Bolton vs the Trump Doctrine - it’s Complicated

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Submitted by Olivia on Thu, 2019-09-19 01:48

By Olivia Pierson

Recently-fired National Security Advisor John Bolton never liked being referred to as a neoconservative, despite holding many positions which are typical of that ideology. He was an advocate for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and has called for regime change in both Syria and Iran.

Bolton made it known that he would support pre-emptive bombing strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. He invoked the Monroe Doctrine regarding regime change in Venezuela, since that is a country existing within the same hemisphere as the United States, and he has said that the only way to deal with Vladimir Putin “is to cause him real pain.”

It’s hard not to like the guy and it’s easy to see why Bolton has a reputation for being a super-hawk among all the hawks.

Alas, he has now clashed with President Trump one time too many on some major foreign policy issues, the result being: “John Bolton, you’re fired!”

Bolton wholly supported the U.S invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9.11, but was not a fan of the Bush-styled, altruistic, nation-building commitments which followed.

About the war in Iraq, Bolton said years later that the only mistake Bush made was, “not handing the Iraqis a copy of the Federalist Papers and saying ‘good luck.’” Though he thought the U.S stayed too long in Iraq before transferring authority back over to the Iraqis, Bolton agreed with the Bush Doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive strikes in order to protect U.S interests and deter foreign enemies.

More recently, Bolton thought President Trump was far too diplomatically friendly with Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Before he was appointed as National Security Advisor, Bolton wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal making the case for pre-emptive strikes on North Korea before they acquire a nuclear arsenal which could be launched into American cities.

In April 2018, Bolton said during an interview that Washington was looking at following the “Libya-model" for verification of North Korea’s nuclear sites. Today President Trump has come out and said that those comments “set talks back with Kim Jong-un very badly” and Chairman Kim refused to have anything to do with Bolton after that. After all, what happened to Muammar Gaddafi (and Saddam Hussein) is probably Kim’s greatest nightmare about the Americans.

But the main issue which caused the highly publicised firing of Bolton is U.S troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and peace-talks with the Taliban.

The topic is truly complicated, but here’s the guts:

Secretary Pompeo has already held nine gruelling rounds of talks in Doha, Qatar, to get to the point where President Trump invited Taliban leaders to Camp David, along with Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani.

Trump and Pompeo believe that Bolton, who is extremely well connected to the press, had the story about the upcoming Taliban visit leaked out into media circulation through his aides.

Pompeo’s negotiator, U.S special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has worked on these negotiations for a year. So far, peace-talks have been conducted separately between Khalilzad and the Taliban; and Khalilzad and President Ghani. The enmity between the democratically elected Ghani and the brutal terror group is legendary - they cannot be in the same room together.

The Taliban’s overt contempt for any peace process was just punctuated by another car-bomb exploding in Kabul, which killed yet another ten people including an American soldier. The terror group gave Trump, Pompeo, Khalilzad, Bolton and Ghani the finger.

It’s been 18 years of war in Afghanistan, a U.S-led response to bin Laden’s lethal 9/11 attacks on Manhattan. There are still around 20,000 NATO troops inside Afghanistan, 14,000 of them from the U.S. The U.S want the troops withdrawn in stages over time as the Taliban agree to certain conditions including a massive reduction in violence.

The Taliban are trying to negotiate thousands of their fighters to be released from prisons, including GITMO, something Ghani will not agree to; something he should not agree to.

Ghani knows that if thousands of Taliban fighters were released from prisons, his government would risk being overthrown by the darkest forces imaginable, then it’s lights out again in Afghanistan.

To complicate matters even further, there are those who say that Qatar is playing a very manipulative hand in America’s ongoing peace-talks with the Taliban, and that:

Afghan officials are the first to sense that the sellout of the Kabul government is impending, and are scurrying to defect to the Taliban (in July alone there were 800 defections).

This is the quagmire that the Bush Doctrine - with its ideological commitment to ongoing nation building - and the Obama Doctrine (“strategic patience,” a.k.a doing nothing outside the status quo, got the U.S stuck-fast in).

The Trump Doctrine is “principled realism,” predicated on the over-arching concept of America First. What does principled realism actually mean? Trump spelled it out, as he often does, in his Riyadh speech in 2017, where he described this foreign policy guideline as, “principled realism, rooted in our values, shared interests, and common sense.”

"Our friends will never question our support and our enemies will never doubt our determination. Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption. We will make decisions based on real world outcomes, not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms, not sudden intervention. We must seek partners, not perfection. And to make allies of all who share our goals.”

The fact that the Taliban have not been totally obliterated in Afghanistan after 18 years of war speaks to something very ominous about how this fight has been conducted.

Perhaps in the name of poetic justice they should be made Pakistan’s problem in every sense, after all, the Taliban were generously aided in their rise and armed to the eye-teeth by assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - and it was also Pakistan that, for all those long years while America hunted him, gave sanctuary to Osama bin-Laden in Abbottabad. Pakistan is obviously not on America’s side with anything, and never has been. Let them put up with a burgeoning caliphate along their northern border - hell, they’re practically a caliphate themselves, with nukes.

It’s hard to see how allowing American soldiers to die for the ignoble cause of propping up a frail and flimsy democracy, that has been handed to Kabul on a thin, beaten-silver plate, can be anything close to America First policy, let alone be principled realism taking note of “real world outcomes.”

Both Trump and Bolton know that if the U.S withdraws its troops from Afghanistan - even slowly but surely - the Taliban will unleash a bloodbath, as they’ve done before, as they always do; terrorists live for bloodbaths.

Yet, this is exactly what Pompeo and Khalilzad are busy trying to avert through applying the Trump Doctrine of “security through stability, not through radical disruption.” One can only wish them lashings of luck, guts and wisdom, considering no other doctrine has worked to date in this place called Afghanistan; this well-known graveyard of empires.