Dear Mr. President, I hereby resign, effective immediately, as assistant to the president for national security affairs. Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country.
-- Sincerely, John R. Bolton
Bolton is out.
Another National Security Advisor down.
Bolton claims he quit. Trump claims he was fired. In the end, I don’t suppose it matters much.
Reportedly, Bolton was fired, or quit, after a furious argument with Trump over Iran.
Or maybe it was North Korea.
According to news reports – which Trump will no doubt decry as “fake news” any minute now – Bolton disagreed with Trump and Trump’s inner circle on nearly every aspect of the President’s … well, I suppose we have to call it “foreign policy,” though that implies some sort of coherent strategy beyond random tweets and the evidence really doesn’t support that.
And you know, it’s a damned bizarre world we’re living in when the slavering jingoist with a dead wharf rat glued to his upper lip is the sanest one in the room.
Bolton has been vocally opposed to Trump’s repeated attempts to cozy up to Kim Jong Un, something the President seems determined to do for no discernable reason other than he just likes dictators. Likewise, Bolton has also been publicly critical of Trump’s repeated dismissal of Russian aggression, both against its neighbor and against the United States. Again, there’s no logical reason for Trump’s position. The same is true of nearly every other National Security issue from Syria to Afghanistan – especially Afghanistan. And we’ll come back to that in a minute. So, ultimately, it’s not really surprising that the same guy who is so utterly insecure he would order the Secretary of Commerce to threaten National Weather Service personnel over a mistake he made would fire the only guy in his inner circle who disagreed with him on a regular basis.
Now, before I go any further, understand something here: I’ll shed no tears for John Bolton.
Bolton’s entire worldview is based on the idea that might makes right, that force is the ultimate moral authority, that war is how the future should be shaped.
It’s difficult to understand just how terrible John Bolton is and just how much his influence on our government has shaped all the worst aspects of our nation today.
Bolton began as an intern in Spiro Agnew’s office. He was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War – but, like many conservatives, actively avoided going to war himself, saying, "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost." He later explained his comments by suggesting that he would have gone to Vietnam if only liberals hadn’t “made certain we would not prevail and I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from. ” Eventually Bolton wormed his way into the Reagan Administration and was involved in everything from the “War on Drugs” to Iran-Contra. And like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and all the other foul distillate from those years, Bolton returned when George W. Bush took office and he was right back to the same old tricks.
Then came 9-11.
That was the moment he’d been waiting for and Bolton milked the horror for all it was worth. He was there at every turn, on every channel, in every meeting, demanding war.
And he got it.
He finally got his war – with no danger of being drafted to actually go fight in this one.
And even after it turned out Bolton was wrong about everything from Yellowcake uranium to Saddam’s involvement in 9-11, he stood steadfast in his support of that war and said the “only mistake that the United States did with regard to Iraq” was to not leave earlier. Bolton said the US should have pulled out after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and told the Iraqis "Here's a copy of the Federalist Papers. Good luck.”
Bolton is the very worst of the Neocon hawks, a xenophobic warmongering jingoist who has been an influence on American policy in all the wrong ways for far, far too long. Good riddance and the only part of his departure from government service that saddens me is that it didn’t end with him being hauled away by grim faced men in dark suits and stuffed into a cold dirty cage on the Southern border. May his moustache be ever infested with syphilitic fleas and the ghosts of all the dead killed in all the wars he started howl forever in his ears. May we never hear his name again. I hope he dies alone after a long period of suffering, destitute, and in some hilariously embarrassing fashion.
Fuck John Bolton.
But, as much as I despise Bolton – and despite the above paragraphs you really have no idea how much as an Iraq Veteran I despise John Bolton – I was in some ways glad he was there, a contrary gadfly among the simpering toadies and ass-licking sycophants of Trump’s administration. I’m opposed to nearly everything Bolton stands for, but if he daily threw sand into the gears of Trump’s ambitions then perhaps he served a useful purpose.
The Ironic part is that Trump fired Bolton not so much for being contrary, but for being right – well, on a few things anyway.
Bolton at least operated from cold calculation. His advice to Trump not to meet with terrorists at Camp David wasn’t so much because John Bolton doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, because he does, but because he’s a shrewd political operator and he knew both that the Taliban would betray any promises made and what it would look like to the American people.
Trump operates from his gut. And Trump’s instincts – driven by his ego and his all consuming insecurity and his overwhelming need to be seen as important – are almost always wrong.
But it’s ironic that the final break should come, at least in part, over Afghanistan.
Maybe irony isn’t a strong enough word here.
Trump claims he’s always been opposed to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Twitter doesn’t go back that far, but maybe it’s even true. Maybe Trump was always opposed to war. His tweets and comments beginning in 2009 certainly seem to suggest so, he complained all through the Obama Administration that the US should just get out of Afghanistan – though his concern seems to always have been less about the staggering human cost and more about the money:
Afghanistan is a total disaster. We don't know what we are doing. They are, in addition to everything else, robbing us blind.
-- Donald J. Trump, March 12, 2012
Trump campaigned on pulling the US out of Afghanistan – famously claiming “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”
And so it’s ironic indeed that he should have nominated John Bolton, one of the principal architects of that very war, as his National Security Advisor.
And so here we are, three years later. There’s the part where Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the so-called Iran Agreement, largely on the advice of his National Security Advisor because Bolton has openly advocated for war with Iran for more than 30 years now, but now it’s Trump who wants to secretly meet with Iran’s leaders and hash out some sort of peace deal. Meanwhile it’s Bolton, the guy who was mad at Ted Kennedy for not staying the course in Vietnam but who then wanted to just walk away from Iraq, screw it, good luck, who thinks we need to stay in Afghanistan. And it’s Trump who thinks we should just pull out, walk away, screw it, good luck, because we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
You could get whiplash.
But that’s just it, isn’t it?
That irony, right there.
I’m reminded of that scene in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, where the characters are trapped in an ancient ruined underground city, destroyed by war and filled with endless enemies, and among the skeletons of the previous owners, Gandalf finds a journal and begins to read the final entry: They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums, drums in the deep! We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out. They are coming.
That’s Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires.
Trump wants to cut and run.
Bolton wants to stay and kill some more.
Both are rotten options and with inevitable consequences.
If we run, more Americans will die. There will be more death, more destruction, more terrorism. It’s inevitable. Leaving the country ruined and in the hands of warlords, religious fanatics, and terrorists will, without doubt, one day come back to kill us.
Because it always does. Always. Every time.
If we stay, it’s more of the same. It’s just a continuation of the last 19 years. More war, more money, more dead, more terror. ‘Round and round without end.
We can’t get out.
We can’t safely retreat.
We can’t win. No matter what we do, we lose. Sooner or later, we’ll lose.
We can’t win in Afghanistan for one very good reason.
Because we never defined what winning is.
And again, ironically, for two guys who so vehemently disagree, the single trait that defines both Trump and Bolton is that very lack of definition.
Bolton has been involved in America’s wars since Vietnam – but he has never once, not one time, ever defined what “winning” any of those wars would look like.
Trump never defines anything. He’s the king of vague, undefined statements. Winning! We’re winning again! Make America great! And never, not once, not one time, has he ever defined what he means by “winning.”
Now, to be fair – and you have no idea how little interest I have in being fair to either of these two – it’s not just this administration.
This has been America’s foreign policy since 1945.
That’s what you think of when somebody says “win the war,” isn’t it? 1945. Sure. Simple. Bomb the enemy into submission. March into his capital. Make him sign the instruments of surrender. And, hey, war’s over! Now we’re all friends! Freedom and democracy magically spring from the ashes and we get a couple of new overseas bases granted in perpetuity. Johnny comes marching home again a hero and we have a big parade and that’s it. Over. Done.
Except that hasn’t happened since 1945. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the little wars in between from Beirut to Somalia, we have no idea what the end state looks like. None. It sure as hell doesn’t look like 1945.
What is victory in Afghanistan?
No. Don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. Answer the question, what is victory in Afghanistan? What does winning look like?
Trump says he could achieve victory in a week – but then again he knows more than the generals.
“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I would win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill ten million people. Does that make sense to you?”
I could win that war in a week. That’s what Trump said.
By killing ten million people.
Pretty obvious what he’s talking about. Nukes. Burn the country down to the bedrock under a rain of radioactive fire.
Is that victory?
Is that winning?
Literally vaporizing an entire nation off the planet. Wage nuclear war against a third world country. Commit genocide on a scale to dwarf Hitler’s best efforts?
Do you really think the war would end there?
Do you think the survivors of that nuclear bombardment would then just roll over? March down to the harbor and sign an unconditional surrender on the deck of a US warship. Do you really?
No, I suppose not even John Bolton would call that winning.
So what is?
What is winning in Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Or Vietnam? Or…well, let’s just stick to one problem at a time for now.
What is winning in Afghanistan?
What’s the end state?
You notice that in nearly twenty years of war, no one, not Bush, not Obama, and certainly not Trump, has told you what it is that we are fighting for. What the end state is. What victory is.
Is it a functioning government? A stable civilization? Is that the end state we want?
What kind of government? Do we even care so long as the resulting nation is stable and no threat to the rest of the world? Then find the meanest, most ruthless son of a bitch and put him in charge. Give him guns and tanks and let him conquer the country, root out the terrorists, get the population in line. What skin is it off our ass if the Afghanis are crushed under oppression so long as they’re no threat to us? I mean, right?
We can’t do that?
But why not?
That’s Russia’s basic strategy in Syria, you say?
Well, okay, sure. And far be it from me to point out that was the same basic policy we used with Marcos and The Shah and Batista and Saddam and Noriega and …
Fine. I’ll stop. Okay. That’s bad. Don’t do that. Got it.
So, then what?
If not a ruthless dictatorship, what kind of government? Democracy? A republic? Sounds good.
How do you build that from the ruins of Afghanistan? Representative republics are built on a foundation of existing civilization, they don’t sprout fully formed from nothing. In Germany and Japan, there had been functioning civilizations before the war, before those nations were bombed to rubble. The people there had experience with government, with civilization, they were essentially unified as a people. Germans. Japanese. But Afghanistan? There has been war and ruin in Afghanistan for so long that we are now generations removed from a functioning nation and no one there has any experience in building a republic from the ground up nor does the population have any such desire, and they are far, far from unified as a people.
And when I say this to Americans, they all respond with the same thing: Well, duh, they’ve been fighting there for 1200 years!
And again, it’s ironic.
Yesterday in America was the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. 3000 people died. A terrible day.
And yesterday the message from our leaders was this: never forget.
Never forget the horror.
Never forget the fear.
Never forget the pain.
Never forget that we were attacked.
Never forget that we were wronged.
Never forget those who died.
Never forget who the enemy is.
Never forget. As I said, ironic, because that’s Afghanistan. That’s the people of Afghanistan. Proud. Fierce. Vengeful. They never forget. They never forget who did them wrong, who their enemies are, the slights and insults of the past, the dead, the wars, the invaders.
In our nation we shout NEVER FORGET!
In Afghanistan, you see the devastation all around you of a people who never forget.
Never forget, we shout here in America. Never forget. And yet we expect others, those we attacked to forget. To forgive. To let it go and come together and build civilization from the ruins – not for their sake, but to make America safer.
Maybe not so much ironic as hypocritical, now that I think about it.
And to do that, to build that nation, that democracy, that republic, the one that puts aside its terrible past, you’ll need at least two generations. You’ll need stability, long term education, infrastructure, a functioning method of discourse, and a thousand other things – none of which are the skillset of militaries. If you want to build that nation, from scratch, it’s going to take decades, and it’s going to cost trillions, and it’s going to take a lot more than just dropping bombs on people.
And we don’t have the stomach for that.
We can’t even commit that sort of effort to our own nation, let alone Afghanistan.
We can’t forget, not for a generation or two at least, and neither can they and that’s how long it would take.
We don’t have the fortitude for nation building, we can’t just walk away. What’s left? Nuke ‘em? Meet with the terrorists at Camp David and hope for the best?
Here we are. Donald Trump has now arrived at exactly the same place Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him: Trapped.
Trapped by John Bolton and those who pushed America into this war for their own selfish ideology.
I don’t know what the answer is at this point, but I know for goddamned certain Donald Trump isn’t equipped to find it.
No one who surrounds himself with only those who tell him what he wants to hear will ever be so equipped.
We can’t get out.
We can’t get out.
History calls Afghanistan the graveyard of empires.
And John Bolton is the man who buried us.
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains
and the women come out to cut up what remains
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your Gawd like a soldier
-- Rudyard Kipling