While the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq remains universally reviled across the world, far too many politicians and political advisers who supported the war remain in positions of power throughout much of the US and UK. Donald Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton is one of the most prominent examples of a man whose vociferous advocacy of the war on Iraq and his subsequent advocacy of similar policies makes him uniquely unqualified to be anywhere near a position of influence over American foreign policy.
While it is one thing when Bolton advocates for harsh stances against America’s adversaries, it is quite another when he advances the same rough and gruff mentality against a longstanding NATO member and US partner. In this sense, there is little doubt that Bolton’s threats towards the DPRK, China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and others were appalling and counter productive in respect of creating a more peaceful global atmosphere. But when approaching Turkey in the same way in which he approached nations with traditionally more difficult relations with the US, it is fair to say that Bolton has finally piled on the straw that has broken the camel’s back.
This is not just a matter of Bolton overtly supporting the terrorist organisation YPG/PKK as Bolton has indeed supported terror groups prior to today including the anti-Iranian MEK as well as notorious anti-China terror groups. It is neither a matter of going against the wishes of every nation in the region that condemns the US presence in Syria, with the exception of Israel. This is the case as Bolton is one of many US policy makers who shortsightedly prioritise an alliance with Israel over that with many other crucial Middle East partners. It is not even that Bolton has openly challenged the authority of his boss, the US President, in re-writing a key policy statement of Donald Trump as Bolton has done this before and others will likely do so again. The problem is that after months of hard work by officials in Ankara and Washington to repair relations with America’s Turkish ally, Bolton’s grossly irresponsible behaviour now threatens to destroy much of this progress and perhaps most extraordinarily, he has managed to accomplish this destructive feat over a frenetic and downright embarrassing (for the US) twenty-four hour period.
In the past, Bolton’s abrasive and un-diplomatic style alienated even those in the US political mainstream who would otherwise support most of his pro-war policies. Now, he has spread his poison further afield by incurring the direct wrath of a very powerful Turkish President who exhibited good will in his discussions with Donald Trump regarding a phased US withdrawal from Syria and a subsequent Turkish led anti-YPG/PKK and anti-Daesh military operation in the fraught region.
It is one thing to fan the flames of existing wars but it is even more reckless to throw gun powder towards a situation that was in the midst of a much needed de-escalation process. Turkish media has already reacted furiously to Bolton’s effective spitting in the face of one of America’s longest serving NATO partners and a country that is furthermore uniquely placed to bring peace to north-eastern Syria by virtue of its simultaneous partnerships with Russia, Iran and NATO.
Bolton has wilfully taken a win-win situation and thrown matters into chaos as while Turks know who governs Turkey, Turks and the rest of the world are growing confused about who governs the United States. Making matters worse is the fact that Bolton made his inflammatory statements in public prior to even reaching Ankara. These statements would have been incendiary enough if they were made behind closed doors, but the fact he was so brazen as to expect to receive a warm welcome in Ankara after throwing a tantrum in Israel the day before, shows that either Bolton does not understand Turkey or has no desire to treat Turkey with respect. This is not the “art of the deal”, it is the art of obstructing peace and normal diplomacy and it is a very dark art indeed.
Thus, whatever one feels about the current US President, the Turkish President, the situation in Syria, the wider goals of the Astana Trio in Syria and even the policies of Tel Aviv – from a purely procedural point of view as well as a pragmatic point of view, Bolton has exceeded his authority and has done so in a manner that makes a difficult situation far worse at the very moment that it looked like it was about to get much better. This is dangerous behaviour and has no place in the 21st century, not least when the stakes are this high.
For these reasons and countless others, John Bolton must resign and this is before one reads reports indicating that Donald Trump cannot even remember that Bolton’s name is John rather than Mike. Clearly, Trump does not care for Bolton any more than many outside of the US.