John Bolton’s Macho Foreign Policy


John Bolton, the far-right’s go-to guy on foreign policy, has a list of President Obama’s foreign policy “failures” that reveals much about the right-wing view of that subject. The psychological roots of that view, it seems to me, are found in typical American male psychology.

Another major foreign policy showdown came in September over Syria. After the international community concluded that President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, President Obama attempted to convince allies and Congress that military action was necessary. Neither was interested. The political and diplomatic showdown was averted when Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syria could avoid military strikes by giving up all chemical weapons. Kerry immediately said that would never happen, but Russia seized on the comment and eventually worked out a deal for Assad to stay in power in exchange for turning over his chemical stockpiles.

“This is another situation where the United States has absolutely failed to achieve its objectives. The president said his objective was removing the Assad regime from power. That obviously hasn’t happened. If anything, momentum is now in the direction of the regime. The president said that if he saw the use of chemical weapons, that would be a red line that would prompt American intervention. Chemical weapons were used. There was no American intervention,” Bolton said.

“Whether you agree with the administration’s policies or not, what they have done has let the United States again in a much weaker position.”

Now I partially agree with this. I think Obama and John Kerry stumbled accidentally into success and that Russia helped them pull a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. They were fumbling badly with all that ridiculous saber-rattling about bombing Syria that no one was really buying and Putin came in and saved the day. But the end result was still a positive thing. One of the world’s more brutal thugs was forced to agree to give up the chemical weapons he had shown such willingness to use. That’s a very good outcome, however it was we got there.

But notice that Bolton, as with his other examples, is mostly concerned with how others view us. It’s not about achieving actual geo-strategic goals, it’s about posturing and posing as the only country that actually matters, as the one true imperial power. And if any other country is ever viewed as having done something positive, that is a negative for us. It’s a zero-sum game. This is the psychology of the bully. It’s the psychology of the typical American macho man, constantly preening about how masculine he is and perpetually jealous if anyone else does the same thing. It’s all about macho posturing rather than intelligence or thoughtfulness.

But here’s where I think it really gets amusing:

In each of these diplomatic matters, Russia played a key role and Bolton said they are just some of the signs that Russian aggression is on the rise. Not only does he see Russia more influential now than at any time in the past four decades, but he warns of Vladimir Putin’s attempts to reconstitute the old Soviet Union.

Putin is putting the communist band back together! But wait, I thought Putin was the savior of Christianity with his anti-gay views? I thought Putin was doing such an amazing job of creating the perfect Christian society that American Christians would soon begin moving to Russia to drink from its healing waters of anti-gay authoritarianism, according to Scott Lively?

Comments

  1. gshelley says

    I thought the right objected to the US being nice and trying to please other countries rather than solely looking after its own interests and not worrying what others though

  2. Chiroptera says

    But notice that Bolton, as with his other examples, is mostly concerned with how others view us. It’s not about achieving actual geo-strategic goals, it’s about posturing and posing as the only country that actually matters, as the one true imperial power.

    Actually, Bolton is concerned about achieving actual geo-stratetic goals, it’s just that he thinks that the goals he values can best be achieved through bullying. He doesn’t seem to think that even the goals he wants may often be better achieved through multilateral diplomacy.

    Oh, except that his main geo-strategic goal is that the US achieve its geo-strategic goal soley through bullying other countries into acquiescing. And that does depend on the way other countries see us.

    Okay, Ed, your point stands.

  3. Michael Heath says

    John Bolton writes:

    The political and diplomatic showdown was averted when Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syria could avoid military strikes by giving up all chemical weapons. Kerry immediately said that would never happen, but Russia seized on the comment and eventually worked out a deal for Assad to stay in power in exchange for turning over his chemical stockpiles.

    Ed responds:

    I think Obama and John Kerry stumbled accidentally into success and that Russia helped them pull a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. They were fumbling badly with all that ridiculous saber-rattling about bombing Syria that no one was really buying and Putin came in and saved the day.

    It’s my understanding that the U.S. and Russia were working on such a plan at least a year prior to this event. There was no stumbling except Sec. of State Kerry’s claim such a result was impossible. The only surprise here was that Syria agreed to the plan.

    Andrew Sullivan did a lot of blogging on this topic.

  4. Georgia Sam says

    Shoot people and blow things up! That’s the solution to every foreign policy issue, according to these Rambo wannabes. Come to think of it, that’s their answer to most domestic issues, too. In a nation already drowning in an ocean of guns, what’s the best way to protect citizens against gun violence? More guns, of course! Shoot-out at the OK Corral! Rambo wannabes living in an adolescent macho fantasy world. And the entertainment industry feeds the fantasy, as it has always done.

  5. says

    But notice that Bolton, as with his other examples, is mostly concerned with how others view us. It’s not about achieving actual geo-strategic goals, it’s about posturing and posing as the only country that actually matters, as the one true imperial power.

    I’m reminded of 80’s Guy from that episode of Futurama:

    After Leela points out that they haven’t delivered a single package since he took over, “Package delivery has nothing to do with the package delivery business!”

    “I’ll tell you the secret, Fry. It’s all about appearances.

    …I remember once upon a time when people associated conservatism with results-oriented approaches and liberals were depicted as obsessed with how people feel about them and paralyzed into inaction by their insecurity. I never understood that growing up, and if someone told me that today, I’d laugh at them.

  6. greenspine says

    I thought Putin was doing such an amazing job of creating the perfect Christian society that American Christians would soon begin moving to Russia to drink from its healing waters of anti-gay authoritarianism, according to Scott Lively?

    There’s no contradiction or irony here. Lively and Bolton are two different people with two very different areas of concern and interest. You can’t hold Glenn Greenwald responsible for Noam Chomsky’s views, and you shouldn’t do likewise for people on the other side of the spectrum.

  7. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    . . . notice that Bolton, as with his other examples, is mostly concerned with how others view us. It’s not about achieving actual geo-strategic goals, it’s about posturing and posing as the only country that actually matters, as the one true imperial power. And if any other country is ever viewed as having done something positive, that is a negative for us. It’s a zero-sum game. This is the psychology of the bully. It’s the psychology of the typical American macho man, constantly preening about how masculine he is and perpetually jealous if anyone else does the same thing. It’s all about macho posturing rather than intelligence or thoughtfulness.

    Well, his logic here is also representative of a very dumb person. Whenever I read anything from him, I think, what an idiot. That’s before I start to evaluate his standard-issue conservative arguments, i.e.,defectively narrow set of false premises leading to indefensible conclusions. Before all that, he starts with idiotic assumptions. That is not standard-issue for conservatives, so he’s even more idiotic than most.

    Here Ed succinctly points this out. For Bolton it’s not about improving the situation which motivates most Americans – even conservatives, but instead our appearance to some.

  8. Michael Heath says

    Bronze Dogs writes:

    I remember once upon a time when people associated conservatism with results-oriented approaches and liberals were depicted as obsessed with how people feel about them and paralyzed into inaction by their insecurity.

    I recall that belief being held in regards to the GOP back when conservatives didn’t monolithically control the party as they do now, but never conservatives. Conservatives claimed the mantle back then and now, but I don’t recall non-conservatives ever believing such about conservatives.

    When I belonged to the GOP from the late-1970s into 2008, even moderate Republicans never believed this about conservatives. We were trying to get them to act accordingly, but were increasingly incapable of having any influence to get them to improve on anything where such efforts died altogether with the end of H.W. Bush’s term. Now conservatives are effective nihilists.

    Perhaps the biggest recent example revealing the falsity of conservatives acting responsibility was how Democrats consistently took and take on problematic deficit spending whereas conservative Republican policies largely created bad deficits and squelched a growth agenda that could made the resulting public debt less onerous. The last example of conservatives joining in a positive manner was President Reagan’s tax hike support in the mid-1980s, and that was somewhat grudgingly.

  9. says

    I called John Bolton with a problem, once. My sink was clogged, you see. After he gave me his advice, ran blindly in to the bathroom and I punched it and I punched it. When I called him back to tell him that punching it didn’t help (in fact, it made things worse) he replied “Well, that’s the kind of problem that can only be cured by further punching”.

  10. atheist says

    I really want to believe that the Neoconservatives are a group of Machiavellian liars who feed the public myths but have a separate secret agenda. This view is congenial to my mentality. Unfortunately, though, while there is undoubtedly some truth to this view, I mostly think they believe incredibly fucking stupid things. This view is painful to hold but I think it’s the truth.

  11. says

    John Bolton is “macho” in the same way that other chickenhawks are macho. He’s all for fighting and dying as long as he’s not actually taking part in the fight. Fucking asshole.

  12. felidae says

    Please, Mr Bolton, tell us all about all the magnificent successes in foreign policy of the Bush years. Please go into detail on the accuracy of the claims by Mr Bush and Ms Rice that “the Taliban have been defeated” from 2003.
    Expound on the great accomplishments in dealing with the Iranians and the Koreans Please speak up, I can’t hear you

  13. Synfandel says

    So, let’s say, hypothetically, that President Obama had gone ahead with his threat to bomb Syria. Where would we be now?

    Innocents would have been killed; they always are.

    Chemical weapons might have been damaged and released into the air…more innocents killed–possibly in the tens of thousands.

    Assad’s chemical weapons would not have been completely elminated. That would be tactically impossible to achieve. And there would be no third parties on the ground to evaluate the remaining stocks.

    Assad’s military strength would have been hurt, but not elminated. He would still be the strongest party in the civil war.

    The US would have been shown to have only limited ability to affect the situation on the ground in spite of its obscenely large military budget and advanced killing and maiming technology.

    The international community would be divided, with some erstwhile allies distancing themselves from the US.

    Iran and Hesbolla would have deepened their involvement.

    Putin would have tightened his alliance with Assad.

    Israel might have got involved, spreading the conflict across the region.

    This would have achieved absolutely no American foreigh policy objectives. On the domestic side, the Pentagon budget would go up, making the generals and military industrialists happy. So would the national debt, making China happy.

  14. colnago80 says

    Re iangould @ #14

    Given that we can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys in Syria, what should the US do about the situation. Given the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending in the marines doesn’t seem like an option with any hope of improving the situation.

  15. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Bolton is one of the neo-cons who I’d really like to see pass a freshman-level American History test, because I doubt he really knows much about that – or anything else (supposedly he graduated from Yale Law, but he barely seems able to think in sentences.)

    He’s the sort of useless, evil scum who could be stopped, however, just by putting his own ass at serious risk.

    Truly, he’s as bad a human being as existed prior to the post-2000 crowd: a bootlicking toady, a bully from behind a set of bodyguards and secondhand murderer without a single redeeming feature. He hasn’t taken an honest breathe since early childhood, and his death will be a pleasant thing for humanity and the poor creep himself.

  16. says

    Chiroptera @2 wrote:

    Actually, Bolton is concerned about achieving actual geo-stratetic goals, it’s just that he thinks that the goals he values can best be achieved through bullying. He doesn’t seem to think that even the goals he wants may often be better achieved through multilateral diplomacy.

    That’s because Bolton is, at his core, a bully. Even by neocon standards he’s a belligerent asshole. That’s not just his foreign policy stance. During his brief stint as the UN ambassador, he was notorious for bullying his staffers and everyone else around him. Turning the US into a violent superpower that is capable and willing to bomb the crap out of any nation that annoys us iregardless of the backlash is his geo-stratic goal.

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