John Bolton, senior fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, has produced a dispatch for the Guardian in honour of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, titled “Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the right move for the US and its allies“.
The purpose of the piece is to counteract the supposedly destructive machinations of persons who have come to the conclusion that the US should be “withdrawing around the world and reducing its military capacity”. Bolton detects a “relentless hostility by the war’s opponents [that] now threaten[s] to overwhelm, in the public mind, the clear merits of eliminating Iraq’s Baathist dictatorship”.
To be sure, opponents of bellicose projects are far more deserving of blame for “relentless hostility” than, say, devotees of the US militarism that is to thank for the devastation of Iraq and countless human beings therein.
According to Bolton’s inverted reality, war critics pursue the dangerous curtailment of US military might by peddling “myths” such as that “[George W] Bush lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction”.
As for Bolton’s own expansive arsenal of myths that actually qualify as myths, these include the notion that the island of Cuba poses an existential threat to the US.
Alienation from the species
A key “myth” Bolton sets out to debunk in his latest foray is that “Iraq is worse off now than under Saddam”, a charge he determines “could come only from people with a propensity to admire totalitarianism”.
Declaring that “we didn’t wage war after Pearl Harbor to do nation-building for our enemies”, Bolton lays out the real reason for the Iraq invasion: “[I]n any event, the issue was never about making life better for Iraqis, but about ensuring a safer world for America and its allies.”
No explanation is offered as to the relevance of Pearl Harbor when Iraq had not attacked the US.
As an antidote to the ex-ambassador’s war eulogy, I talked to investigative journalist Christian Parenti, author of The Freedom: Shadows And Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq, who assessed Bolton’s rationale for the invasion:
“That sort of honesty, spoken like a true war criminal, would be refreshing if it didn’t reveal such an appalling disregard for the value of human life and happiness. The US has destroyed Iraq and in doing so broken the hearts and ruined the lives of millions of people… That sort of psychopathic lack of empathy belies a deep bigotry towards other cultures and a general alienation from the life of our species.”
Parenti also commented on Bolton’s contention that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein “achieved important American strategic objectives” and sent “an unmistakable signal of power and determination throughout the Middle East and around the world”. Calling the two-front US war in Iraq and Afghanistan an “often air-conditioned, computer-assisted counterinsurgency” that has persisted for over a decade and “re-centred a large part of world politics around US war-making capabilities”, Parenti noted:
Inside Story Americas – Are there any
“By the measure of the modern imperialist, that process has been impressive, if for no other reason than it has been so spectacularly expensive!”
However, Parenti continued, “the product of that process is not so impressive”: “the US has been shown as incompetent and incapable of creating functioning vassal states in Iraq or Afghanistan”, both plagued by “violence, banditry and fanaticism”.
But in the land of mythmakers, the responsibility for instability naturally lies elsewhere. According to Bolton, “[t]he fact is that Saddam Hussein, with or without actual WMD, was a strategic threat to peace and security in the Middle East and globally.”
Bolton once said with regard to the United Nations Secretariat building in New York that 10 of the edifice’s 38 stories could be eliminated without “mak[ing] a bit of difference”.
It thus struck some observers as odd when the same man was later nominated by Bush for the position of UN Ambassador. Needless to say, the organisation’s effectiveness was not enhanced by the addition of a proponent of the reduction of the Security Council to one permanent member.
In his Guardian piece, Bolton displays his contempt for the notion that the world should be founded on anything other than US military might, insisting that Washington must not “stop short [in its military endeavours] just because of criticism from the international chattering classes”. Iran is cited as one particularly neglected area.
Though Bolton casts wanton bellicosity as serving “our interests”, it is debatable what portion of the US population would have defined themselves as personally or collectively interested in spending an estimated $720m per day on the Iraq war in 2007.
Some citizens, for example, may have found domestic health care or education initiatives more deserving of funds than the slaughter of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints.
Which brings us to the question of what sort of “security” the rest of the planet might expect if disingenuous agitators for a reduced US military capacity are vanquished and “our interests” are allowed to prevail. Comparing the manoeuvrings of Bolton and his ilk to Richard Nixon’s “‘madman theory’ of nuclear diplomacy… now updated and right-sized for application by means of conventional warfare”, Parenti says:
“Therein lies the danger: in the madman mind of John Bolton and others like him, America is a madman empire ready and willing to drag the world down with it if need be.”
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, The Baffler, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.
Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez