Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is slated to become Trump’s third National Security Adviser in 15 months when he begins April 9. Justin Lane—Bloomberg/Getty Images via TIME
There’s been a lot of free-floatingfear and horror in the media recently about the appointment as national security adviser of John Bolton, a man who’s been itching for war(s) since the 1990s. His approach to Iran and North Korea in particular (not quite nuke ’em!, but not that much short of it either) isn’t what you’d call either carefully calibrated or particularly diplomatic. Still, a certain balance in reporting on Bolton has been lacking. You can search in vain for any outlets (other than Fox News) giving President Trump the slightest credit for what he did, which was no mean trick. After all, short of bringing former Vice President Dick Cheney out of “retirement” and making him secretary of defense (as indeed he was for President George H.W. Bush), it’s hard to think of a single former official of the George W. Bush administration — or more or less anyone else — who would still so vehemently defend the absolute brilliance of the invasion of Iraq and of “preemptive war.” On that score, Bolton is as close to the last man standing as you’re likely to find and since, in his eagerness for that 2003 invasion (and his willingness to back intelligence information, no matter how false, promoting it), he was also one of the first men standing, which means he is indeed a unique candidate for the national security adviser’s job.
Unfortunately, the media (Fox News excepted) just doesn’t get the thrill of it all. Keep in mind that President Trump tried “mygenerals” for more than a year and what did that get him? Deeper into Afghanistan, four dead Green Berets in Niger, stuck in Syria. Now, he’s putting the fate of the republic back in the hands of civilians (and in the process, miraculously enough, turning those hawkish generals into the true “adults” in, or presently leaving, or soon to leave the “room”). So some civilians are about to have their moment. Give them nine months at the outside. Bolton, in particular, has a reputation for being acerbic and beyond blunt in his views, so don’t expect him to last long with a president who clearly must be pandered to in extreme ways by those who care to survive in office — or in the Oval Office — for even modest lengths of time.
A barely noticed anniversary slid by on March 20th. It’s been 15 years since the United States committed the greatest war crime of the twenty-first century: the unprovoked, aggressive invasion of Iraq. The New York Times, which didn’t exactly cover itself in glory in the run-up to that invasion, recently ran an op-ed by an Iraqi novelist living in the United States entitled “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country,” but that was about it. The Washington Post, another publication that (despite the recent portrayal of its Vietnam-era heroism in the movie The Post) repeatedlyeditorialized in favor of the invasion, marked the anniversary with a story about the war’s “murky” body count. Itspiece concluded that at least 600,000 people died in the decade and a half of war, civil war, and chaos that followed — roughly the population of Washington, D.C.
These days, there’s a significant consensus here that the Iraq invasion was a “terrible mistake,” a “tragic error,” or even the “single worst foreign policy decision in American history.” Fewer voices are saying what it really was: a war crime. In fact, that invasion fell into the very category that led the list of crimes at the Nuremberg tribunal, where Nazi high officials were tried for their actions during World War II. During the negotiations establishing that tribunal and its rules, it was (ironically, in view of later events) the United States that insisted on including the crime of “waging a war of aggression” and on placing it at the head of the list. The U.S. position was that all the rest of Germany’s war crimes sprang from this first “crime against peace.”
Yemen is hardly the only site for actual and potential Trump administration war crimes. In response to requests from his military commanders, the president has, for instance, eased the targeting restrictions that had previously been in place for drone strikes, a decision he’s also failed to report to Congress, as required by law. According to Al-Jazeera, such drone strikes in countries ranging from LibyatoAfghanistan will no longer require the presence of an “imminent threat,” which means “the U.S. may now select targets outside of armed conflict,” with increased risk of hitting noncombatants. Also relaxed has been the standard previously in place “of requiring ‘near certainty’ that the target is present” before ordering a strike. Drone operators will now be permitted to attack civilian homes and vehicles, even if they can’t confirm that the human being they are searching for is there. Under Trump, the CIA, which President Obama had largely removed from the drone wars, is once again ordering such attacks along with the military. All of these changes make it more likely that Washington’s serial aerial assassinations will kill significant numbers of civilians in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other target countries.