The dark comedy that will all too soon officially become the Trump administration is still in previews, but already we’re learning that the cosmic joke is on every American who believed whatever the man we must call “president-elect” said. That beautiful big border wall? It’s probably going to be a fence. Those 11 million deportations? That number has been cut by about 80 percent, down to roughly what the Obama administration is doing to rid the country of non-citizen criminals now. Draining that Washington swamp of reptilian lobbyists? They’re in charge of his transition.
And did you believe Donald Trump’s claim that he was against the war in Iraq, as he falsely claimed over and over again? Did you assume that he opposed the neoconservative policies of the Bush administration? Did you think he would be more cautious about foreign intervention than Hillary Clinton, as Trump promised when he blamed her for misadventures in Iraq, Libya, and Syria?
During the past year plenty of crackpots, on the left as well as the right, declared a preference for Trump over the “globalist” Clinton on national security and foreign policy issues, citing her Iraq war vote and her vaguely hawkish demeanor. But that brand of analysis was exposed as pitifully naïve on Nov. 14, as credible rumors began to circulate that one of the top two candidates for Secretary of State is John Bolton, who served as UN ambassador during the George W. Bush administration.
Yes, that’s the same John Bolton who demanded last year that the United States bomb Iran.
If Trump were serious about “draining the swamp,” Bolton would be among the first to be flushed down the ditch; instead, he is evidently preparing to redecorate the top office at Foggy Bottom. He has dwelled deep in Washington’s fetid conservative bogs since the Reagan administration, when he toiled as a flack in the disreputable Justice Department headed by Edwin Meese — an attorney general so steeped in ethical stink that his top deputies, lifelong Republicans, resigned in protest. But Meese’s misconduct didn’t trouble Bolton.
In subsequent years Bolton attached himself to the neoconservatives as an “arms control expert.” That didn’t mean he knew anything about nuclear arms or controlling their perilous spread, but merely that he would regurgitate belligerent right-wing pap about why we didn’t need any arms treaties — not even to safeguard the old Soviet Union’s “loose nukes.”
During his tenure at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Bolton committed many offenses against common sense and international security that led actual foreign policy experts to despise him. He tried to destroy the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Bioweapons Convention, and every other document that has made the world slightly safer over the past 75 years. But surely Bolton’s most reckless project was to sabotage vital cooperation between the US and Russia to keep nuclear weapons from disappearing into the clutches of rogue states and terrorist groups.
Never a deep thinker, Bolton proved to be an eager instrument of the neoconservative cabal associated with Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush years. Not only did he support the scheme to attack Iraq — and remake the Mideast through aggressive war — but actively promoted the official lies and propaganda that led to the US invasion. From his perch in the State Department, Bolton helped to promote the forged documents supposedly proving that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger — a fraud that spawned multiple scandals, including the exposure of the identity of patriotic CIA agent Valerie Plame, who had worked covertly against nuclear proliferation.
On other fronts, Bolton was also an advocate of the absurd claim that Iraq was behind the original World Trade Center bombing by jihadi terrorists in 1993. He actively barred analysts who questioned the faked intelligence from participating in policy meetings on Iraq, presumably on orders from Cheney. In short, he was among the geniuses who cost the United States and Iraq many thousands of lives, while wasting trillions of dollars on a war that ultimately empowered a pro-Iran Shia regime.
Actually, Bolton was among the original signatories to the Project for A New American Century letter in 1998 urging an American invasion of Iraq — and reportedly believed that the US should subsequently overthrow the regimes in Syria, Iran, and North Korea too. According to neocon theory, the installation of a friendly government in Baghdad would lead inexorably to the transformation of the Mideast as the dominoes fell in Damascus, Tehran, and elsewhere.
In 2005, Bush and Cheney named Bolton US ambassador to the United Nations, an organization to which he had often declared hostility in the style of the paranoid far right. His record was so dismal, including attempts to mislead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that former Secretary of State Colin Powell took extraordinary steps to derail his nomination. With the help of several wavering Republican Senators, the Democrats succeeded in mounting a filibuster of his nomination and forced Bush to install him as a recess appointment.
Perhaps that entertaining drama will be reprised soon in a fresh confirmation hearing, where Bolton can explain the Niger uranium scandal, the horrific outcome of the Iraq war, how he misled Senators in 2005, and why he is so eager now to spark yet another bloody conflict in the Mideast. Or perhaps Trump will instead nominate Rudy Giuliani, whose only foreign policy experience consists of telling tall tales about his role in the investigation of the Achille Lauro terrorist attack. But even considering Bolton indicates the essential phoniness of Trump’s “cautious” campaign pose.