Scapegoating John Bolton
Debate over American foreign policy is deeper than Trump’s former national security advisor.
“It’s a major personnel change, but it’s more than that — it’s great news for America! Especially for the large number of young people who would have been killed in pointless wars if [John] Bolton had stayed on the job. They may not be celebrating tonight, but they should be.” —Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, commenting on the ouster of National Security Advisor John Bolton
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” ―Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky
Last Wednesday, America once again commemorated the most devastating domestic attack in the history of the nation. Eighteen years ago, while the rubble was still smoldering where the World Trade Center once stood, Americans learned that a then-largely unknown terrorist group called al-Qaida, led by a man named Osama bin Laden, was responsible. They also earned that the government of Afghanistan, run by Islamist extremists called the Taliban, had allowed al-Qaida to use their country as a staging ground for the attack.
Only hours before the attack, former President Bill Clinton spoke at a business meeting in Melbourne, Australia, addressing his administration’s approach toward bin Laden. “I spent a lot of time thinking about him. And I nearly got him once,” Clinton said. “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”
Clinton made it sound like the opportunity to capture the terrorist mastermind was a one-off. It wasn’t. “President Clinton and his national security team ignored several opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden and his terrorist associates, including one as late as last year,” wrote Council on Foreign Relations member Mansoor Ijaz on Dec. 5, 2001. “I know because I negotiated more than one of the opportunities.”
Subsequently, Clinton’s stance became known as the “law enforcement” approach to terrorism. It was embraced by Barack Obama and his administration, which engendered the contemptible reality that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will finally be tried on Jan. 11, 2021. In 2008, the Obama administration rejected his willingness to plead guilty before a military commission because of their “ideological insistence on treating terrorists like common criminals and trying them in federal courts,” as columnist Marc Theissen explained in 2010.
Politics was also part of the equation. Mohammed had been “waterboarded,” which was subsequently defined as “torture” when it became expedient to do so — even though it was once part of the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (S.E.R.E.) training program. Yet many of the same Democrats and media personalities who condemned the “barbaric practice” to bash the Bush administration’s approach to terror abided the Obama administration’s summary execution of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone strike on Sept. 30, 2011. In fact, Obama bragged about it, calling it a “major blow to al-Qaida’s most active operational affiliate.”
The U.S. military quickly ousted the Taliban government and al-Qaida in what was often referred to by the Left as the “good war,” for no other reason than to contrast it against the “bad war” that subsequently occurred in Iraq. That would be the Iraq war overwhelmingly authorized by both Houses of Congress in December 2002, including “yea” votes from Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards. One month earlier, President George W. Bush won a unanimous vote from the UN Security Council for Resolution 1441, stating Iraq was in material breach of ceasefire terms related to WMDs, prohibited missiles and the purchase of prohibited arms. All of the attention directed at Saddam Hussein was based on the assessments of British and American intel that Hussein either had, or was in the process of developing, WMDs.
So soon after 9/11, the thought of a brutal dictator possessing nukes — nukes he could give to terrorist groups to which his nation provided support — was untenable.
Thus a multinational coalition force invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, and ousted Saddam Hussein’s government in just three weeks. While most media to this day insist no WMDs were found, 550 metric tons of “yellowcake,” a component of higher-grade nuclear enrichment, was airlifted from Iraq to Canada in 2008.
During the 2004 presidential primaries, anti-war activist Howard Dean initially vaulted into the lead. Shortly thereafter, candidates John Kerry and John Edwards “discovered” they were against the war they initially voted for. “Bush lied, people died” — a throughly discredited lie in and of itself — became the vehicle the Left used to ignite war weariness among Americans.
In reality that weariness was almost wholly engendered by the endless, expensive, and thoroughly discredited effort to “nation build” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, long after our military objectives were achieved.
That people like Tucker Carlson, and several others on the Left and Right, conflate nation building with wars fought for national security is utterly preposterous.
That kind of war weariness is a luxury, one apparently borne of the belief that if the U.S. simply minds its own business, millions of Islamic extremists, Chinese Communists, Iranian mullahs, and other bad actors in the world will follow suit. Yet as the Clinton era reminds us, treating terrorists as a law-enforcement problem didn’t stop the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, or the initial attempt to destroy the Word Trade Center.
Where Carlson and others rightfully gain traction is with the political cowardice that has put men and women in harm’s way absent the desire to achieve unambiguous victory. It has been that way since Vietnam, and has been epitomized by such despicable concepts as the Rules of Engagement, the “winning hearts and minds” strategy that consisted of unarmed coalition troops cohabiting with armed Afghan trainees in order to “build trust,” a maniacal obsession with preventing civilian casualties even if it endangers American troops in the process, and scheduled troop withdrawals. What about breaking the enemy’s will, which is the ultimate prerequisite for achieving victory and discouraging future conflicts?
Missing in Action.
It’s easy to blame people like John Bolton and others for a hawkish approach to world affairs, but where would blame be directed if America endured another domestic attack as bad — or far worse — than 9/11? Can Carlson, et al, completely assure Americans that Iran’s ruling regime, which leads chants “death to America” on an annual basis, or Chinese Communists, who steal our intellectual property with abandon even as they amplify their military adventurism with equal fervor, are simply misunderstood characters needing only a congenial word or gesture to abandon decades of contemptible behavior?
Absent the poison of political correctness that embraces the blame game, the finger-pointing — and 20/20 hindsight most of all — it is worth remembering that Trotsky’s quote remains as relevant as ever. And while men like John Bolton may be too reflexive regarding the use of force, reflexive avoidance of its use could be immensely catastrophic.
America should look for every opportunity to avoid conflict, but it should never do so at the expense of national security.
If war is inevitable? Victory should be just as inevitable — political correctness be damned.
- Barack Obama
- George W Bush
- Bill Clinton
- John Bolton
- national security
- foreign policy
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