The hysteria from the Left over Donald Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor to replace Lt. General H. R. McMaster has been partly hilarious, partly alarming to behold. From The Guardian in this country to The New York Times, CNN, Slate, Salon, and beyond in the United States, we are presented with a scarecrow figure who makes Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove look like Albert Schweitzer after a nap. ‘Yes’, screamed an editorial in The New York Times, ‘John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous’. Bolton is a ‘hawk’s hawk’, an ‘extreme ideologue’ and ‘warmonger’ whose appointment ‘scares people’ and ‘puts us on a path to war’. Adds Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, ‘and it’s fair to say [sure it is, Fred] that President Donald Trump wants us on that path’. In short, ‘the time to panic is now’. Argh!!!
Hysteria has its pleasures. But if we step outside the echo chamber of this feverish anti-Trump mad house, we soon discover that John Bolton is not the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. On the contrary, he is an informed and thoughtful commentator on international affairs. The over-caffeinated chihuahuas yapping at his heels are in a panic because he doesn’t like the ‘deal’ (what some of us would describe as the craven capitulation) that Barack Obama made with Iran over its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Obama shovelled more than a billion dollars in cash to the Mullahs and said in effect ‘pretty please do not make any nuclear bombs’. The New York Times, in one of its excoriations of John Bolton, wrote that ‘The Iran deal has substantially halted the nuclear program and needs to be maintained’. But anyone not blinded by ideology knows that the third thing the Iranian leaders do each morning, after proclaiming ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America’, is to chivvy their scientists to get on with their work making a bomb with which to obliterate the Zionist entity and threaten the Great Satan.
Something similar can be said about North Korea. Bolton’s critics chatter like terrified, dyspeptic starlings because he has suggested that Kim Jong Un’s deployment of nuclear weapons presents an existential threat that may have to be met by a preemptive military strike. But does any thinking person doubt this? Moreover, as Rocket Man prepares for his meeting with President Trump, the presence of John Bolton in the American entourage should have a clarifying effect on the tubby tyrant.
But the revulsion on the Left against John Bolton is occasioned by much more than his robust positions on Iran and North Korea. It includes, for example, his support of Brexit and his rejection of the demand that the West provide a home for Syrian refugees. At the end of the day, what Bolton’s enemies really hate is his insistence on the central importance of national sovereignty to the maintenance of that world order bequeathed to us by the peace of Westphalia in 1648. They hate John Bolton because he is a patriotic nationalist and they are utopian globalists. As he put it a few years ago in How Barack Obama is Endangering Our National Sovereignty, ‘advocates of ‘sharing’ or ‘pooling’ U.S. sovereignty with international organisations to address ‘global’ problems are really saying we should cede some of our sovereignty to institutions that other nations will also influence or even control. That is unquestionably a formula for reducing U.S. autonomy and reducing our control over government’. In Bolton’s view, nationalism is a good thing, a support, not a threat, to freedom. And sovereignty is an indispensable adjunct to nationalism.
John Bolton is thus an appropriate counsellor for a President whose signature policy is ‘America First’—which does not mean, as he hastened to add, ‘America Alone’. Some news outlets have made heavy weather out of the fact that Bolton is Donald Trump’s third national security advisor in fourteen months. But that is laughable. A cabal in the CIA and FBI destroyed Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn after a few weeks. General McMaster was hurriedly slotted into the position. De dimissis nil nisi bonum dicendum est: about the sacked one should say nothing but good. H.R. McMaster is a great and noble warrior (the fact that that phrase sounds odd to our effete ears tells us a lot about ourselves). But apparently he never really meshed with his boss. Rumours of his departure have been rife for months. Last week, the President called Vladimir Putin after his election. He congratulated Putin on his victory even though his briefing memo admonished DO NOT CONGRATULATE, something we know because it was leaked to The Washington Post, to the fury of the President, McMaster, and all responsible actors in the White House. That seems to have been the proverbial straw that did in the dromedary.
In an interview after accepting his new post, Bolton said that his previous policy expostulations were ‘behind’ him. Henceforth, his agenda would be the President’s agenda. His advice would aim to illuminate the best options to achieve the President’s aims, not advance his own. This is how it should be. And for a President whose lodestar is pragmatism, John Bolton is likely to be a valuable counsellor. Bolton is a realist. He understands the metabolism of power and is not pusillanimous about saying so. He would like Talleyrand’s observation that ‘non-intervention is a metaphysical idea, indistinguishable in practice from intervention’. It is not surprising that he makes timid men— men without chests, as C. S. Lewis put it—nervous. But John Bolton is no ‘warmonger’. He is a forthright man of peace who understand the dangers of pacifism in a world where evil is rife. He would applaud, and rightly, the Roman military historian Vegetius: si vis pacem, para bellum: ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’.