Recently fired national security advisor John Bolton is spending his first days of forced retirement complaining about how he was thisclose to finally starting a war with Iran—if only President Donald Trump hadn’t stopped him.
Politico reports that Bolton, during a private lunch on Wednesday hosted by a neoconservative think tank, openly stewed about his inability to convince Trump to bomb Iran. In particular, Bolton claimed the United States should have attacked Iran in June, after the Islamic Republic was blamed for shooting down a U.S. drone.
“During Wednesday’s luncheon, Bolton said the planned response had gone through the full process and everybody in the White House had agreed on the retaliatory strike,” Politico‘s Daniel Lippman writes. “But ‘a high authority, at the very last minute,’ without telling anyone, decided not to do it, Bolton complained.”
That high authority, of course, was the president himself—who may have been convinced to change course, somewhat incredibly, by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Regardless of how weirdly Trump may have come to the decision, his willingness to pull back from a planned military strike is undeniably one of the strongest moments of his presidency. As I wrote at the time, Trump was absolutely right to conclude that killing an estimated 150 Iranians was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
Unsurprisingly, Bolton felt differently. That difference of opinion may have eventually led to Bolton’s dismissal on September 10. Another key point of disagreement seems to have been the Trump administration’s policy in Afghanistan. Trump has ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to conduct peace negotiations with the Taliban in advance of a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Central Asian nation, where we’ve been at war for nearly 18 years.
The possibility of ending a conflict that seems to accomplish nothing positive for American national security was reportedly anathema to Bolton. During Wednesday’s lunch, Politico reports, Bolton said the U.S. should keep 8,600 troops in Afghanistan and said it “doesn’t make any sense” to enter into peace negotiations with the Taliban.
But what really doesn’t make any sense is Bolton’s neoconservative foreign policy, which has been repudiated by nearly two decades of expensive, bloody, and futile military engagements across the Middle East and Central Asia that have left chaos and new breeding grounds for terrorism in their wake.
Similarly, Bolton reportedly attempted to undermine the president’s halting attempts to make peace with America’s other enemies.
As Reason’s Christian Britschgi noted last week:
In April 2018, for example, Bolton seemingly attempted to sabotage his boss’s peace overtures to North Korea by suggesting that the U.S. would pursue the “Libyan model” of disarming the country. (The U.S. helped to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after he had agreed to give up his country’s nuclear program.)
Bolton also helped to stall a U.S. exit from Syria. In December 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing military forces from the country, only to have Bolton condition that withdrawal on a Turkish agreement to not attack Kurdish forces in Syria.
Whatever disagreements libertarians may have with Trump’s foreign policy—and, indeed, there is plenty of room to criticize the president in that arena—his resistance to Bolton’s warmongering ways and his eventual decision to cast off failed Bush-era “nation-building” policies should be applauded.
A world in which John Bolton says mean things about the president during lunch is far safer than a world in which John Bolton speaks to the president over lunch.