Bolton: Symptom of a “far deeper malady”

The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Just ask John Bolton.

John Bolton was interviewed by Jack Tapper of CNN on Tuesday concerning the ongoing hearings and investigation into the January 6, 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The exchange, as summarized by the Washington Post: John Bolton, [said the] attack on the Capitol was not a “carefully planned coup d’etat” — and that he would know. “As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat — not here but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work, and that’s not what [President Donald Trump] did.” 

Predictably there is much discussion about which coups Bolton may have been involved in; he only admitted to trying to oust Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in 2019 when he was Trump’s National Security Advisor. Jacob Rosenberg of Mother Jones put an ironic spin on the story while curating a tour of US sponsored regime changes since 1953. Most coverage, however, has simply restated the obvious, e.g., no one is surprised by any of this, except, maybe, the casual tone with which Bolton made the claim. 

The Washington Post did give space to people concerned that Bolton’s admission gives fuel to our “opponents” overseas: “It’s damaging to our efforts to advance and support democracy,” Stanford University-Hoover Institution scholar Larry Diamond said. “We have enough trouble already countering Russian and Chinese propaganda.” 

On the other hand, one former CIA analyst quipped on Twitter that Bolton “never touched a coup.” 

Bolton has always been a bit played in a larger ensemble of neo-conservative foreign policy hawks. Debating Bolton’s role in any of the regime changes the US helped orchestrate seems of marginal importance viewed against the full weight of what the United States government has wrought around the world with its casual disrespect for sovereignty and democratic practice.

In response to Larry Diamond, I’d say the damage to the United States’ reputation is self-inflicted by the actual practice of serial interventions our government has engaged in. The United States is not wounded by “propaganda.” We are, however, deeply wounded by the blowback from the many regime changes our government has supported.

In 2016 Lindsay O’Rourke summarized a study he had conducted into US involvement in coups d’etat around the world during the cold war. His topline: “Between 1947 and 1989, the United States tried to change other nations’ governments 72 times.” Many regime changes and attempted regime changes have ensued in the years since. 

Fifty-five years ago Dr. King called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. In what is probably the most prophetic speech anyone has ever made about US foreign policy, Dr. King said,

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. 

Dr. King argued that there must be a “radical revolution of values,” if we are to avoid this fate of never-ending crises.

we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.   . 

We should have listened.

The United States remains the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Our government shows no regard for human rights in discerning where to engage. The US does not support democracy, unless one assumes a “market economy” is a reasonable stand in. Certainly the “market” is what the coups, interventions, and saccharine appeals to “US standing” in the world seem to ultimately be about. Racism, materialism and militarism indeed!

The latest Pentagon budget proposed by the Biden administration for FY 2023 was the largest Pentagon budget ever at $813 billion; Congress promptly bumped it to $839 billion. In reality total national security spending actually tops $1.4 trillion. The United States currently has forces deployed in 85 countries around the globe for the purpose of buttressing counter insurgency operations. Biden has just greenlighted US re-engagement with forces in Somalia, while in Europe, we remain on the brink of war with Russia; Ukraine being the site of one of the many US supported coups in the post-cold war era, though Bolton was not around for this one (2014). Blowback has most certainly followed

One day, maybe, the John Boltons of this world will face justice. Today is not that day. In the meantime, we can only hope he packs up the Yosemite Sam mustache and returns to a closet at the American Enterprise Institute. 

The rest of us must continue to work for peace. Which means cleaning up the messes that Bolton and so many others like him have created.

 

Comments (1)

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    Ray Donaldson

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    Amen! As an 82 year old senior many things come to mind. one I was involved in was the Vietnam war. Martin Luther King was not assassinated until he came out against that war in a speech at riverside Church in new york city.

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