Despite his forthcoming tell-all book and the possibility he’ll testify before the Senate against Donald Trump, I don’t think John Bolton’s legacy will be driving Trump from office. I think Bolton’s legacy will be finally convincing lots of Republicans not to trust neoconservatives enough to let them into your administration.
(Briefly, I here use “neoconservative” to mean hawkish, comfortable with big rather than limited government, and sometimes prone to shallow, strategic, basically sociological-rather-than-theological use of religiosity. More old-fashioned conservatives at least sometimes wanted wars to be rare and usually wanted government to be smaller. Libertarians want less government across the board, not that anyone listens to us.)
My own long-term political plan, showing almost as much foresight as decades-in-advance Pentagon war-gaming, was always to give the neoconservatives enough leeway, for a decade or so after the Cold War, to either demonstrate their purported geostrategic genius or prove how awful and destructive they are, and then insist we stop listening to them. Now might be a good time to stop—certainly a strategically useful time for the Trump defense team.
The neocons claim to have foreign policy expertise, but they’ve produced protracted war after protracted war, and the more of them who spring forth to express horror at interrupted Ukrainian arms deals of all things, the more we see what they really hold sacred. Perhaps Trump was right when he initially passed over Bolton for inclusion among his advisors, reportedly saying his gut told him you can’t trust a man with a mustache like that.
At least anti-Bolton, anti-mustache paranoia can’t be ascribed to anti-Semitism, as almost any criticism of neoconservatives-as-a-group has for the past two decades. That makes the current fight over Bolton a potential learning experience.
One thing some will learn now is that despite all the years the center-left Democrats and neoconservative, establishment Republicans spent play-fighting with each other, they’re capable of rallying together when they fear some outsider might derail their twin gravy trains by reducing wars and/or welfare-statism. If Bolton embarrasses Trump badly enough, he’ll be loudly praised by Democrats who swore he was an embodiment of imminent apocalypse back in the George W. Bush days.
Never imagine that trivialities like war, peace, or economic policy actually matter more to these people than keeping their Punch-and-Judy show going, in DC, on TV, and in overseas military theaters. Sincere left-wing activists express horror at the possibility that their penalty for ousting Trump would be a more-hawkish, more-religious President Pence, but the establishment, nominally-right or nominally-left, is fine with that outcome. If they control both right and left, they think they control reality itself anyway. They can manage Pence.
You can see the bipartisan blurring of reality already in the form of things like unhinged neocon writer Jennifer Rubin tweeting that she believes Biden is now “praying” to be called as a Senate witness, so he can explain how he has fought corruption in Ukraine while Trump encouraged it. Hey, go right ahead. That should be entertaining.
And smashing Trump is such an overriding priority for the more the left-leaning parts of the establishment that no less a figure than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted a link to an article by a radical libertarian this month—my ex-boss Judge Napolitano, who’s principled enough in his fealty to the Constitution to think perhaps Trump should be removed from office. The Judge will continue explaining and defending the Constitution no matter the Senate trial outcome, but I doubt Pelosi will tout his columns very often on other topics.
So be it. As with the smart, Satanist character Gilfoyle being outed as an “anarcho-capitalist” (and Neal Stephenson reader) last year on the final season of Silicon Valley, sometimes libertarians have to be pleased just with being noticed. I suspect the Silicon Valley mention was a side effect of occasional show writer Danny O’Keefe sparring with Rand Paul on Twitter over the true meaning of Festivus. Recall that I said earlier the line between reality and unreality is getting blurrier. (For my part, I’ll strive to make it a bit clearer when I’m endorsing a radical conspiracy or political theory and when I’m merely drawing attention to them—but who can blame people of any faction for losing track at times over the past few years?)
Foes of the recent upsurge in nationalism around the world have every strategic reason to equate it with racism or mere chauvinism, but one more benign reason for its increased appeal is the desire to short-circuit the globe-straddling plans of men like Bolton to remake society after society through war, a bloody process with no assurance of success.
Spare some sympathy, then, for people who manage, even sloppily, to disentangle their national destiny from dubious international projects, as patient Brits finally will this Friday, when Brexit finally comes to fruition and they leave the European Union. After all the comments made about how voters choosing Brexit may have been a harbinger of Trump’s election, an upsurge in nationalism/populism five months ahead of schedule, it would be fitting if Brexit finally arrives just a few days before Trump is acquitted by the Senate.
I don’t want true isolationism to follow—I like both trade and migration—but fewer international super-states, fewer arms deals, and fewer pieces of advice from John Bolton would be fine.
—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey.