Last night was the darkest of the past 14 months.
From day one, it was clear that America’s election of Donald Trump was an act of self-harm. But the president’s hiring of John Bolton has radically increased the risk that it will also prove to be one of mass murder on a world-historic scale.
The top national security adviser to the most ignorant and impressionable president in modern memory is a man whose lust for war is so rabid, it makes Senate Republicans uncomfortable. Bolton wants to bomb Iran and North Korea, and he wants to do it yesterday. Just this month, the former U.N. ambassador told Fox News that Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un was a positive development — because moving right to high-level talks would accelerate the inevitable failure of diplomacy, thereby clearing the way for war between the United States and a nuclear power.
A recent Pentagon simulation projected that a nonnuclear military conflict between the United States and North Korea would come with a daily civilian death toll of 20,000 in South Korea alone.
Trump’s meeting with Kim is tentatively scheduled for May. That same month, he will need to reaffirm the nuclear agreement with Iran — or else, withdraw from it, thereby informing the North Koreans that America’s promises cannot be trusted. Which is to say: Within two months, Bolton will have the opportunity to sabotage diplomacy with Tehran and Pyongyang simultaneously.
Still, when news of Bolton’s hiring first broke Thursday night, there were a couple tenuous sources of consolation. One was this report from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins:
Another was the notion that Bolton’s ideology had been incidental to his selection. The president’s decision to make Larry Kudlow his new economic adviser did not mean that Trump had come around to the CNBC personality’s views on free trade. Thus, it was possible that he’d picked Bolton solely for the communications skills that the latter had displayed as a cable-news talking head — one White House official had told Politico that Trump “was impressed by [Bolton’s] many appearances on Fox News.”
So, maybe Bolton’s maniacal hawkishness would be as irrelevant to White House policy as Kudlow’s anti-protectionism. After all, didn’t Trump reportedly resent H.R. McMaster specifically for strong-arming him into sending more troops to Afghanistan? And hadn’t the mogul delivered withering assessments of George W. Bush’s trigger-happy foreign policy — not just during his 2016 campaign, but for years prior?
And wouldn’t striking an unprecedented peace agreement with North Korea be more satisfying to the master deal-maker’s ego than initiating a war whose chief protagonists would be other men? Wasn’t it plausible that John Bolton would just be a glorified cable news surrogate — and Defense Secretary James Mattis, the true brains behind the administration’s foreign policy?
Alas, new reporting from Axios Friday morning appeared to eviscerate those slender reeds.
Sources close to President Trump say he feels John Bolton, hurriedly named last night to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, will finally deliver the foreign policy the president wants — particularly on Iran and North Korea.
… Until now, Mattis and Tillerson have been trying to restrain what they consider some of the president’s more dangerous instincts, and have been on the opposite side of major issues, including moving the U.S embassy to Jerusalem and trying to persuade Trump not to tear up the Iran nuclear deal.
Sources who know Bolton expect he will stare down Mattis, tell him when he’s wrong, and will be a Henry Kissinger-type presence in the room. Now that Tillerson is gone, he could fundamentally tip the balance of power on Trump’s national security team, senior officials expect.
… A source who has spoken to Bolton said he told Trump he was only interested in two jobs: Secretary of State or national security adviser. “He said, ‘Mr. President you ran on this agenda. You ran against Iran. And if you want to hire me, that’s what I’m going to produce for you.’”
All this would be alarming enough if Trump hadn’t recently taken to making enormously consequential decisions unilaterally, on a whim, without consulting his senior staff. But he has — and late Thursday, Politico revealed that Bolton’s hiring was itself the result of such a spur-of-the-moment decision.
American voters, elected officials, policymakers, political operatives, and journalists shoulder a responsibility much greater than that borne by their counterparts in most (if not all) other countries. How the greatest military power in world history chooses to govern itself has implications for people far beyond our borders. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis aren’t walking the Earth today because of the invasion our government launched 15 years ago this week.
Picture them alive, standing before you in a crowd stretching out past the horizon. Hear the cacophony of their collective conversations, prayers, children’s laughter. Look into their faces. See the weddings they did not celebrate, the babies left unborn. Read the poems they did not write. Rue the apologies left undelivered, unrequited loves left unlamented, parents unmourned, friendships unformed and un-betrayed, amends left unmade, and all the other sorrowful, wondrous gifts of human existence that were incinerated by our cruise missiles, eviscerated by our assault rifles, or snuffed out by the fascistic death cult that both left in their wake.
Imagine 20,000 South Koreans joining them, each day.