23 May 2018

Hillary Clinton and John Bolton – dumb and dumber


Foolishness in the political class is a luxury afforded to rich and powerful countries. Reckless rulers, as the unfortunate citizens of Zimbabwe and Venezuela can attest, can bring poor and weak nations to their knees in a relatively short period of time. America, in contrast, is a superpower and, considering the laughably incompetent politicians from both parties, remains in surprisingly good shape.

The economy is booming and, in spite of massive budget deficits and a staggeringly high level of national debt, the world’s appetite for US bonds remains undiminished. Even our foreign policy, bruised by the self-inflicted debacle of the Iraq War, is rediscovering its inner adventurer. Unfortunately, our number one foreign policy priority, which is the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, has been made needlessly more complicated by some very dumb people.

Before I turn to America’s latest attempt to ensnare the Hermit Kingdom in an irrevocable and verifiable peace deal, a bit of background is in order. As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by the foreign policy sophistication of the Nixon Administration. Back in the 1970s, when the United States was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the Soviet Union, the country was blessed with a duo of geopolitical virtuosi – President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. Together, they managed to extricate the United States from the Vietnamese quagmire and split the communist bloc by cooperating with the Red Chinese.

But Nixon and Kissinger were exceptions to the rule. The main reason why the two got to run US foreign policy was the incompetence and subterfuge of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who got America involved in Vietnam in the first place. Things have waxed and waned since then. President George Bush Sr and his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, dealt with the collapse of communism and dissolution of the Soviet Union with relative aplomb.

It is, perhaps, significant that Scowcroft was one of Kissinger’s protégés. The consequences of Bill Clinton’s adventure in the Balkans, which were egged on by the future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (who famously shouted at the Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”), are still playing out.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not, to put it mildly, in the best of health. The less said about George W. Bush’s “foreign policy” and the cataclysmic war in Iraq, the better. Even Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy suffered from a surfeit of weird personalities.

As Richard Pipes’ obituary in The Telegraph recalled, the former National Security Council member:

“…was shocked by the way in which personal factors intruded into American public life. He found that Reagan loathed his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, and that this made their collaboration ‘ineffectual;’ that ’Reagan had a deep dislike of the French as a nation, a prejudice that had a marked effect on policymaking at times.’ He was shocked to find Nancy Reagan trying to persuade the President to take a softer line on the Soviet Union, because his Cold Warrior rhetoric was damaging her standing in Washington society.”

Speaking of weird personalities, who can forget President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State and the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton? In the progressive imagination, Clinton is a wise and accomplished stateswoman, bestriding the world like a colossus.

Clinton’s actual foreign policy cred, from her support for the Iraq War (which cost her the 2008 Democratic party presidential nomination), to the “Russian reset” (which meant to normalise US -Russian relations after the Russo-Georgian War, but ended up emboldening Vladimir Putin to interfere in the US elections instead), left much to be desired. In retrospect, it was Clinton’s decision to intervene in the Libyan civil war that may end up having the most significant long-term consequences.

As of last night, the planned meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un hangs in the balance and Clinton is partly to blame. The North Koreans, it seems, are having second thoughts about giving up their nuclear weapons, because of the Libyan precedent. What happened was this…

In 2003, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gave in to US pressure and agreed to give up his weapons of mass destruction. Gaddafi thought that by complying with America’s wishes, he would guarantee the long-term survival of his regime. Enter Mrs Clinton, who convinced Obama to join the Franco-British effort to oust Gaddafi in the midst of the 2011 Libyan civil war.

It was in the middle of a television interview that Clinton learned that Gaddafi had been captured by his US.-backed enemies, sodomised with a knife and, finally, shot dead. On camera, the clueless maven produced one of her characteristically blood-curdling laughs and proceeded to paraphrase Julius Caesar’s “veni, vidi, vici” with her own “we came, we saw, he died”. Foreign policy can be such fun, unless, of course, you are Kim Jong-un. The Chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea, it turns out, does not want to die – least of all with a bayonet stuck up his rectum.

Enter another proponent of the Iraq War and Trump’s current National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Imagine, if you will, a thoughtful US President, like Harry Truman or Nixon, interviewing candidates for that influential position. Surely, one of the questions would go something like this:  “What is the one thing that we do not want Kim to think of as we negotiate North Korea’s nuclear disarmament?” Now imagine a thoughtful National Security Advisor, like Kissinger or Scowcroft, responding: “We do not want to remind him of the fate of the late Colonel Gaddafi.”

Well, Bolton is no Scowcroft or Kissinger. During a television interview on May 13, he noted that the United States wanted to follow the “Libya Model” when dealing with North Korea. Perhaps he had 2003 in mind, not 2011. Still, as Chung Dong-young, who served as the South Korean unification minister, observed, “There are several land mines on the way to the summit between North Korea and the US…One of those land mines just exploded – John Bolton.” Quite so.

The men and women of the State Department, who analyse world events and the people responsible for the fate of nations, are among the best professionals anywhere. The same, alas, cannot be said about the people who run US foreign policy. The summit between Trump and Kim may still happen. It might even end in an agreement. If so, it will be in spite of, not because of, the geniuses who run America’s foreign policy. The country is and, has been, run by very dumb people. Yet, rich and powerful, America endures.

Marian L. Tupy is Editor of HumanProgress.org and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.