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My Conversations with John Bolton

Trump's new National Security Adviser is a preemptive warrior, a nonproliferation obsessive, and someone who has described himself as a "hawkish libertarian."

President Donald Trump's announcement last night that he was replacing purported realist H.R. McMaster as his National Security Adviser with pre-emptive war aficionado John Bolton led me down memory lane, and not just to the days when some anti-interventionist naifs believed out loud that "if Trump actually wins the White House, the military-industrial complex is finished."

No, what I'll always remember fondest was this contentious interview Bolton gave about Iraq and George Orwell with me, Kennedy, and Kmele Foster on the late, great Independents:

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah not just to selectively misuse Orwell (similarly to how Bolton and his fellow hawks routinely abuse "Munich" and "appeasement"), but to run such crude argumentation up the flagpole a full decade after the disastrous Iraq War. This intellectual defiance is in sharp contrast to McMaster, who is interested in enough in the deadly costs of foreign policy fabulism that he wrote an entire reputation-making book on the subject: Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. The Bolton-McMaster swap means less of an in-house brake on Trump coloring outside the lines, and more (along with the Mike Pompeo-for-Rex-Tillerson trade) White House support for the president's campaign-reinforced hostility to the Iran nuclear deal.

Yet, for what it's worth, Bolton has described himself to me (including in public) as basically a "hawkish libertarian." By which he mostly meant on domestic issues, such as government spending (agin'), gay marriage (for), and so on. But there's also a foreign policy overlap between the mustachioed one's cranky hostility toward international institutions and the sovereignty-guarding skeptics on the libertarian right, in the Ron Paul/Thomas Massie tradition. That the United States does not consider itself to be subject to prosecution under the Chemical Weapons Convention is in no small part thanks to John Bolton. He is contemptuous of nation-building, rejects the label "neoconservative," found the U.S. Kosovo bombing "very troubling," has a Public Choice-style critique of the State Department, and speaks fondly of Barry Goldwater—all positions shared by many non-hawks.

But whereas the Pauls and Massies of the world mix their anti-multilateralism with genuine anti-interventionism, Bolton relishes the American role as global cop. He is obsessed with having Washington ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not end up in the hands of bad guys, but is dismissive of most international apparatuses bent toward that goal, and not noticeably concerned with the many grave unintended consequences that can come with unilateral, violent weapons-removal.

He is also someone accustomed to having fruitful dialogue with people who find many of his views abhorrent, as this Matthew Waxman essay in the otherwise Bolton/Trump-averse Lawfare blog makes clear. It is something I have experienced in person—not only did Bolton come on The Independents a dozen times in its 15-month run, but we have bumped into each other in green rooms many times since then, and the conversation is always lively and respectful. There's a reason he gravitated toward smart/funny shows like Kennedy and Red Eye (the latter of which he was "president" of), and that intervention-skeptics like Andy Levy have some fondness for the guy.

Of course, all that and a bucket of spit gets you…a bucket of spit.

Reason on John Bolton here.

Photo Credit: Fox Business Network

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  • John||

    Nuclear weapons are a horrible thing. Odd that a magazine that is border line pacifist would consider someone being worried about proliferation a pejorative

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It is possible to consider the proliferation of nuclear weapons a problem without thinking that massive conventional wars are the acceptable solution.

  • GILMORE™||

    ""massive conventional wars ""

    interestingly, one very plausible reason for the utter failure of Iraq was the fact that Rumsfeld was convinced that the Powell Doctrine was wrong, and that you didn't need to have "massive" force to decisively accomplish military goals.

    Arguably, both afghanistan and iraq are consequences of 'trying to keep your wars small'

    of course you can say, "but they were better not done at all". sure. but quibbling about them ever being 'too big' doesn't seem to be the brightest line of argument in retrospect.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    The war itself had no real issues. The occupation on the other hand...

    And McMaster favored adding troops to afghanistan, so make of that what you will.

  • StackOfCoins||

    They're only horrible when they are used.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Gauging support for military belligerence is among the better ways to separate the libertarians from the faux libertarian wingnuts.

  • John||

    Tell us more about the need to bomb Libya and Syria you stupid fuck

  • Occam's Woodchipper||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • Rigelsen||

    Says the guy who would strain to find a single statist impulse offensive to his notion of "libertarianism".

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Finally, the sequel to My Dinner With Andre only I have been clamoring for.

  • John||

    I see Bolton as the hippie dipole one talking about that tantric LSD therapy he, Dick Cheney and Jean Kirkpatrick did out in the California dessert back in the 80s.

  • John||

    And Welch treated himself to a cab on the way home

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Being compared to Wallace Shawn is a great compliment in my culture.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The sequel to My Dinner with Andre was Andy Kaufman's My Breakfast with Blassie.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFE3R76fv7w

    John Bolton is more like the sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOVelAe_kSw

    I swear, Bolton looks like Dr. Phibes to me, only Bolton is, you know, more evil.

  • Headache||

    Adam Schiff - Andy Kaufman's look alike.

  • Ken Shultz||

    For the third time today, John Bolton's elevation has nothing to do with Bolton's position on anything and everything to do with loyalty.

    Trump wants to be able to discuss Putin with his national security advisor without wondering whether his advisor will turn around and spill the beans to a congressional committee looking to impeach him if and when the Democrats take over the House.

    For the third time, with the lone exception of Sessions, the Republicans who backed Trump during his presidential campaign were the people with no political future--Larry Kudlow, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and John Bolton. We've seen two of them elevated in the last week ahead of the upcoming midterms, and before the midterms, I'd expect we'll see more--for the same reason.

    Trump needs loyalty, right now, more than smarts. The fact that if Bolton crosses Trump, his highest valued alternative is arguing with the likes of FBN's B-team is a big plus right now. Trump doesn't give a shit about Bolton has done or thought in the past about anything. If he's borderline knowledgeable and loyal, that puts him at the top of Trump's list.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see Sessions fire Mueller, Trump to fire Sessions, and Rudy Giuliani to be the Attorney General before . . . the midterms. It's all about the midterms. The chances of Trump being impeached and the chances of the Democrats winning the midterms are almost the same thing.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    It sure is a nice thing that you know Trump's mind so thoroughly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Only a retard would think Trump is facing the probability of impeachment hearings ten months from now and not take that into consideration.

    Are you a retard?

  • John||

    It sounds like a reasonable guess. He is making no less a claim to Trump's mind than Welch is.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Trump's been stabbed in the back by his own people more than once.

    He feels like Sessions stabbed him in the back with Mueller. Now, I understand, Mueller has brought some of the FBI guys he was supposed to be investigating for the Trump dossier onto his investigation team?

    Andrew McCabe was once on Trump's short list to replace Comey, but it turns out he was leaking to the press?

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/an.....1521153789

    How many leakers were their in the White House?

    Now Trump is facing the likelihood of impeachment, and he replaced his NSA adviser, with whom he presumably discusses Putin frequently, with someone he trusts--who would think that has nothing to do with Trump facing impeachment over his relationship with Putin?

    I mean, seriously, I may be smarter than a lot of people, but you don't have to be especially smart to think Trump surrounding himself with people he trusts might be related to these issues. And it would be pretty dumb to think loyalty has nothing to do with this stuff.

  • Jacks61||

    "Trump's been stabbed in the back by his own people more than once."

    His problems are much deeper, and often times self inflicted. Trump has spent his life screwing over other people because he could. And while all Administrations have people that leave, the doors at the White House often don't make it to a closed position before someone quits or gets fired.

    Loyalty and trust just isn't part of Trump's world.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Incidentally, Sessions being attorney general didn't have anything to do with his positions on anything either.

    At the time, Trump trusted Sessions to watch his back--which has been the primary responsibility of attorneys general since Watergate.

    The reason Sessions hasn't come down hard on legal recreational marijuana in the states presumably isn't because he's changed his mind on the topic. It's presumably because Trump is holding him back because of the president's own campaign promises to respect the states.

    I'd expect the same from Bolton, too. Bolton is an evil shithead. That isn't why Trump elevated him. Trump elevated Bolton because he trusts him.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    someone who has described himself as a "hawkish libertarian"

    In other words, someone who is unclear as to the meaning of either "hawkish" or "libertarian." Or, possibly, both, but why complicate things?

  • Rigelsen||

    Given that Gary Johnson and Will Weld not only described themselves as libertarians, but headed the Libertarian ticket, not sure what you point is. Do you have a bill of particulars that no libertarian may offend? Is it a "no true Scotsman" matter? Or do you believe that only those who accept the SOP and NAP as categorical imperatives, ala Kant, can "truly" call themselves libertarians? Again, I'd give you the recent Libertarian ticket.

  • Sigivald||

    Who died you and made you Arbiter Of Libertarian Belief And Dogma?

    As Rigelsen said, not only is the Non-Aggression Principle something we can argue about*, but we should also remember that states are not individuals.

    (* We don't have to listen to Nock; while interesting, he's an anarchist, not a Libertarian.

    Rand's mention of it is "within society", not between states, and likewise, she's not someone any libertarian has to either acknowledge or argue away. IIRC Rand suggested that war against states that violate the rights of their citizens was explicitly good, so there's that.

    Rothbard has to at least be acknowledged as relevant, but need not be accepted as a dictum - and again, arguably more of an anarchist anyway. I always found his progression past his very sound economics to rapidly [see Man, Economy, State] devolve into mere hand-waving, as he simply seemed to abandon arguing and showing for asserting.

    Remember, Hayek never proposed the NAP, as far as I know ... and I model my libertarianism more on Hayek than anyone else.

    You can believe and promote whatever you want, natch.

    But pray don't try and dogmatize me.)

  • Sigivald||

    is dismissive of most international apparatuses bent toward that goal

    Considering how well those have worked out (Iran, Iraq), can we really blame him?

    (Thank you, by the way, for a much better reasoned attack on Bolton's position than Jacob Sullum's listicle above, which was just disgraceful.)

  • JoeBlow123||

    Bolton can go fuck himself. This asshole has never seen a war he did not like. Must be nice to be wearing a suit and tie at Yale Law School while the poor who are too dumb and underconnected are sent to die in Vietnam.

  • Headache||

    You mean like the Admiral's son, John McCain?

  • Headache||

    "This intellectual defiance is in sharp contrast to McMaster, who is interested in enough in the deadly costs of foreign policy fabulism that he wrote an entire reputation-making book on the subject:"

    How dare you use the term fabulism on a fabulistic blog.

  • MichaelL||

    I think that I would be offended by anyone who thought Libertarians were "hawkish" in any way! They don't want to listen to what is said about Ron paul's concept of "blow-back" documented, since I was an infant, in Iran. Our meddling will end up causing more of it. And, in the end, more wars!

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