Bolton Kneels Before The Emperor(s)
Even many conservative Trump skeptics continue to buy into the standard, long-running narrative that National Security Advisor John Bolton, who played cheerleader for Trump until he finally won that plum administration job he had clearly been angling for (just like seemingly every other Fox News commentator), is some kind of rough-and-tumble, straight-talking military throwback. In truth, moustachioed affectations aside, Bolton is just another lawyer and career bureaucrat, but one who happens to vote Republican.
In other words, he is a GOP establishment apparatchik, and has never been anything else, which is why he fit in so well with the Bush team, and why he became the go-to (and handsomely-paid) “guest expert” on foreign affairs at Fox, where he earned his living by pretending to be interviewed by various hosts, riling up the base with tough talk about regime change and preemptive strikes here, there, and everywhere. Think of him as the Larry Kudlow of military hawks.
And that comparison reminds us of one other similarity between those two recent additions to the Trump White House. Talking like a free-thinking “big ideas” man is one thing; the real test, however, is how far one is prepared to go to accommodate oneself (i.e., sell one’s thoughts and voice) for the sake of toeing a party line.
Kudlow, whose paid employment with Fox News was based on his advocacy of free trade and criticism of protectionism, has spent his entire brief tenure as Director of the National Economic Council publicly defending Trump’s tariffs and trade war provocations against most of America’s closest allies.
Meanwhile, Bolton, whose paid employment with Fox was based in part on his giddy advocacy of preemptive strikes and regime change in North Korea, has had to sit by and watch Trump play Celebrity Apprentice with Kim Jong-un, who naturally outwitted the Orange Moron — Who wouldn’t? — and brought home big concessions to Chinese interests, as well as buying himself more time to work on his nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, Bolton has just returned from a visit to Russia, where he met Vladimir Putin and top officials from the Putin thugocracy to prepare the red carpet and camera positions for his boss’s next stop in his World Dupe Summit Tour. In a Face the Nation interview on the weekend, he answered a question about Russia’s current bombing of southern Syria in violation of agreements with the U.S., and why Putin should be trusted in light of this, by saying “Well, we’ll see what happens when the two of them [Putin and Trump] get together. There are possibilities for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran.” In other words, he deflected the question about Russia’s trustworthiness by turning it into a discussion of Iran and its support of international terrorism.
And when the interviewer pressed the point about Russian influence in Syria by saying, “They’re declaring victory. Has Assad won the war?” Bolton deflects again, objecting, “Well I don’t think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue.” He then goes on a lengthy diatribe about Iran’s connections to international terrorism, sidestepping the whole matter of Russian support for both the Syrian and Iranian regimes, a concern Bolton used to talk about at length.
On Russian meddling in U.S. elections, its propaganda efforts aimed at undermining American society and creating corrosive factionalism, and the rest of the obvious KGB holdover strategies for winning the long war against liberal democracy and “the West,” Bolton delivers this bizarrely obfuscating tidbit:
I had meetings all throughout the day on Wednesday, including with President Putin and his foreign minister and his defense minister and his diplomatic advisor for about an hour and a half — the election meddling issue was definitely something we talked about — and I thought it was significant that…[regarding] meddling in the 2016 election, and our concern about what they’re doing in the 2018 election, what President Putin said, through a translator of course, but what he said was, “There was no meddling in 2016 by the Russian state.”
Bolton goes on to argue that this is significant, because it seems to involve a concession that there may have been some kind of meddling, but just not by the Putin government itself. But what does this amount to but a clever rhetorical attempt to drive a wedge between the issue of “Russian meddling in U.S. political affairs” and the question of Putin’s personal culpability? In other words, it is Bolton’s attempt to obscure Putin’s involvement on his behalf. Since it is obvious that Putin is a liar, a killer, a man entirely without scruples, an ex-KGB officer with personal connections throughout the Russian oligarchy, and the chief beneficiary of the “Russian state’s” English media voice, RT (formerly Russia Today), the idea that Bolton, a supposed straight-talker, would take this implausible claim of innocence at face value is, to put it politely, a little un-Bolton-like.
When questioned about Russia’s attempts to subvert NATO, Bolton goes on a rant about the fact that NATO members are not fulfilling their obligations to the alliance — which may be true, but is, again, a way of avoiding the completely separate question about Russia’s behavior towards NATO.
On the topic of Ukraine and Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Trump, beginning at the G7 meeting, has repeatedly suggested he is very open to the idea of simply conceding that land to Russia, since they have invested a lot of money there now, including setting up military bases (!), as though an invasion were equivalent to squatters rights to a territory. Asked about Trump’s position, Bolton flat-out denies that this is the U.S. position, though he has to know very well what Trump has said publicly about it. When pressed on whether the current official position is open to sudden change, however, he follows the exact wording of his boss by insisting, “We’ll see.” In other words, Trump cannot be trusted not to cave to Putin’s claims and demands on territorial issues, exactly as NATO and the European Union fear. Trump cannot be trusted to press Putin about his government’s broad, long-term propaganda efforts (and successes) in American society and politics. Trump will not stand firm against Putin’s attempts to extend Russian influence and strategic alliances throughout the Middle East, at the expense of American interests (and Israeli interests, which is a faction Bolton also used to play to very vocally). Trump cannot be expected to oppose Putin on anything significant, except occasionally for superficial optics purposes.
At his Singapore summit, Trump gave China everything it wanted, and seemingly got nothing in return. At his upcoming Russia summit, Trump is likely to give Vladimir Putin everything he wants, and undoubtedly to get nothing in return.
We have seen many times that Donald Trump only surrounds himself with people prepared to kiss his ring. The same, obviously, is true of Vladimir Putin. With his post-Moscow comments, Bolton seems to be kissing both rings at once. A man who for years has endeared himself to conservatives by pretending to fear no one’s disagreement, is now playing apologist for both Trump’s weakness and Putin’s dissembling, all the while trying to maintain the appearance of toughness.
Much like his boss.
Here, if you are interested, is the video from Bolton’s Face the Nation appearance: