John Bolton Reveals the Ugly Truth of U.S. Foreign Policy

John Bolton, the career bureaucratic climber who has, shall we say, “forged” a reputation for himself as a fearless, tough-as-nails military man, has decided, as usual, to add his two cents to America’s current foreign policy discussion, and in the process revealed everything you needed to know — or were hoping not to have to admit — about the U.S. government’s true aims regarding today’s greatest immediate challenge, the war in Ukraine.

In a Washington Examiner article, writer Quin Hillyer naïvely accepts Bolton’s self-description as a modern proponent of Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to preventing military conflict. He presents Bolton’s criticisms of President Biden’s early handling of the war, and of his lack of clarity in the days leading up to the Russian invasion. 

Bolton criticized President Joe Biden for doling out sanctions against Russia in dribs and drabs before and in the early weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while contradicting his own officials by saying the sanctions he threatened before the invasion were “not intended to deter [dictator Vladimir] Putin…. What was the man talking about? What could he have possibly meant by that?”

There you have a straightforward expression of the deterrence model of peace: Act decisively in non-military ways in order to project strength and certainty, thus weakening the will, or at least increasing the self-doubt and circumspection, of one’s adversaries. It worked well for Reagan, and could work well now. Fair enough.

Then, however, the article turns more specifically to the issue of Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear war. How serious are Putin’s warnings? Would he really resort to starting a nuclear conflict? Bolton insists that such talk is merely a “bluff,” that the use of nuclear weapons is not “really in the cards” at this point. 

Even though it was six full weeks ago that Putin talked about “raising the alert status” of his nukes, Bolton said, defense and intelligence officials since then have testified on Capitol Hill that they have seen “no indication of any operational change in Russia’s nuclear forces….”

But then Bolton adds this:

“I don’t think his resort to nuclear weapons comes until he’s in an existential threat position, which I would define as Russian forces in full and complete retreat out of Ukraine, maybe even Ukraine entering into Russian territory.”

Pay attention, Ukrainians. For that surmise, coming from one of the most famous U.S. foreign policy hawks, and intended as reassurance that Putin will not use nuclear weapons, gives away the whole game on America’s true position regarding your war of self-defense, your will to survive, and your hopes for your country’s future.

To closely paraphrase Bolton’s explanation of how to avoid triggering Putin’s nuclear option — to paraphrase without any interpretation, but merely to restate more directly what he has already said clearly enough:

The world need not worry about Putin’s nuclear threats, because he would never really resort to that option unless he felt an existential threat. And what would constitute an existential threat? Losing the war in Ukraine outright. 

Did you catch the full meaning there? John Bolton’s updated version of “peace through strength” entails never putting Russia in the position of having to retreat, which in this case means never forcing the Russian military to leave the country it has invaded and cede the territory it has occupied. In Bolton’s view, which he presents not as a radical new idea but as the conservative, reasonable approach of the U.S. government today, Joe Biden’s confusing statements notwithstanding, American policy should aim to avoid the outcome of an unambiguous Russian defeat in this war.

For the pencil-pushers and bureaucratic wine-and-cheese crowd, the goal has never been, and could never be, to defeat hostile and aggressive rival governments, and then gradually entice those former enemy nations to transform themselves into peaceful neighbors and trading partners. The goal is to maintain the “stability” of endless threats, posturing, and “negotiations,” in the service of which it may occasionally be necessary to sacrifice some inessential territory, some inconsequential populations, to the aggressors, in order to avoid an untidy escalation into a more fundamental and decisive conflict between right and wrong, freedom and tyranny, good and evil, to defer to the Reaganesque language that frauds like John Bolton are happy to throw around on television or at parties, but which has no effect on their actual policy positions. 

Let me restate the matter even more bluntly, for any who are still missing the point: John Bolton has just told us in no uncertain terms that it is, and should be, U.S. policy to ensure that Russia suffers material losses in Ukraine, but that it never actually loses the war and has to retreat from the land it invaded, since that could trigger a nuclear war.

Note to Ukraine and to every other country that is now, or might soon be, facing an existential threat in the form of an acquisitive tyranny at its borders: Never trust as your ally, let alone as your most necessary ally, a nation that has made “defeat and acquiescence through strength” its official foreign policy for fifty years, minus the extraordinary eight-year blip of its one morally rational presidency.

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