Bolton’s Terrible Ideas for Syria

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

To get some idea of what John Bolton will tell Trump about Syria, it is useful to revisit an old Bolton op-ed from a few years ago. It may give us some clues about the position he’ll take on Syria today, and it is a helpful reminder that he is remarkably wrong about virtually everything he writes about. Bolton wrote this back in 2015:

Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.

If, in this context, defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power Mr. Assad in Syria and Iran’s puppets in Iraq, that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable. Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics. The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.

Bolton was hardly the only person to declare Iraq and Syria dead in recent years, but everyone that has said this keeps forgetting to check with the governments of those countries and the people that live in them. Meanwhile, the “de facto independent Kurdistan” was not so independent or as formidable as he imagined. His assessment of the situation then was wrong, and his recommendations were no better.

If Bolton still thinks that carving a new Sunni state out of both Iraq and Syria is the thing to do, that would strongly suggest that he isn’t going to support U.S. withdrawal from Syria. Setting up a new state to serve as “a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad” would require a much larger US military and political commitment, and it would also require the US to oppose both the Iraqi and Syrian governments. It’s a terrible plan that would mire the US in new open-ended conflicts for no good reason, but then what else would you expect from Bolton?

The strongest evidence that Bolton thinks the US should keep its forces in Syria indefinitely is that he says so plainly towards the end of the op-ed:

The military operation is not the hardest part of this post-Islamic State vision. It will also require sustained American attention and commitment. We cannot walk away from this situation as we did from Iraq in 2011 [bold mine-DL].

Bolton uses the Iraq war dead-ender myth that the only real mistake the US made was withdrawing to support his harebrained scheme to carve up two countries against the wishes of their people. We know that Trump has bought into that myth as far as Iraq is concerned, if only because it gives him something to blame Obama for, so it is not a huge leap to think that he will be swayed by Bolton’s view that the US“cannot walk away” from Syria.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

16 thoughts on “Bolton’s Terrible Ideas for Syria”

  1. Bolton is another reservist of the vietnam war who never saw a war he would serve but since then learned to make a lot of money getting others killed in a war that he could not avoid He clearly is the wrong man at the wrong time and his wife is bias on one side. He should never be allowed into the decision process.

  2. I’m expecting- I am predicting- that Bolton is going to prod Trump to do something he hasn’t thought of yet, that is indescribably dangerous. What he’s going to do is play to Trump’s obvious frustration that China isn’t caving to Trump’s bullying on the trade front. Why haven’t they just capitulated like all the cabinet makers and painters used to?

    Bolton, I strongly suspect, will floor Trump with a simple suggestion. The US may not be strongest on trade- but it’s strongest on military.

    So what Bolton will do is argue ferociously for moving the discussion out of the trade arena and into the military arena.

    Why not hit China where it really hurts: renounce the “One-China” policy. That would really get their attention. Recognize Taiwan outright as an independent country.

    Unless they make huge trade concessions. Which Bolton knows they will not do.

    It’s a win-win all round: Trump gets a way out of looking like a fool for triggering a trade war he can’t win.

    And Bolton gets the World War III he’s always wanted.

    1. The US is strongest on trade. The problem is no one ever explains it’s a battle over investment capital, that American wages are pushed down in the current situation. It’s that simple.

      Current trade policy is designed to aid developing polities and “allies” at the expense of wealthy American workers.

      We really could get into a war with China and Russia. I hope you don’t repeat your Taiwan idea. We could even get into WWIII over Syria, truth be told: proxy war growing larger, unintended consequences.

      The reason China would want a war is to improve Chinese support for their government. China has some economic problems.

    1. It just means the he was not mad enough, a bit like Clinton who didn’t go into Iraq to secure that oil.

    2. Yes, it was Bush who had to agree to withdraw from Iraq. Obama killed about 4000 bystanders with drones. He even killed an American citizen and a week later his son with drones. Without any trial, of course. Solely on the order of Godfather Obama. The Land of the Crazy should attack Iran. Then they would learn the lesson they deserve.

  3. ,{ that would strongly suggest that he isn’t going to support U.S.
    withdrawal from Syria. Setting up a new state to serve as “a bulwark
    against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad” would require a much
    larger US military and political commitment, and it would also require
    the US to oppose both the Iraqi and Syrian governments}

    A government based on the British “gunship diplomacy”. Britain went broke many times playing Empire, ESPECIALLY with China and Afghanistan. Somebody please correct me if this next is wrong, but isn’t “the sands of far Samarkan” in either Iran or Afghanistan?

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