Adieu, John Bolton, you won’t be missed. And, a lot of folks will probably be sleeping better tonight in your absence.
Bolton made it longer than some in Donald Trump's administration, which is commendable in the same kind of way that sticking it out in the boardroom of Philip Morris probably brought some prestige at some point. With nearly a year and a half under his belt in that bizarre hall of mirrors, he’s surely up for his own book deal on whatever the hell it was he experienced while in there, and maybe a headline gig at a conservative news outlet too.
But, before he gets too cocky with these well wishes, it would be amiss of me not to mention the obvious. Which is: while most of the departures from the White House before him have caused some controversy and consternation — were they positive checks on the darker impulses of a president with little restraint? Did their dissenting or questioning voices add necessary elements of sanity and democracy in a White House governed by someone with little governmental experience? Were they even a secret member of the resistance, whatever that means? — Bolton's departure marks a moment of clear-cut jubilance.
To my mind at least, he was terrible - he always was. This country is better without him in the Situation Room.
I’m not just saying that to be gratuitous, or as some kind of perverse flattery. I’m saying it because I mean it. He really, truly sucked.
To show you what I mean by that, let me take a moment to reflect on his tenure in the White House, and what his position in the upper echelons of our society has meant for the United States and the world.
Firstly, of course, he was said to have done some good. He was supposed to have been sceptical about the president’s apparent admiration for the brutal dictator Kim Jong-un, and objected to Trump's meeting with the North Korean leader in the Demilitarised Zone this past June. He likely also contradicted the president when it came to his pandering tone towards Vladimir Putin.
But, sadly, the people who don’t get to reflect on that particular slice of history include the 200,000 or so Iraqi civilians who have been killed since the United States first started its war there. That war, John Bolton would be sure to remember, was made possible in part by his own claim that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. For those in the cheap seats: there is absolutely no evidence Iraq was ever in possession of such weaponry, and the US still has troops there because life is a nightmare.
He didn’t even learn the lesson from that mistake. While the rest of the world realized what a huge and terrible misstep it had been to invade Iraq in the first place, Bolton doubled down on it in 2007. He suggested that the true mistake in the Iraq war was that the US didn’t leave sooner after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
"What we should have done is said to the Iraqis: ‘You’re on your own. Here’s a copy of the Federalist Papers. Good luck’,” Bolton told FT, before going on to suggest the Iraqi people just read a bit more Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Apparently it didn’t matter in Bolton’s book if the people writing a constitution had just been invaded by a destabilizing military.
Since his abrupt departure on Tuesday, there has been some suggestion that Bolton might have been a good counterweight in the Trump administration, ready and willing to push back against the president whenever he veered to far away from established foreign policy doctrine. We’ve now entered the era of “Trump alone”, we’re told, and that's A Very Bad Thing.
Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events
Honestly, though, it’s hard to see it. Trump has often expressed unease with the idea of bringing the US into another protracted international conflict - but he's also been perfectly happy to launch strikes on Syria and threaten Iran with hellfire. For the most part, he has chosen sanctions as his weapon of choice over diplomacy, heightening tensions between the US, those targets, and international allies all at the same time. Relations with Iran and China in particular have suffered.
And, for the past year and a half, Bolton has been whispering in his ear, urging regime change in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and who knows where else to a man with a quick temper and an ego desperate to announce itself.
With Bolton’s departure, it is hard to say the world is more dangerous than when a war hawk was close by to fuel any violent thought the president might have.
Bolton didn’t manage to bring the US into a regime-change war with Iran, or introduce it into a similar situation on the Korean peninsula. The US has so far avoided another protracted military conflict abroad. And, now, one of the most vocal hawks in the White House has been shown the door.
By all accounts, today has been a good day.