Director. That’s an unqualified good thing as we pass the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11.
But Bolton is only one out of half a dozen very problematic neoconservative/evangelical voices in Trump’s cabinet, though the most obviously insane.
Bolton’s missteps this year are legion and legendary. From the failed coup in Venezuela I like to call the Bay of Fat Pigs to scuttling denuclearization talks with North Korea to helping maneuver Trump into a potential shooting war with Iran, Bolton’s fall from grace is emblematic of the inflexibility of neoconservative thinking.
And the irony here is that Bolton was fired just one day before the anniversary of 9/11, a day that can easily be seen as the day the growing cancer within U.S. foreign policy, neoconservatism, got its wings.
Trump finally seeing Bolton for the massive liability he was in achieving any of his ambitious foreign policy goals should be seen as their apotheosis. This is Peak Neocon folks.
They got everything they wanted, a pro-Israeli President with a deep-seated need to be liked who valued trust and loyalty over competence. Trump inherited a geopolitical landscape they’d engineered under Obama for their big win in the Middle East. All they needed to do was manipulate a volatile and image-obsessed Trump into a moment he couldn’t return from.
That moment came when Iran shot down a U.S. Global Hawk stealth drone violating their airspace alongside a manned P-8 Poseidon. Trump, smartly, didn’t take the bait and I said then he had a window of opportunity to put paid his peace bona fides by firing one of his inner staff who’d pushed him to that limit.
I give Trump a lot of credit here for not falling into the trap set for him. He now has to begin removing those responsible for this quagmire and I’m sure that will be on the docket when he meets with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping next week at the G-20.
It starts with John Bolton and it ends with Mike Pompeo.
And if he doesn’t replace them in the next six to eight weeks then we know Trump isn’t serious about keeping us out of war. He’s just interested in doing so until he gets re-elected.
He took a little longer than that but it’s clear Trump is not happy with the state of his foreign policy. Firing Bolton was an excellent start. But it’s not enough, not even close.
The problem, as I see it, is that while Trump’s desire for peace in these hot spots is real, he is incapable of seeing the path to achieving it because he doesn’t care about the details.
And it’s the details that always undo the Neocons’ plans for humanity. They apply the same tired trope, “squeeze them until the pipe squeak,” as Bolton put it, and if it doesn’t work, squeeze harder.
These folks are Trotskyites at heart, willing to do anything to bring about their revolution. Homeless after World War II, they found a home within the Republican Party starting with Bill Buckley and the National Review crowd in the 1950’s and slowly taking it over.
They have suffused both major parties with their dreams global domination by stoking American exceptionalism run rampant in the post WWII generations to intervene anywhere a wrong could be righted.
It’s pure insanity, if not inherently racist, and it needs to end.
My worry here is that Trump only did this to shore up his position with those who elected him for his foreign policy promises, none of which he has kept and nearly all of them he has broken, either willfully or through his passivity.
So, he needs to build on this down payment and get back to the table with North Korea, actually get Iran to sit at the table and tell the rabid anti-Russian political hoi polloi to just shut up and sit down.
His appeasement of the Neocons began with his bombing of the Al-Shairat airbase in April 2017 in response to the chemical weapons ‘attack’ in Khan Sheikoun. Isn’t is ironic that just over two years later the re-taking of that town in Syria was the launching point for sweeping changes in the geopolitical chessboard?
Trump wants to be seen as the strong and competent archetype. That’s the mantle he wants to take on as president. But he’s not doing that at all, he’s projected the aura of a mercurial and inconsistent bully with no clear strategy who refuses to keep his word.
How much of that comes from his staff, like Bolton, undermining him is irrelevant. As the leader, as the CEO, you are responsible for everything that happens under your command. Period.
Lead or get out of the way.
Since the Global Hawk incident Trump has gone from one foreign policy embarrassment to another. Chinese Premier Xi Jinping openly said he cannot believe anything Trump says. President Erdogan of Turkey recently came out and said he cannot keep silent anymore about how many weapons the U.S. shipped to the Kurdish SDF. According to Erdogan that number is an astounding 30,000 truckloads.
This is not what we voted for and it isn’t the path to peace in the Middle East.
There are lots of signs that Trump is ready to reverse course on most of his pressure programs and is angling to cut deals. He’s rumored to be meeting with Iranian President Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. His opening up about how Bolton’s presence angered North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and killed hopes for talks in Hanoi in February was refreshing honesty.
It is, sadly, what passes for diplomacy in his administration.
With the emergence of French President Emmanuel Macron leading rapprochement with Russia, after very successful 2+2 talks recently, Trump’s passive-aggression towards our policy in Ukraine is finally opening the door to improving relations with Russia.
And, of course, there is the climbing down off the mountains by both China and the U.S. over trade and tariffs. Finally, Trump might have been convinced that destroying global trade to accommodate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by plunging the world into a global financial crisis wasn’t going to get him onto Mount Rushmore.
Firing Bolton may have been a wake-up call to the rest of the neocons in his administration, tow the line or leave. Pompeo, in particular, has to be reined in as spokesman for Trump with foreign powers. His behavior to this point has been appalling, walking into places like Beirut and issuing threats like some out-of-touch monarch while availing himself liberally of the buffet table.
The early returns aren’t good. We see more shenanigans with Venezuela on the horizon. The U.S. is preparing sanctions on Rosneft and invoking a Cold War treaty to funnel money to pretender Juan Guido.
So, while I hope things improve, I’m not sanguine, in the near term. Trump has a lot of work to do and he doesn’t look like the guy capable of doing it. Having occasional bursts of outrage which culminate in him making grand gestures is not the same as having a plan and an agenda.
Like Xi, Trump has squandered the trust and goodwill of many who voted for him in 2016, and we simply don’t trust him anymore. He’s got to do a lot more than just fire one mustached crazy person who he is responsible for hiring in the first place.
Leaders accept responsibility. They accept their mistakes and chart a new course. Everyone on the other side of the ledger wants Trump to do the right thing but to this point he has mostly done the opposite. Personnel is policy. And until Trump begins appointing people to key positions that are 1) competent and 2) have a soul the edicts coming from Imperial D.C. will continue.
And the world will adjust to the rapid decline.