Wednesday, April 25, 2007

John Bolton

There was a curious and revealing confrontation on Newsnight - see it here - between Gavin Esler and John Bolton. Sloppy as I am about following politics, I had only two vague impressions of Bolton - that he was diplomatically controversial and that, with his L'Oreal, suede-coloured hair, white moustache and glinting glasses, he looked like a man in deep disguise. Esler's tactics were all wrong. He merely flung provocative jibes about difficulties in Iraq, giving Bolton the chance to just swat them aside. But Bolton's tactics were inept and dishonest. First, he simply laughed at the comparison with Vietnam, saying Iraq was a battle with terrorists and, therefore, different. But there are deep parallels and, if, as he implied, Vietnam was a more conventional war, then, on the basis of his own analysis, America should have won, but she lost. He also laughed when Esler refused his challenge to come up with alternatives. But it's Esler's job to ask the questions, not necessarily to give answers, though admittedly his style seemed to suggest he did have answers. But the important point is that Bolton's underlying twofold case was a strong one. First, what choice do we have, here and now, but to attempt to stabilise Iraq? And, secondly, in the end, the decision can only be made by the Iraqis. But he ruined his case by describing this as the Iraqis' 'last chance', a phrase that implies a deadline which is precisely what he was supposed to be arguing against. In addition, he sneered threateningly about the consequences if America withdrew not just from Iraq but elsewhere. This, again, is a strong point but his way of making it was to offer us the role of mere vassals of the American empire. Even the closest of America's friends - I count myself one - could only regard such behaviour as disgusting. The man, I now see, is a diplomatic disaster who makes Donald Rumsfeld look like Disraeli. Seldom have I seen such an intelligent man make such a fool of himself and his cause.


  1. is it me or does John Bolton remind anyone of Ned Flanders?

    just me then? okily dokily...

  2. Spot on, Ian, but is not Flanders nice?

  3. This analysis I agree with 100%. In fact, it seems to me that Bolton is a very dangerous individual, more than capable of starting a war on his own. During the recent Iranian hostage 'crisis', he frequently appeared on Channel 4 news, where he appeared to argue that any response short of military action would, and has, led to the Iranian regime becoming "emboldened."

  4. Reminds me of a prof I once knew who someone maliciously called 'a lesbian in drag'. Seriously. Bolton. Feith, Perle, Kristol, and the really abrasive guy who is US ambassador to Turkey, anticipate that a 'Newsnight' they perceive as being totally left-wing is going to be hostile, and so tough their way through with odd bouts of sneering laughter. They have a point since the programme is set up to get maximum confrontation- with no room for ambiguity or qualification, hence why I refuse to go on it- and some of the presenters (especially 'Squark') get semi-hysterical when they interview anyone from the US, Israel or a Tory. The one exception is Gavin Essler who knows a lot about the US having been Washington correspondent. So the answer may be to sack Squark, replacing her with the much more sound Mark Urban, who is much more even handed and temperate. The security correspondent Frank Gardiner is also the epitome of informed reasonableness. Bolton is now the ex-candidate US UN ambassador, which may account for the bitterness of his too frequent appearances. There is a much slicker and emollient clean shaven man called James Burns of the State Department available, but he wouldn't suit the Newsnight format. All 'my pleasure Kirsty' would have her melt down in fury.

  5. In the first place, Vietnam was both a military and strategic victory for America.

    There were ~61,000 U.S. deaths, versus up to 2 million NVA/VC deaths. In April of '95, the Vietnamese government issued a press release which put the total of Vietnamese military deaths at 1.1 million, out of a total wartime population of under 20 million.
    Further, virtually all American forces were withdrawn from S. Vietnam by the spring of '73, almost exactly two years before No. Vietnam took Saigon. Since there was a two-year cease-fire between when the U.S. left and the North finally achieved their objective, it's hard to claim that America was militarily "defeated" - they just waited us out.

    The strategic victory lies in the fact that since their experience in Vietnam, neither China nor the late and unlamented USSR cared to engage the U.S. again in another proxy war, which was the ultimate goal of American foreign policy.

    Vietnam was, however, an American domestic political defeat, and it left a lasting and negative impact on the psyche of the American Baby Boom generation, which is why so many of them are essentially angry isolationists in their attitudes towards American foreign policy.

    So, given that Iraq is entirely unlike Vietnam in levels of American troops deployed, in the importance to America of winning the conflict, in the vastly fewer American deaths to date, and in the fact that no powerful foreign powers are supporting America's opponents in Iraq, I'm curious about what are the "deep parallels" that you see between the two conflicts ?

  6. In terms of the actual interview I thought Esler handled it atrociously.

    True, he's not a politician and is under no obligation to provide his own solutions but if you adopt such a scathing and pejorative tone then you need to be in a position to posit alternatives when asked - even if they are just those of the interviewee's political opponents.

    It takes some going to leave the disinterested or neutral viewer with a positive impression of Bolton - I suspect that's what Esler did...

  7. Iraq like Vietnam because:
    Shared ideological visions of the defence/imposition/ advancement by military means globally.
    Belief in the regional significance of this particular conflict.
    Excessive faith in inappropriate technology.
    Unreliable and weak local allies in government.
    Mounting and increasingly divisive dissent at home.
    I could go on.
    I'm not against American interventions - I was for overthrowing Saddam - but, in both these cases, execution has been appalling.

  8. Sorry that should have had 'of democracy' after advancement.

  9. Hmmm.

    Well, I have to agree with all of those parallels, although by those criteria America is likely to achieve another strategic foreign policy victory/domestic political defeat. (Although since the casualties are far fewer, and they're all volunteers, it's very unlikely that there will be a lasting cultural impact from this conflict).

    Whether Iraq stabilizes or implodes, one thing that potential future foes of America will well note is that, regardless of how the conflict ends up being perceived by Americans and the rest of the world, the Taliban and Saddam were clear losers.

  10. I agree and please don't count me among the foes of America.

  11. Wow - that article about the US is staggeringly brilliant. It says nearly everything I've been trying to say in a million arguments with my left-wing (the term is now interchangeable with 'anti-American') friends since 9/11, but better.

  12. Spectacular, Bryan. I vote for this as the pithiest, most biting truth among your many offerings:

    But the British left had something simpler – a burning hatred for America for disproving almost everything they ever believed

    That stands up there with the remark of the late Canadian philosopher, George Grant:

    The left is always warning about the imminent arrival of fascism in America, but when the real thing comes, it always seems to descend on Europe.

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