A hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, a noble animal that plays a vital role in many ecosystems.
John Bolton, by contrast, is a war criminal, a man better described as a black-pilled, death-worshipping ghoul drenched in the blood of Muslim children than compared to an elegant specimen of the family Accipitridae.
If there were justice in the world, Bolton would be handed over to the Iraqi government, perhaps for them to do as the Israelis did to Eichmann. He’s not an international pariah on par with Rumsfeld or Rove, but he’s easily as culpable as Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, or Libby in the fraudulent invasion and catastrophic occupation of Iraq, a disaster that eventually spilled over into Syria, and now has people literally fleeing into the ocean. Unlike some architects of the Iraq war, who had the decency to disappear from public life, Bolton continued to unapologetically defend the con job he did as George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, even as he tirelessly agitated for war with Iran and North Korea and Venezuela as Trump’s national security advisor.
Yet whenever Bolton surfaces in the news, as he did again when he was fired Tuesday after being fired, it’s almost impossible to find an article about him in which the rather flattering avian sobriquet is not applied in the first two or three paragraphs. It’s almost a term of endearment, and it says a lot about how the media normalizes permanent war.
On Tuesday, the New York Times’ Peter Baker blithely described Bolton as “one of Washington’s most outspoken hawks and unapologetic advocates of American power to defend the country’s interests.” In a Times editorial, John Gans described him as “an irascible firebrand,” and a “seasoned Washington player.” The Washington Post described him as a “mustachioed conservative,” “widely read and witty,” an “irascible foreign policy hawk,” and “a fixture in Republican administrations and hawkish foreign policy circles for decades.” You can practically hear the ice cubes clinking in the glasses of bourbon at the Yale Club. Jolly fellow, that Bolton. Awfully irascible, though.
This is a guy who spent the entirety of his bullying, boot-licking career constantly working the levers of the national security apparatus towards waging war — any war, with whatever country was at hand to target, be it Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela, whose government he tried to have overthrown earlier this year, in a blackly comic show of American ineptitude that would be too much for the Coen brothers.
Hawk is cutesy, not to mention cliché, and it’s freighted with the assumption that we’re all united by a shared concern for national security, and Bolton just happens to be at the far end of a basically good-faith argument over the appropriate application of American military power abroad. You have hawks and you have doves, both of which are needed, and the institutional processes of democracy and the marketplace of ideas will sort it out. Such is the neoliberal attitude.
In addition to their all-is-relative, we’re-all-on-the-same-team intellectual slushiness, the Washington press corps is so blinded by loathing for Trump that they can’t appreciate Bolton’s firing as a positive development, at least for the time being. Don’t count on the Times, the Post, CNN, or MSNBC to note that Trump, for all his madness, has been a counterweight to the bipartisan war machine. Maybe it’s only because he’s dumb and lazy and senile, but Trump is a president whose body count approaching the three-year mark is almost certainly lower than Obama’s or Clinton’s, and orders of magnitude lower than either Bushes’ or Reagan’s. That means little to an establishment that sees foreign wars as the natural order of things.
As a veteran of the Iraq war, it’s more difficult for me to forget the real-world consequences of “hawkish” foreign policy: bombs dropping, buildings falling, bones crunching, blood spilling, and families forever broken by grief.
In 2003, the Bush administration and the Republican Party, with the participation of most centrist Democrats, collectively defrauded the United States into launching a massive land invasion of Iraq, on the pretense, which they knew or should have known to be false, of disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. An estimated 654,965 people were killed as a direct result of the invasion, the most common cause of death being gunfire. When the so-called WMD turned out not to exist, American officials changed the mission to bringing democracy to Iraq, which also failed. Iraq was destroyed as a viable political entity, perhaps forever. The Islamic State was born in the crucible of Fallujah, and later spread to Syria. The geopolitical fallout was not contained to the Middle East. A straight line can be drawn from the 2003 invasion to the 2015 refugee crisis, which destabilized the political order of Europe, and led to the rise of far-right, xenophobic parties in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. Al Jazeera appropriately described the Iraq war as “the common ancestor” of all these disasters, and “the original sin of the 21st century.”
Together with the 2008 bank bailout, the Iraq war goes a long way towards explaining the ascendancy of Trump, but the sort of people who think of Bolton as an “irascible foreign policy hawk” who’s “witty and well read” would much prefer a Republican like Mitt Romney, who on Tuesday called Bolton’s firing as “an extraordinary loss for our nation and the White House,” and described himself as “very, very sad.” Or better yet, the notably hawkish Hillary Clinton, who championed — yes, championed — the invasion of Iraq in tandem with Bolton, and as secretary of state, worked for regime change in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and Honduras, all of which are now failed states or frozen conflicts overrun by militias, jihadists, and armed gangs.
Imagine if another country had a guy like Bolton, whose whole schtick was going around the world threatening heads of state with ouster or death. The press wouldn’t call him a hawk, they’d call him a madman and an international criminal. It may be too much to ask White House correspondents and national security reporters to bring that kind of vocabulary to bear on high American officials, but I do wish they’d get a thesaurus. Certain carrion birds would supply a more apt metaphor.