President Trump has tapped former UN Ambassador John Bolton to be his National Security Advisor people are freaking out. All one has to do is do a Google News search of “John Bolton” and the headlines predicting Armageddon are impossible to miss. Sure, some of his ideas are a little nutty, but for those (myself included) who worry about a preemptive strike on North Korea, it should be noted that now former-NSA H.R. McMaster also reportedly argued a “bloody nose” approach to North Korea.
A good national security council considers all available options, including those which may be considered out of the mainstream. For this reason, Trump’s national security team is better with Bolton than without him. Bolton also maintains a view of the world that may be unpleasant, but realistic, and he can serve as the brain trust for a President who has said he wants to follow an “America First” foreign policy.
For most of human history, the world has been made up of various kingdoms, empires, and nation-states who have been locked in a Hobbesian battle of conflicting interests. On many occasions these conflicts of interests have led to war. This is essentially how Bolton sees the world. He is a hawk, but despite his time in the Bush administration, not in the mold of the George W. Bush. He believes the purpose of US foreign policy is to advance the interests of the United States and if that means twisting a few arms, supporting a few pro-American dictators, or upsetting some UN bureaucrats then so be it. He believes the military is not a means to advance the ends of democracy promotion.
For the left, Bolton represents the antithesis of their foreign policy worldview. In their view, the end of the Cold War was a great opportunity for the “international community” to cooperate on the issues of the day. The United States could work with the United Nations and other countries to push a liberal notion of human rights throughout the world. Initially, it all seemed possible. The Gulf War proved that working with the UN could work and that military action could win UN approval. Multilateralism was the hot new trend in international politics. The UN itself was taking on more of a role in the world as the fall of the Soviet Union allowed it to fulfill its mission that it had not been allowed to do because Cold War politics always led to gridlock at the Security Council. Then it all came apart.
Since the turn of the last century, the world has gone back to the days it was before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Post 9/11 Security
September 11 brought security challenges back to the forefront. In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia, and in 2014, they annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. China has been building islands in the South China Sea over the same period of time. The UN is impotent to meet the challenges of the day in Syria, because Russia and China have stated that the preservation of the regime in Damascus is in their national interest. Both Russian and Chinese expansionism pose threats to American allies, and therefore to the United States itself. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has only expanded. Iran’s influence in the Middle East has only increased since the nuclear deal was signed, to the point where the Middle East has turned to a series of proxy wars involving not just the United States and Russia, but also Saudi Arabia and Iran.
All these events show that despite the fall of the Soviet Union almost 30 years ago, not much has changed. This is something Bolton understands, but his opponents on the left seemingly want to ignore. For them, Bolton is a throwback to a time where the imperial empires of Europe used war or threats of war as a way to get what they wanted. The left believes that they are the sophisticated and enlightened ones who believe there is always a diplomatic solution; we just have to find it.
The reason why war has become more rare since 1945 is not because all-wise and all-knowing institutions like the United Nations have brought peace and cooperation to the world. It is because war in the modern age, particularity war between great powers, would be so destructive that it is almost unthinkable.
Over 100 years ago the British Admiral Sir John “Jacky” Fisher said, “All nations want peace, but they want a peace that suits them.” The world is populated with people who want peace, but they want a peace that is favorable to Pyongyang, Tehran, Beijing, or Moscow. John Bolton understands this. In the age of Trump, one would think liberals, of all people, would too.