Last week, John Bolton went to the office of the national security adviser, following in the hurried footsteps of Michael Flynn and H. R. McMaster. Two features set Bolton only the most people in D.C., the shamelessly luxurious mustache and unmatched penchant for unjustified preemptive violence.
At the University of Chicago in 2009, Bolton warned that “if Israel is ready to use nuclear weapons against Iran, Iran will have a nuclear weapon in the near future”. Fortunately, Israel is not to take the advice of Bolton and like most predicted, Iran did not meet his expectations. Similarly, in 2015 op-ed in the new York times, John Bolton expressed the view that “the inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate on its nuclear program. Any sanctions to block its construction a broad and deep infrastructure of the weapons…. Time is very short, but the impact can still succeed.” Three months later, the proliferation of the Internet, in which Iran agreed to reduce by 98 percent enriched uranium and a 15-year pause in the development of key infrastructure of the weapons was negotiated.
Most recently, in February, Bolton was advised in the «wall Street Journal» that “given the shortcomings of U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the last minute…. It’s perfectly legal for the United States in connection with the current «need» posed by nuclear weapons of North Korea striking first.”
On the record this time Bolton’s call for war in any possible situation have lost the ability to shock. After all, the founding fathers would probably be appalled.
Regarding peacekeeping vision permeates the philosophy of the founders. James Wilson, in his lectures on law, wrote that when the state “is obliged to preserve itself and its members; it has…the right to do” what he can “without damaging others.” In Federalist 4, John Jay advised that the American people ought to support steps that would “put and keep them in this position as, instead of inviting war, will tend to repress and restrain him.” And in his farewell speech, George Washington said that the United States should be “always guided by exalted justice and benevolence.”
Pre-emptive nuclear strike justified on the flimsy basis of “gaps in US intelligence” is not quite consonant with this military restraint and “exalted justice”. And not to think that those ideals were just high concepts, to consider how American history has continued, they became enshrined in American diplomacy.
In 1837, canadian rebels sailing aboard Caroline fled to the island in the Niagara river with the help of several American citizens. British troops boarded their ship, killed an American crew member, and then set the Caroline on fire, moving it to the Niagara falls. Enraged, American and canadian raiders destroyed a British ship. Several attacks until, until the crisis was finally ended in 1842, the Treaty of Webster-Ashburton. Later, Caroline tests it was found that States that had carried out the attack in self-defence is lawful only when, in the words of Daniel Webster, the necessity is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This principle remains the same international standard, although some, like Bolton, think that it is outdated.
Caroline test in mind, Bolton wrote while arguments in favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea, “the case against preemption rests on a misinterpretation of the standard, which is derived from prenuclear, pre-ballistic missiles of the times.” In other words, Bolton believes that we can no longer afford to wait until the situation will be “instant” and “overwhelming” and makes the crime of abstaining from immediate preventive action, regardless of potential costs.
In this regard, one of the most colorful strokes of Bolton on President Obama involved comparing it æthelred, medieval Anglo-Saxon king, to remember his tragic indecision. However, given that the costs are unreasonable anticipation, indecision is often the midwife of careful contemplation and peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Obama convinced retrospectively unauthorized Bolton calls for preemption in Iran, the tragedy would not have followed.
In the same spirit, that Bolton deserves historical comparison: Cato the elder, conservative-yet-eccentric Roman statesman who, according to Plutarch, often and consistently call for the destruction of Carthage, although Carthage the threat was neither inevitable nor obvious. In the end, the words of Cato, went into the ears of the authorities and hundreds of thousands of Carthaginians were senselessly killed. According to the Greek historian Polybius Scipio Emilian, a young Roman General who led the attack, saw the carnage of a great nation, “tears and cried in a loud voice.”
To ensure that we never find ourselves standing next to Scipio knee-deep in blood unjustly shed, Bolton should reconsider whether the flimsy merits of the rash pre-emption really outweigh the enduring wisdom of the founding fathers and the lessons of history.
Michael Schindler performs with the young voices and writer living in Washington, D.C. follow him @MichaelShindler.