Until being fired yesterday, John Bolton was probably the most dangerous Trump administration official in the field of foreign policy and for anyone lucid, his exit is an undisguised blessing. Bolton advocated for the Iraq War in 2003 and during his 17 month tenure as Trump’s national security advisor pushed for regime change in Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela, among other places.
“Bolton’s aggressive positions…clashed with the comparative reluctance of his boss to entertain new confrontations and his enthusiasm about winding down some old ones,” NPR said in a story about Bolton’s dismissal. “Trump promised to cut bait on the long-running war in Afghanistan, faulted the U.S. invasion of Iraq and rattled the foundations of America’s security posture around the world, including its forward deployment of forces and system of alliances in Europe and Asia.”
The NPR story noted that Trump had to reach a peace agreement that would permit the withdrawal of most or all American forces from Afghanistan, but administration officials “felt they couldn’t trust Bolton not to blow up the process.” Special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad once refused to allow Bolton to take a draft copy of a proposed Afghanistan agreement out of a conference room where an administration group was meeting, the story said.
So Bolton’s firing was great news. It may well be the highpoint of Trump’s years as president. “John Bolton has been one of the leading proponents of making the world a more dangerous place,” Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted. “Good riddance.”
How hard was that?
But many Democrats and liberal op-ed writers were apparently anguished about Bolton’s firing. Curiously, some of these people had savaged Trump for hiring Bolton but somehow saw his removal as being even worse.
Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters yesterday: “Mr. Bolton and I didn’t agree on a lot of issues. But he was a straight shooter. He knows the circumstances. I’m sure he told the president what was going on. The president may not have liked to hear it. And it’s unfortunate if the president won’t accept professional advice.”
Cardin was singing quite a different tune back in 2018 when Trump picked Bolton for the job. Back then he called Bolton “an extremist and reckless partisan with little regard for U.S. values or allies.”
The most amusing case is that of New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof. Here’s one of his tweets from yesterday about Bolton’s exit.
Kristof had portrayed Bolton in quite different fashion between the time that his name surfaced as a candidate for the national security advisor job and during his tenure. “If John Bolton replaces HR McMaster, may God Save America,” he tweeted on March 6, 2018.
Soon after Kristof was back with this.
On May 27, 2018, about six weeks after Bolton officially took over as national security advisor, Kristof torched him again “John Bolton has a perfect record of bad advice: Over the last 20 years he hit the trifecta: 100% wrong on Iraq, Iran and North Korea.” His column that day said, “If there were a Nobel Prize for Distinguished Warmongering, John Bolton would be a shoo-in.”
Hold on, how did Bolton go from having “a perfect record of bad advice” — a sentiment that I share — to being someone who was “well-informed.” How could his firing be a bad thing?
It’s easy. Whatever Trump does — even firing the the shoo-in candidate for “Nobel Prize for Distinguished Warmongering” — has to be condemned, no matter how many intellectual summersaults it requires. This was seen in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s horrible take.
Democrats should have been praising Trump’s decision and calling for him to replace Bolton with someone less reckless. The odds of that are admittedly low. Today Trump named deputy national security advisor Charles Kupperman, to temporarily fill Bolton’s post and said he’d announce his permanent pick next week. Kupperman is a long time Bolton advisor and his views are abysmal, so his getting the job would be a disaster.
But for months there’s been behind-the-scenes pressure to replace Bolton with retired Army colonel Douglas Macgregor. It probably could never happen because Macgregor is too skeptical of regime change.
Yeah, I know Macgregor has plenty of problems, but let’s deal with reality: we’re talking about Trump’s national security advisor. He’s close to the Rand Paul wing of the GOP and that’s a lot better in terms of foreign policy than the Bolton wing. Macgregor has consistently called for downscaling the Pentagon. In this Foreign Policy article back in 2011 he proposed a Pentagon budget cut of $280 billion and wrote, “The place to start reducing defense spending is with U.S. overseas commitments, which are vast.”
It’s hard to imagine any Democratic president naming someone who espoused such views and in the (tiny, tiny) chance Macgregor gets picked, he’s likely to be slammed by Pelosi, Cardin, Kristof et al. as the gravest threat to world peace since John Bolton.