No constraints?

Adrian Morrow, writing in the Globe and Mail tells about how US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster “was a key ally for the Trudeau government in Mr. Trump’s administration. He argued strenuously for Canada to be exempted from the President’s tariffs on steel and aluminium, and was in favour of preserving the continental free market in North American free-trade agreement renegotiations, said Canadian officials who dealt with him over the past year … [and noted that] … His ouster coincided with the administration’s announcement, in an executive order this week, that the tariff exemption for Canada will only be temporary: It will expire on May 1, turning up the pressure on Ottawa to meet Mr. Trump’s demand for a renegotiated NAFTA by then, or negotiate another exemption … [but, he added] … Mr. McMaster was also a moderating influence on Mr. Trump more generally.

636573454893193674-GTY-923076450-97844227But the key point is Mr Morrow’s article is not about General McMaster, it is about John Bolton who replaces him as National Security Advisor in the White House and who is described as  being “convinced that the U.S. should not be held back by any international order.” Carla Robbins of the Council on Foreign Relations who knows a lot about Mr Bolton is quoted as saying  that ““Bolton is above all a lawyer who fiercely and utterly believes the United States should not be constrained by any international law, by any treaty, by any alliance,” she said. “So the affinity he and President Trump have, above all, is this notion of no constraint.”

Adrian Morrow goes on quote “Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star U.S. Army general, [who] described Mr. Bolton as “intelligent” and a talented speaker and writer. But he said his inability to be a cool-headed decision maker makes him a poor choice for his new job … [and added that] … “He will have a viewpoint, a forceful one, and it will … feed the President’s impulsive nature, and possibly get us into an armed conflict.”

Meanwhile, over in the normally quite calm South China Morning Post, Yonden Lhatoo, who is the chief news editor at the Post, lashes out with a mix of anger and real fear, saying that we shouldn’t “get too sidetracked by the trade war that US President Donald Trump has just declared on China. The real one with blood and body bags is coming to a theatre near you soon, judging by the war cabinet he’s putting together … [and he adds that] … it’s time to be afraid, very afraid, with John Bolton as the United States’ new national security adviser. Of all the specimens of unhinged humanity in the purported pool of talent he’s been dipping into, Trump had to pull out the most reviled and discredited one.

So John Bolton is somewhere between an intelligent lawyer who believes that the United States should not be bound by international laws, treaties and alliances ~ a somewhat extreme, but still reasoned position ~ and a specimen of “unhinged humanity,” who is “the stuff that nightmares are made of, a man so hell bent on waging war to further American interests, that he makes the neoconservative ideologues he is erroneously lumped together with seem benign in comparison, with their trope of “spreading democracy” around the world.

The BBC looks at some of Mr Bolton’s policy statements and comes up with five key things that they believe that he believes:

“1. A pre-emptive strike against North Korea is perfectly justified

Mr Bolton’s views on North Korea will draw intense scrutiny as he joins the White House, given a looming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un expected to take place by May.

gallery-1492703766-gettyimages-669024730The incoming National Security Adviser has made it clear that he believes that North Korea and its nuclear programme pose an “imminent threat” to the US, dismissing those who would argue that Washington still has time for diplomacy.

“Given the gaps in US intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in February of possible pre-emptive action.

“It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current “necessity” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”

2. Bombing Iran is probably OK, too

Donald Trump is reported to have got rid of his secretary of state Rex Tillerson due to their opposing views on the Iran nuclear deal, which the US president has been deeply critical of.

ir-areaIn John Bolton, he will find someone whose views are much more aligned with his.

Mr Bolton has lambasted Barack Obama for agreeing the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, writing last year that the text of the agreement “created huge loopholes, and Iran is now driving its missile and nuclear programs straight through them”.

In March 2015, a few months before the deal was agreed, he argued in the New York Times that only military action would suffice.

“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he said, advocating Israeli action specifically.

“Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

3. He’s not the biggest fan of the UN

“There is no United Nations,” Mr Bolton said in a 1994 speech. “There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”

united-nations-logo-1024x881That speech was made more than a decade before he was nominated by the George W Bush administration to be US ambassador to the UN – but Mr Bolton’s scepticism of a global body accountable to no one sovereign nation is deeply held.

The Economist called him “the most controversial ambassador ever sent by America to the United Nations”, but he also won praise in some quarters, for fiercely pushing for reform of the international institution.

4. The Iraq War wasn’t a mistake

Just a few weeks ago, the president was calling the US-led invasion in 2003, “the single worst decision ever made”. Around the same time, John Bolton, who backed it strongly, was refusing to condemn it.

maass-iraq-anniversary“When you say the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a mistake, it’s simplistic,” he is reported to have said in a Fox News appearance.

In 2016, when he was mulling a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr Bolton was less equivocal.

“If you knew everything you do today, of course you’d make different choices, but I’d still overthrow Saddam Hussein, who was a threat to peace and stability in the region,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying.

5. Russia needs to be dealt with strongly

Mr Bolton has described Russian interference in the 2016 US election as a “true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate”.

_79811351_79813009In July 2017, when President Trump met President Putin and the Russian leader denied Russian meddling, Mr Bolton wrote that he was “lying with the benefit of the best KGB training”.

More recently, following the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripial in the UK – an attack blamed on Russia – Mr Bolton said the West should respond with a “very strong answer”.”

None of those positions is really “extreme.” Many thoughtful analysts share at least some common ground with Mr Bolton on each of those positions. Even taken together they do not rise to Yonden Lhatoo’s description of Mr Bolton as a deranged war criminal. So what makes one journalist in London rather sanguine and another in Hong Kong afraid? The answer, I think, is found in a Reuters/Bloomberg article that was published in the South China Morning Post that describes “Bolton, 69 [as having] advocated using military force against North Korea, a tough line with China and closer US ties with Taiwan. He has long been a polarising figure in Washington foreign policy circles.” China watchers, I think, believe, broadly, that China can be contained or restrained but not stopped in or deflected from its quest for the status of East Asian hegemon and global superpower.

Those same observers, as I read them, anyway, say that the United States, which has the Tigermost powerful military force the world has even seen, cannot defeat China. Nor they say can China defeat RMDvk1PAmerica … they are like a killer whale and a giant tiger: each is supreme in his element ~ America as a great maritime power and China as a great Asian land power ~ but the two cannot fight one another because they exist in different domains. The United States cannot, not until it has had years and years and years of preparations assemble the naval, land and air forces which would be needed, invade China, much less beat it. China would need the same time and space to build a force to invade and conquer America. Neither will give the other that time. America could buy time by devastating China with nuclear strikes but China would survive and it would, in the opening round, launch a punishing (but nor crippling) attack on America ~ targeting America’s greatest cities. The Chinese would, eventually, dig themselves out of the rubble, rebuild and would still be ready to meet and beat the Americans when they arrive. But the fear remains, and I share it, that President Trump, who is a bombastic buffoon with no strategic insights at all, will manage to provoke a war with China and the whole world will lose … just because he’s a damned fool who doesn’t understand that provoking the Taiwan issue could, easily, provoke a world war.

Mr Bolton is, undoubtedly right, that something needs to be done about or to North Korea and Iran and Russia and even the United Nations … the question is “what?” and “how?” Even Mr Bolton has acknowledges that dealing, militarily, with North Korea will not be the “cakewalk” that the US military has become accustomed to in e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, for now, the moderating voices …


… of Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster are gone, leaving only …


… James (Mad Dog) Mattis and John Kelly, two retired US Marine Corps generals, as the only seasoned “grownups” on the front bench of Team Trump. It is no secret that Kelly and Mattis had policy differences with McMaster and Tillerson, but that is the norm in the US system of cabinet government … what mattered was that all four had hard edged realist views of America’s reach and grasp. Now half of that “realist” force has been fired … replaced by people who are reported to be unlikely to be interested in applying constraints to President Trump’s unsound instincts.

There are implications for Canada. The threat of global or regional armed conflict stretches well past our usual preoccupation with NAFTA and poses a serious threat to the very lives of Canadians. Prime Minister Trudeau needs to grow up, to put aside his “Mr Dressup” fetish and put on his “big boy pants” and get serious about securing and defending Canada. That means, inter alia:

I sincerely doubt that Prime Minister Trudeau, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts actually comprehend the gravity of the situation, but one can hope …

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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