Trump, the New York Times, and John Bolton

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The New York Times on September 10 ran six articles with the word Trump in the headlines. Two of the stories were clearly warranted – one on Trump’s continuing resolve to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and one on the way the commerce department played along with Trump’s false message about the Alabama destination of the recent hurricane. The other stories were tabloid-fodder.

Then midday September 10 came the news that John Bolton had been sacked. That deserved a story, so it was fair to predict the Times would run three: one on the event, one on the history of a memorable relationship, and one on “possible consequences.”

The Times on September 11 ran four stories on Bolton. News analysis on page one, by Michael Crowley and Lara Jakes, opened with this sentence: “On one foreign policy issue after another, John R. Bolton was the in-house skeptic who checked President Trump’s most unorthodox instincts.” The word unorthodox is doing a lot of work there. It would be truer to say that Trump cut down Bolton’s most dangerous initiatives: for example his idea of starting a war with Iran by an immediate violent retaliation after the bloodless downing of a US surveillance drone.

Was John Bolton a “skeptic”? An “adult in the room”? Bolton’s best-known policies have been to bomb Iran and replace the Mullahs with a US puppet government; turn Venezuela into an American oil well; exit the UN; and start World War III soon while the US can win (if we don’t tie our hands). And meanwhile withdraw from none of the following countries: Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan.

In an administration pledged to withdraw from unnecessary wars, why is the US still in Afghanistan? Why have we pulled out of the INF treaty? Why are there more trip-wires than ever to set off a war with Iran in the Persian Gulf, or with Russia in Eastern Europe? These are the strategic triumphs of John Bolton.

Bolton was originally appointed by Trump at the request of the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. It was Bolton’s advocacy of Israeli expansion, and his detestation of the very idea of a Palestinian state, that prompted both Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu to recommend him as the the best choice for Trump’s third national security adviser. His sacking in turn was effected on schedule to coincide with Netanyahu’s sinking popularity in Israel. The name of Adelson goes unmentioned in all the Times articles.

It appears that anyone (no matter how devious and reckless) who opposes Donald Trump can now expect to be rewarded with the honorific title “skeptic” – a word often used in the past to describe a doubter rather than a fanatical supporter of an insane orthodoxy.

We are through the looking glass.

David Bromwich teaches at Yale and is the author most recently of American

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