John Bolton, who? Oh, how quickly we forget?
The ridiculously long international nightmare of John Bolton was over. Or so we thought when he resigned or was fired a few years ago! No?
We all thought, Bolton’s top priority was always to push the US to go to war with Iran. Bolton, an experienced bureaucrat, was hoping to take advantage of a naive commander-in-chief and use innocuous enough policy decisions to slow-walk Donald Trump into a corner where war was the only way out. He pushed Trump to finally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal mere weeks after assuming the top national security job. As predicted (even by the CIA), that policy has turned out to be a complete disaster, with the US isolated from its European allies, Iran’s nuclear program less constrained, and the Trump administration failing miserably in its quest to rein in Iran’s regional activity or to spark internal strife toward the regime. He basically, single-handedly, is now responsible for the terrible misery ordinary Iranians face today because of this stupid, silly economic sanctions policy.
He also had his sights on cancelling the Obama-era New Start Treaty, an agreement between the US and Russia that placed limits on the number of deployed nuclear warheads, missiles, bombers and launchers. And as we sit here today, there is no arms control treaty between the US and Russia.
While Trump was busy meeting Kim Jong-Un, face-to-face, Bolton openly (publicly) made legal arguments for an unprovoked first strike on North Korea! He undermined Trump (and the whole diplomatic process). Bolton’s efforts became so intrusive that Trump apparently banished him to Mongolia when he decided to pay another visit to Kim at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
But it turns out his damage was far greater than destroying US-Iran, or US-Russia, or US-North Korean relations. He saved his best for the American people themselves! (What a f’ing idiot?)
The wealthiest nation in the world; the nation with the best healthcare system in the world; the nation with the most advanced healthcare system with 3% of the world’s population and 25% COVID19 deaths. Its absolutely disgusting, tragic, ridiculous … And there is ONLY one place that can be held responsible for this: the White House.
Well it turns out that not long after John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser (in May 2018), there was a comprehensive reorganization (that’s polite for elimination) of the National Security bio-defense strategy team against pandemics and biological attacks. The team was disbanded and its head Timothy Ziemer, top White House official in the NSC, left the Trump administration.
This team had devised a guide — officially called the Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents but known colloquially as “the pandemic playbook” — in 2016. The project was driven by career civil servants as well as political appointees, aware that global leaders had initially fumbled their response to the 2014-2015 spread of Ebola and wanting to be sure that the next response to an epidemic was better handled. The Trump administration was briefed fully on this playbook in 2017.
“Is there sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers who are providing medical care?” the playbook instructs its readers, as one early decision that officials should address when facing a potential pandemic. “If YES: What are the triggers to signal exhaustion of supplies? Are additional supplies available? If NO: Should the Strategic National Stockpile release PPE to states?”
These strategies are among hundreds of tactics and key policy decisions laid out in the 69-page playbook. Other recommendations include that the government move swiftly to fully detect potential outbreaks, secure supplemental funding and consider invoking the Defense Production Act — all steps in which the Trump administration seriously lagged the timeline laid out in the playbook.
The playbook lays out different strategies for policymakers based on the severity of the crisis and shares lessons gleaned from past outbreaks. For instance, one section is devoted to addressing 34 “key questions” and 21 “key decisions” as soon as there is a “credible threat” — which in the case of COVID19 would have been early-to-mid January, as it raged in China and as the first U.S. case was detected on Jan. 20 — and calls on officials to move quickly.
Trump’s aides were told to expect a potential pandemic in their briefing. This ranged from a tabletop exercise that the outgoing Obama administration prepared for the president’s incoming aides to a “Crimson Contagion” scenario that health officials undertook just last year and modeled out potential risks of a global infectious disease threat. Trump’s deputies also have said that their COVID19 response relies on a federal playbook, specifically referring to a strategy laid out by the Centers for Disease Control.
The U.S. could have been two critical months ahead in its response, if – ONLY IF – the White House had followed through with its own playbook.
John Bolton described the changes made to the team as streamlining. He tweeted: “Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation’s bio defense are false. Global health remains a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis. The angry Left just can’t stop attacking, even in a crisis.”
Now we see so clearly that Bolton’s decision to eliminate this team – collectively led to a complete absence of expertise on this critical issue at the highest level of leadership in the administration. What happened though, was not so untypical of the Trump administration, because the revolving door in the white house has resulted in 80% staff turnover in just three years of operation. Bolton could fire and hire as he wished, without impunity or review.
Here we are just a few year later with a disastrous outcome from his tenure. They had a playbook; they were fully briefed. And Bolton simply eliminated the whole team. How stupid can it get?
Bolton’s idiotic ideas had been thoroughly discredited and his political and policy career should have been cast aside long ago, perhaps even after the Senate declined to bless his nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations back in 2005 because of his extremist views.
But instead, his post-Bush administration career flourished, presiding over a grotesquely anti-Muslim “thinktank”; landing a lucrative gig as a Fox News contributor; regularly calling for war with Iran (and others) on op-ed pages of, for example, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times; generally hanging around Washington undeterred from, as Media Matters put it, establishing “a record of warmongering, bigotry and pushing conspiracy theories”; and then ultimately becoming one of the most powerful national security officials in the US government – where his ideas found a home.
The tragic subplot to the Trump-era Bolton debacle is the persistence of the constant revolving door in the White House, and its underlying cause of failure on a massive scale. To put it into perspective, US Markets have lost over $10 Trillion dollars in value, and there are over 35,000 deaths as I write this – because of the White House’s silly leadership and botched response to the COVID19 pandemic.
Here we are near the end of Trump’s first (and hopefully last) term. And the consequences of this monumental debacle are self-evident – led by his super-star National Security adviser: John Bolton.