John Bolton, the mustachioed “hard-liner” who replaced H. R. McMaster as President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor last year, was thanked for his service Monday and told to haul ass. His response was to send word via Twitter — a teenage gewgaw, the only adult known to make effective use of it being the president — that, no, he offered to quit Sunday night, but the prez said something to the effect of, “Stick around, and we’ll talk about it.”
If this is factual, the lack of dignity on Mr. Bolton’s side is unfortunate. Contrast this bitchy way of leaving with the calm, cool departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who disagreed with the prez on an important issue, which he viewed as being also the very essence of a basic principle of U.S. foreign policy. Gen. Mattis urged the president not to abandon our gallant Kurdish allies in the Middle Eastern inferno, and said he could not countenance such an abandonment and viewed it, moreover, as a breach of a key requirement of our foreign security policy: keeping allies and, therefore, sustaining their trust that we will not hang them out to dry.
President Trump let him walk, with courtesy maintained on both sides. He then maintained the policy Mattis recommended.
By making a petulant he-said-he-said out of a human resources matter, Bolton gives the prez a psychological pretext to stick to his own worst ideas — if that is what they are. Bolton reportedly did not want the president to meet, and perhaps negotiate, with some of our enemies, notably the Afghan Taliban leadership and the khomaniacs who rule Iran.
Is cutting a deal with wicked men necessarily a bad idea?
The question must be posed: If we do not negotiate with our enemies, what are enemies for? Mr. Bolton’s supporters — and we surely shall not deny we recommended him for State back in the day, though back in the day was when there were rumors the president-elect was eyeing Mitt Romney for the job, whom we thought should be ambassador to Congo — Mr. B.’s friends, we were saying, will argue that enemies exist to be crushed like worms.
Sure. In hindsight, of course Mr. Bush had better options after 9/11. In hindsight, you can let your imagination run wild. Mr. Bush could have sent some of those secret soldiers to kill Saddam Hussein and made a detour to Tehran on the way home to put explosive devices under the top khomaniacs’ beds.
But hindsight is not what policymakers deal with. They deal with the problem at hand, which sometimes seems, and with reason, a life-or-death crisis. The short view is often myopic, just like that vaunted first draft of history somebody in our line of work once mentioned.
The fact is, usually you get it wrong at first sight. But first sight is usually the only sight you’ve got, given the risks of waiting for second sight.
Douglas MacArthur may well have been right, and Harry Truman and Dean Acheson may have been wrong, but the risk of all-out nuclear war, weighed against a decisive victory in Korea, was real — as was the long-term damage to our system of government of open defiance by a military commander.
These are tough questions, and they are permanent questions, and they are why history in school is so important. Mr. Pleszczynski remembers his finest history teacher making a whole lesson out of the Truman-MacArthur controversy when he, as a bright teen, perceived that the great commander may, in fact, have been accurate in his strategic assessment.
Bolton, notwithstanding we can appreciate his view that our enemies are bad guys who should be treated as such, is not MacArthur, and if you are going to go the MacArthur route, it is better — more dignified — to politely resign and then say whatever you want, protected by the First Amendment and the public’s eagerness to know what you have to say.
As best we can judge, President Trump dislikes our enemies just as much as Mr. Bolton does. He has an unorthodox approach to them, by recent criteria. Recent criteria are to send American soldiers into wars with no clear fronts to confront enemies that are constitutionally incapable of admitting they are beaten. Ask the Israelis.
This may, to be sure, be a reason to resort to the MacArthur option and clean their clocks once and for all. But if you go down that radical road, you may also allow as how it may be worth a shot at another road no less radical, namely trying to soften ’em up with flattery and negotiations and try to make a deal. Ask the Israelis.
It may not work. The dealmaker on the other side can get murdered by crazies. Or he may be a fink. (Ask the Brits in ’38, or for that matter ask us at Potsdam in ’45 or Paris in the negotiations with the Viet commies.)
Not to sound like that dopey principal at the dance in the gym scene in West Side Story, but the fact is it can’t hurt to try. Mr. Trump is not a man to fail to see when he is being duped for trying to play nice. He walked out on the North Korean tyrant when that fat creep suddenly raised the ante at the meeting in Hanoi. He walked out on the Taliban when those serial-killing madmen showed their true intentions by killing fellow Muslims en masse just prior to the scheduled meeting with our side.
Presidents usually favor negotiations; they do not want to risk American lives until forced to. The whole issue is how they negotiate and whether they set themselves up to negotiate not with the enemy but with themselves.
This brings us to a practical question: what now? The prez has been through three national security advisors, though the first one, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was subverted by a sick cabal of envious swamp creatures before he could give any advice. One can only hope he will get even eventually, but in the meantime, the president could use a replacement for Mr. Bolton, whose advice to the UN — move to Kinshasa — will be sorely missed, but that’s what happens when you get into these bureaucratic stab-in-the-back brawls.
Strictly speaking, it is not written anywhere the president needs a national security advisor, but it has been the tradition since President Eisenhower, so as Republicans and traditionalists, we say go on and spend a few million bucks of the taxpayers’ money to keep the counterweight to the striped pants lot down the street (“checks and balances”).
To be sure, Dr. Rice has better things to do, including teach and write from her academic base at Stanford and wait for Roger Goodell to admit he is a moron and take over as NFL comish and make pro football great again. Frankly, she might make a greater contribution to the nation by taking that job than by returning to the swamp. Which, by the way, still has not been drained, in part because the prez has been busy doing other things and in part because the Democrats have spent three years insulting him and his family instead of helping him govern in these perilous times.
Plus, been there done that. But Condi Rice is a patriot and a brain, and she is just what we need in this highly political year (compared to the coming year? or last year? or the year before last?), when the president will be out in the deep heartland giving heart to an America sick of Roger Goodell and Nancy Pelosi. Who better to mind the ship of state while he is out doing that? Mike Pompeo? He has his hands full at Foggy Bottom.
Condoleezza Rice is a classically trained musician, a Russian speaker, a Christian lady, and she has swamp experience.
We need someone with good sense, a clear-eyed understanding of the Russian, Chinese, North Korean, and Arab-Pashtun-Persian threats. Someone who can to keep a hand on the rudder while whispering — or severely admonishing — the president of the United States on when to threaten to swing the big stick, when to pick up the phone and speak softly into it, and when to maybe do both at the same time. If Dr. Rice feels she needs a staff — typically, the national security advisor has a small staff — she can call upon another eminent mind, Dr. Kiron Skinner, who was done in by some morons at the State Department recently and certainly does not need a job but would serve if called. We need a few good men. And women.