News & Politics

Neoconservatives Like Max Boot Are the Last People We Should Listen to About Russia

The champions of the Iraq war want to pull us into a catastrophic new conflict.

Max Boot
Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

The cultural rehabilitation of George W. Bush may be the stupidest thing in America today, including the collective utterances of our current president. The spoiled son of an apparatchik father, Bush was smuggled into the Texas governorship by a combination of his daddy’s friends’ money, the tail-end of the post-Civil Rights realignment of the conservative South as a solidly Republican region, and calling his opponent a lesbian. He became popular, serving up tax cuts, loosening gun restrictions and frequently invoking Jesus Christ as our lord and savior.

He won reelection against Garry Mauro, the decidedly uninteresting four-term commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, with almost 70 percent of the vote. With their preternatural ability to double down on failure with rewards, the Democrats made Mauro the co-chair of Al Gore’s Texas campaign. Al Gore lost Texas 59 percent to 38 percent in 2000. We all know what happened in Florida.

We tend to remember W.’s first year as desultory and inconsequential, a brief interregnum of “compassionate conservativism,” “faith-based initiatives,” pledges to avoid “nation-building” and the construction of a more reserved foreign policy. But even before 9/11, it was clear that this was all a subterfuge. Bush’s foreign policy and national security teams were stuffed with ghoulish, Nixon-era conservatives, and no one should have reasonably believed that this drawling, barely sober figurehead—a man who let the head of his own vice-presidential committee make himself the vice president—could hold out against the combined machinations of the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and Wolfowitzes of the world, seasoned and brutal bureaucratic operators with Washington Rolodexes against which poor Junior couldn’t have competed even if he’d wanted to.

Then came 9/11, the long-building blowback for the CIA’s proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and Poppy Bush’s stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. The attacks were preceded by the first World Trade Center bombing and the attack on the USS Cole, although it became national policy and an article of faith in the national media that September 11 was a literally unprecedented event, Pearl Harbor or the burning of the White House in the War of 1812 its only possible antecedents. After nearly six decades of peace (never mind Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, etc., etc.), they had attacked what would soon become, in the grimly ridiculous neologism, the “homeland.”

“Imagine,” tweeted Max Boot, a sort of anti-Trump neocon and recently named columnist at the Washington Post, “if, after 9/11, the president saw the attack as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. That’s roughly where we stand after the 2nd-worst foreign attack on America in recent decades.”

Really, can you imagine? 9/11 was a terrible attack nevertheless carried out by a relatively small band of militants. A targeted interdiction of certain Saudi bank accounts and some international police actions could have disrupted the entire network. But the neoconservative cabal at the heart of Bushland had been itching for a crisis to justify cranking up the vast apparatus of the U.S. war machine, and Bush himself, owing in no small part to an incurious conversion to Christianity that seems to have settled on a bric-a-brac evangelism, seemed eager to embrace a new status as an almost messianic figure in a great global struggle for the future of civilization.

We invaded Afghanistan, where we are now, 16 years later, flailing after some kind of political settlement with the very faction whose incarnate evil we first determined to overthrow (while also making an even more uncertain ally of neighboring Pakistan). We invaded Iraq with even less justification a few years later, a move that could go down as the single greatest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States; a still-unfolding catastrophe in which we destroyed a state, threw its mid-level military officers into hellish jails together, and then watched as they radicalized and conspired to form the core of ISIS (which we are now both fighting and aiding in Syria, depending on the precise coordinates and the day of the week). Meanwhile, we are brushing wings with Russia, which has its own geopolitical interests in Syria, a far more dangerous and provocative situation than our churlish grifter president’s half-hearted unwillingness to impose more useless economic sanctions on Moscow.

We abducted people off the streets of European cities—no worse than abducting cabbies and low-level couriers in Islamabad, but somehow even more shocking—and sent them off to secret central-Asian dungeons and cargo ships in the middle of the Indian Ocean to be tortured. We built an electronic surveillance apparatus that sucked up virtually every email and phone call on the planet.

Abu Ghraib. Waterboarding. Trying to add up the list of horrific stupidities, moral abdications and plain strategic defeats unleashed in the wake of an unembarrassed galoot like Bush imagining himself as a new Charles Martel is like trying to count the stars in the sky: the best you can do is isolate a representative sample and then multiply to approximate the whole.

To be clear, the evidence that Russia dumped political content into the American media ecosystem during the 2016 elections is overwhelming, just as it's apparent that the Trump family has secret Russian oligarchs they are afraid to upset, owing in no small part to the fact that Western creditors want nothing to do with family’s corrupt and perennially cash-strapped businesses. But these Fifth-Column insinuations, the idea that this is the “2nd-worst foreign attack on America in recent decades,” are pure nonsense, a wish-fulfillment fantasy that some kind of deus ex machina will do away with a vulgar, prematurely elderly egomaniac. In fact, if you regard Trump’s foreign policy—escalating in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; aiding the Saudis in Yemen; arming Ukraine; expanding “anti-terror” activities in Africa; an increased bellicosity toward China; saber-rattling toward North Korea—you find almost precisely the priorities that neoconservatives like Boot have argued for for years!

So it returns, as it often does in America, to a matter of mere style. Trump’s failure to take the bullhorn and climb atop the wreckage of your conservative uncle’s Facebook feed to proclaim “the people who circulated this Hillary arm-wrestling Satan meme are going to hear us!” renders him unspeakably dangerous and un-American, even as he more or less continues to pursue the same stupid militarism the right has wanted all along. However unlikely it is that Robert Mueller will set things right at the end of this farcical production, there is actually something commendable about his approach: a quiet, sober and steady investigation of potential wrongdoing, free of bombastic pronouncements, subpoenas in place of bombs. We may have arrived here by accident, and maybe even over the objections of the president himself, but good lord, it beats another war.

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Jacob Bacharach is the author of "The Bend of the World" and "The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates." His writing has appeared in The New Republic and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.