Hawk or cuckoo?

Updated March 28, 2018

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IT may have been purely coincidental that Donald Trump picked the week of the 15th anniversary of the US-led aggression against Iraq to name one of the most reckless and unrepentant advocates of that war as his next national security adviser.

But, even though the unforgivably irresponsible havoc unleashed in the Middle East in 2003 has yet to run its course, the return of John Bolton to the portals of power is extremely alarming on other fronts — namely Iran and North Korea.

In both cases, Bolton, one of the most odious elements of the George W. Bush administration — which, lest we forget, had more than its fair share of untethered hawks, from Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz — has unequivocally advocated “pre-emptive” bombardment as an alternative to diplomacy.

Colin Powell, Bush’s initial secretary of state, considered Bolton a spy for vice president Cheney in the State Department. And Bush, in picking arguably the most dedicated opponent of the United Nations in his team as the US ambassador to the UN, was obliged to resort to a recess appointment, because numerous Republicans in Congress considered Bolton far too right wing to constructively represent his nation at that forum.

The return of John Bolton is extremely alarming.

Trump toyed with the idea of appointing Bolton as his first secretary of state.

He was dissuaded by the knowledge that today’s Republican-dominated Congress, even more extreme in some ways than in the Bush days, would nonetheless be reluctant to endorse an uber-hawk disguised as a cuckoo (or is it the other way around?). He was also, many reports suggest, put off by Bolton’s distinctive moustache.

Appointments to the National Security Council, however, do not require congressional endorsement. When Trump replaced Exxon’s ex-CEO Rex Tillerson with the Christian fundamentalist Tea Party enthusiast Mike Pompeo (whose post at the helm of the CIA is to be filled by Gina Haspel, the Company’s first female director who was closely associated with its torture programme), he indicated that the cabinet he truly, madly, deeply wanted was falling into place.

Bolton, as a replacement for retired general H.R. McMaster (inducted after his predecessor, Michael Flynn, another ex-general, had to be sacked when he was caught out lying to the FBI and the vice president), evidently slots right into the plot.

Bolton: a ‘bully’ or skilled diplomat?

The president does not appreciate advisers who disagree even marginally with his discombobulated worldview.

It remains to be seen who will go next — defence secretary James Mattis, chief of staff John Kelly (both of them also ex-generals), or attorney general Jeff Sessions, who is thoroughly reactionary but earned unrelenting presidential ire by recusing himself from the probe into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. Or it could be Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief conducting that probe, and apparently also exploring the Trump Organisation’s dubious financial shenanigans.

The biggest danger in the short run, however, is the likelihood that Bolton will bolster the more than a decade-long campaign spearheaded by Israel and Saudi Arabia to mount a military assault against Iran.

That would lead to an unprecedented disaster for the region and the world at a number of levels, but there’s no guarantee that America’s Nato partners can dissuade it from going down that path. The road to Tehran, that is, rather than Damascus, is paved with the most dire of intentions. And a degree of ignorance that mocks the Bush administration’s catalogue of insanity.

Read: Decline and fall

Bolton and Pompeo could also bury any prospect of a negotiations-based rapprochement with North Korea. In his commentaries in The Wall Street Journal and on Fox News, the only TV channel that Trump routinely heeds, Bolton has made it abundantly clear that he favours a shock-and-awe approach to Pyongyang regardless of what US allies South Korea and Japan might feel about the possible consequences.

In the case of Palestine, he favours a three-state solution: that is, handing the Gaza Strip to Egypt and the diminishing bits of West Bank that Israel does not covet to Jordan. Is it any surprise that Zionists of the Likudite variety adore Bolton’s brand of insanity?

Many of the neoconservatives who propped up the Bush presidency look askance at Trump’s shenanigans, but Bolton is something of an exception. That does not guarantee he will survive for too long in this revolving-door administration, despite being a symptom of the same disease that the president personifies.

One can only hope, though, that America’s medium-term future is not represented by the likes of Bolton, Trump, Pompeo and the likes of Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson, but will sooner or later fall into the hands of the children who last Saturday eloquently demonstrated their determination for a much less violent nation, and, by extension, a more peaceful world.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2018