College was September 1965 – the Beatles “Help” topped the charts and our Vietnam War was just starting up – to June 1969 – President Nixon and South Vietnamese President Thiệu meet at Midway Island to talk about ending that war, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono hosted their “Bed-In” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal – so those four years should have been the hot mess that was the sixties. But the college was in the middle of rural Ohio far from everything – Denison University – where the frat boys outnumbered the (almost) hippies one hundred to one. Woodstock was almost a thousand miles east. Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury were almost two thousand miles west. We had a quaint village and cows in the distance – but that was fine. It was (and is) a fine school. And we did our best to be hip. And there’s something to be said for the sensible Midwest. Ezra Pound was fired from his teaching job at Wabash College in Indiana and left for Paris to become a wild and famous poet who fixed up T. S. Eliot’s stuff – but there was and is a virtue in hanging around the staid and solid (and stolid) middle of things. One learns to be sensible, or at least considers being sensible now and then.
Former Sen. Richard Lugar, who died on Sunday at the age of 87, was the most mild-mannered historic figure of our time, a moderate Republican whose signal achievement helped save the world from calamitous chaos. His passing is worth noting because nothing like his achievement could occur, nor could anyone like him rise to power, in today’s political climate.
This is the age of Trump, and before Trump it was the Tea Party, and the Tea Party ended Lugar’s career. This is the age of anger and bombast, and Kaplan notes that Lugar was from a different time and place, and he did somethings sensible:
His great deed was the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act of 1991, co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn (bipartisan bills were routine in Congress back then), which, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s implosion, authorized $400 million a year to deactivate – over the years – 7,500 nuclear warheads, shut down 47 biological weapons centers, retrain 58,000 weapons scientists, and lock up enough fissile material to build thousands of nuclear bombs, throughout the former Soviet republics.
In fact, he may have saved the world, in an age where people actually wanted to do that:
At the time of the act’s passage, Nunn was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Lugar was ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some Soviet Consulate officials – whom they’d met while monitoring U.S.-Soviet arms control talks in Geneva – approached them with warnings that the world was in trouble. Officers guarding the Soviet nuclear stockpile were deserting in droves, leaving fissile materials and the weapons themselves open to rogue elements and terrorists. The Kremlin needed Western money to pay the guards and Western technicians to build new locks.
There was initial reluctance, especially in some Republican circles, to spend American taxpayers’ dollars to beef up Russian security, but most lawmakers grasped the urgency. The bill easily passed the House and the Senate on voice votes. Over the next several years, “Nunn-Lugar” came to refer to a range of efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the post–Cold War era. Its two sponsors traveled frequently to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan – the former Soviet republics where nuclear weapons had been based – to witness the dangers, and observe the dismantlement, of missiles, warheads, and bombs.
Obama worked out a somewhat similar deal with Iran – shut down and dismantle the nuclear stuff, and let us watch, and the rest of the world will lift sanctions. Trump tore up that deal, but that Iran deal did not come from nowhere. It came from Lugar:
Another historic consequence of this was the role Lugar played in the education of Barack Obama. As a freshman senator in 2005, Obama nabbed a slot on the foreign relations committee and threw himself into the work. Often, as a hearing rambled on beyond its first hour, Obama and the committee chairman were the only senators in the room. Since the Republicans had taken control of the Senate two years earlier, the chairman was Lugar. Almost 30 years Obama’s senior, he was impressed and took to mentoring the up-and-comer.
After a few of these hearings, Obama asked if he could tag along on one of Lugar’s visits to the former Soviet republics. They went together that August, on a weeklong tour of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons sites. It was an eventful trip: Russian border guards detained the senators for three hours at the airport in the Siberian city of Perm, demanding to search their aircraft, which they suspected was a spy plane. Top Kremlin officials, alerted by the U.S. Embassy, eventually ordered the guards to let the plane leave for its next stop, in Ukraine, and apologized to the senators. During their holdup, Obama and Lugar discussed the issues, and the politics of the issues, more deeply than they had before.
When Obama became president three years later, his signal achievements on nuclear security all stemmed from his tutorship with Lugar. These included the U.S.-Russian New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; the Iran nuclear deal; and the Nuclear Security Summits, which extended the aims of Nunn-Lugar and resulted in the removal or downgrading of enough highly enriched uranium to build nearly 7,000 nuclear bombs at more than 50 facilities in 30 countries, as well as the installation of radiation detectors at 329 international border crossings.
Trump is tearing up all of those treaties and agreements – they seem to offend him – and that age is over:
After six terms in the Senate, Lugar was defeated in the 2012 primary by Indiana’s treasury secretary, a Tea Party candidate named Richard Mourdock, who was subsequently trounced in the general election by Democrat Joe Donnelly. Lugar lost because he was, by then, too moderate for the Republican Party. His enthusiasm for foreign policy, once a plus for Republican candidates, was turned into a mark against him…
After his defeat, Lugar established the Lugar Center, a Washington-based think tank sponsored by the University of Indiana. Nunn left the Senate voluntarily, 16 years before Lugar, in 1996 after serving four terms, tired of holding a minority seat in a chamber that Republicans had recently taken over. In 2001, he created, and still co-chairs, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which has carried on the Nunn-Lugar Act’s work with private funding.
Kaplan says that there is no one like either of them in the Senate today. There may be no one like that in our government today. We have another sort of person, the opposite of the sensible staid and solid (and stolid) Richard Lugar. Dexter Filkins is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of The Forever War – not a cheery read – a he says we have John Bolton:
Earlier this year, as Donald Trump prepared to meet the North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, in Vietnam, he took a moment in the State of the Union address to congratulate himself on a diplomatic masterstroke: “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea, with potentially millions of people killed.”
Trump saved the world, all by himself? Well, maybe not:
For John Bolton, the national-security adviser, the summit represented a conundrum. Two months before he entered the White House, in April, 2018, he had called for preemptive war with North Korea. During the past two decades, Bolton has established himself as the Republican Party’s most militant foreign-policy thinker – an advocate of aggressive force who ridicules anyone who disagrees. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he argued that Kim’s regime would soon be able to strike the United States with nuclear weapons, and that we should attack before it was too late. “The threat is imminent,” he wrote. “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”
He wanted a war. Trump didn’t. That was the problem:
Trump – erratic, impulsive, and largely ignorant of foreign affairs – has promised since the start of his Presidency to scale back America’s foreign commitments and to cut its expenses. With North Korea, he began by trying to intimidate Kim into surrendering his nuclear arsenal, threatening “fire and fury” and mocking him as “Little Rocket Man.” When that failed, Trump embarked on a campaign of diplomacy by sentiment, meeting Kim in Singapore and, despite their failure to reach an agreement, declaring, “We fell in love.” In Hanoi, he intended to try again.
Since the early two-thousands, Bolton has told anyone, who would listen, that North Korea will never seriously consider giving up its nuclear weapons, no matter what threats or inducements the Americans present; negotiations only bought the regime more time. Privately, he told aides that the summit in Hanoi was unlikely to succeed. “It’s hard to find people here who aren’t deeply skeptical,” an Administration official said to me. “But this is something the President wants to try, and Bolton has promised to support him.”
Bolton knew that Hanoi summit would fail, and it did, spectacularly, but these things happen:
When I asked Bolton about the contrast between his views and Trump’s, he said, “The President knows where I stand on all the issues, because he watched me on Fox News. You have to know in advance the President’s views are not always yours. When you enter government, you know that you aren’t going to win everything.”
But he knew he, not Trump, was right, which wasn’t worth much:
In Hanoi, the two sides gathered at the Metropole, a grand hotel built during the French colonial era, where they met in a conference room by the swimming pool. Trump brought six aides, Kim two. According to White House officials, the negotiations stalled when Kim offered to shut down the Yongbyon plutonium-manufacturing plant, which represents only a fraction of the country’s nuclear program, in exchange for a near-total lifting of U.S. sanctions. American negotiators had warned their North Korean counterparts beforehand that they would not consider such a proposal. “It was a preposterous position – preposterous – and they had no fallback,” a senior Administration official told me. After four and a half hours, it became clear that the meeting had failed. As the two leaders stood up, Trump told Kim, “Let’s keep talking.” Within hours, suspicious activity – possibly construction – had been spotted around the Yongbyon facility.
For Bolton, the outcome of the summit vindicated a twenty-year argument that the North Korean regime wouldn’t be moved by negotiations. But, even though he was now in the White House, it seemed that the rest of his argument—that America needs to strike immediately—was having little effect.
A Western diplomat who knows Bolton told me, “The trouble for Bolton is, Trump does not want war. He does not want to launch military operations. To get the job, Bolton had to cut his balls off and put them on Trump’s desk.”
But at least these two agree on one thing:
When Bolton moved into his office, down the hall from the President’s, he hung a framed copy of Trump’s executive order nullifying the U.S.’s nuclear agreement with Iran – one of President Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievements, which Bolton, a ferocious critic of Iran, has described as “execrable.”
And of course Bolton can be as unpleasant as Trump:
In May, 2001, Bolton was named Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. The terror attacks of September 11, 2001, came a few months later, and the State Department and the White House were often in conflict about how to react: Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, urged an assertive use of military power abroad, while Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, was more restrained. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, told me that Bolton was appointed to his position only at Cheney’s insistence. “Everyone knew that Bolton was Cheney’s spy,” Mark Groombridge, an aide to Bolton at the time, told me.
George W. Bush’s Administration had vowed to attack any “rogue nation” that developed weapons of mass destruction, and Bolton began a public crusade against America’s enemies, real and presumed. In May, 2002, he spoke at the Heritage Foundation, where he accused the Cuban government of developing an ambitious biological-weapons program and of collaborating with such pariah states as Libya and Iran. As he prepared to give similar testimony to Congress, Christian Westermann, an analyst at the State Department’s internal intelligence bureau, told him that the bureau’s information did not support such a view. Bolton, according to several officials, threatened to fire him. “He got very red in the face and shaking his finger at me, and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position for someone who worked for him,” Westermann later testified. “I told him I didn’t work for him.” Bolton began excluding Westermann’s supervisor from daily briefings and, after an unsuccessful attempt to fire him, tried to transfer him to another office.
Carl Ford, who oversaw the intelligence bureau, complained to Powell that Bolton was misrepresenting the views of its officials. Powell decided to have Ford brief Congress in Bolton’s place. Bolton was angry enough that he didn’t speak to Ford for six months. Then, as Ford was preparing to retire, Bolton called him on the phone. “He told me he was glad I was leaving,” Ford said.
That’s gratuitous nastiness – a Trump thing – and like Trump, Bolton loves conspiracy theories:
From 2013 to 2018, he was the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, which describes itself as “dedicated to educating the public about what the mainstream media fails to report.” The institute, which paid Bolton a hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars in 2017, has published virulently anti-Muslim articles of questionable accuracy. During Bolton’s tenure, one article warned of an impending “jihadist takeover” of Europe, and another claimed that immigrants from Somalia and other countries were turning Sweden into the “rape capital of the West.” A report titled “History of the Muslim Brotherhood Penetration of the U.S. Government” suggested that both the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the State Department official Huma Abedin were sleeper agents. According to a database maintained by NBC News, at least four articles published by Gatestone were retweeted by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian intelligence front that led efforts to sow dissension during the 2016 election.
Yes, there is that connection too:
In 2011, Bolton became the head of the National Rifle Association’s international-affairs subcommittee. Two years later, he gave a video address to a conference hosted by a Russian gun-rights group, the Right to Bear Arms. In it, Bolton offered congratulations on the twentieth anniversary of the Russian constitution, which, he said, “signaled a new era of freedom for the Russian people and created a new force for democracy in the world.”
The conference appears to have been connected with the Kremlin’s campaign to influence politically powerful groups in the United States. It was organized by Maria Butina, who was recently sentenced to eighteen months in prison for conspiracy, after attempting to infiltrate the NRA on behalf of the Russian government. Butina worked closely on the Right to Bear Arms with Alexander Torshin, a politician and an associate of Putin’s with links to organized crime. Last May – three days before Bolton became the national-security adviser – the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Torshin, barring him from the Western financial system.
Bolton’s disclosure also listed payments, totaling a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars, from a foundation controlled by Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch. Pinchuk presents his foundation as a forum for diverse views, but his allegiances are murky.
Whose side is he on? Maybe it doesn’t matter:
“It’s chaos under Bolton,” the former senior national-security official told me. “The national-security adviser is supposed to facilitate the President’s directives and coordinate national policy among the various government agencies. That process has completely broken down.” The official added, “Bolton hasn’t set any priorities. No one knows what the policies are – what’s important, what’s less important. The head is not connected to the body.” Principals’ meetings – crucial gatherings involving the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the heads of intelligence agencies – have become rare.
Daniel Larison at The American Conservative is a tad outraged:
Bolton isn’t interested in having a well-run policy process because they would expose the president to views other than the ones he wants Trump to hear. The more chaotic and disorganized the process is the more that Bolton can impose his own preferences and effectively dictate what the administration’s policies will be. Trump is weak, poorly-informed, and easily distracted, and that makes it much easier for Bolton to get away with this. When we consider Bolton’s insane belief that an attack on North Korea is still a “viable” way to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons – that should make us very worried.
That is what Filkins reports:
Bolton still believes that such a strike is possible, the source familiar with his thinking said: “We can still do it. We know where most, if not all, of their weapons are – we could destroy their nuclear capability. There are ways to deal with their artillery.” When I asked about potential casualties, he said that Bolton “wishes we weren’t at this point. But the military option remains viable.”
In order to believe that the U.S. won’t take military action against one or more countries at some point in the next two years, we would have to believe that Bolton won’t get his way when there is disagreement inside the administration about what to do. To date, Bolton has prevailed every time.
The profile presents Trump as an “isolationist” who doesn’t want to intervene abroad, but that isn’t true. If Trump really were an “isolationist,” he would never have appointed someone like Bolton, and he certainly wouldn’t keep deferring to him on one issue after another. Bolton is able to get his way with Trump so often because he knows how to flatter the president and because Trump is a militarist who doesn’t have a problem with Bolton’s “bomb first and then keep bombing” approach to foreign policy. Above all, Trump’s desire to appear “tough” makes him receptive to brain-dead, hardline arguments.
Bolton’s critics were right to be alarmed when Trump appointed him, and I fear that many of us are not worried enough about where U.S. foreign policy is headed over the next two years.
And now Richard Lugar is gone, as is the age that produced him, the age that also informed Barack Obama’s thinking. But maybe it wasn’t an age. Maybe it was a place, the staid and solid (and stolid) middle of the country – rural Ohio and rural Indiana – where one learns to be sensible, or at least considers being sensible now and then. That won’t be the next two years.