Five years ago he made some noise about running in 2012 because he was worried that the field wouldn’t be sufficiently hawkish — a silly concern in hindsight, although maybe not so silly at the time given that the GOP had just been walloped in two straight elections over Iraq. He almost ran this time for the same reason, although his concerns for 2016 are more concrete: He said a few months ago that Rand Paul could slip through to the nomination if no one took the fight to him on foreign policy at the debates. Three months later, with super-hawks Rubio, Graham, and possibly Peter King set to run, that’s less of a worry. So he’ll stick to beating on Rand from the sidelines.
The question is, should it be less of a worry? One of the developing ironies of the campaign is that, while Paul’s faded somewhat since his anti-interventionist heyday of 2013, so has support for the Iraq war among the GOP’s more plausibly hawkish contenders. Matt Lewis noted yesterday that Jeb Bush’s bumbling answers about the war may have made it suddenly permissible for mainstream Republicans to admit that they wouldn’t have ordered the invasion knowing then what we know now. When Dave Weigel asked Bolton about that bumbling, the ‘Stache stuck to his pro-war guns, albeit with caveats:
“Absolutely we still should have overthrown Saddam,” said Bolton. “The questions, the way they’re asked, the way some are answered, have the intellectual sharpness of a bowl of oatmeal. It’s ridiculous: Crimean War, yes or no? War of the Spanish Succession, yes or no. I understand a lot of this is politics, but I don’t really care about that. The key is understanding what works and what doesn’t, and on radio or on TV it’s very hard to have that a conversation.”
Bolton had a l’esprit de l’escalier sort of answer for Bush, or for anyone else stumbling over the question. It also happened to be the answer he would give. “The idea that the decision to intervene Saddam led to the current situation in Middle East is inherently flawed,” he said. “American forces were in Iraq a little over nine years. The use of force to remove Saddam took less than three weeks. Now, after that, a lot of mistakes were made. Those mistakes did not follow naturally because of the initial decision to invade. A better question might be: Did you favor Obama backing Nouri al-Maliki over Ayad Allawi in 2010? Did you favor, as he favored, pulling all the troops out? There’s never been a period in anybody’s life where they make one decision and everything else for the decision can be blamed on that. One thing Jeb Bush should have said is that Obama can blame George W. Bush for a lot of things, but he can’t blame him for decisions made after January 20, 2009.”
Will anyone onstage at the debates, with the exception of Lindsey Graham, be willing to say, “Absolutely we still should have overthrown Saddam”? Maybe Bolton should have run after all.
Update: How recently did he make this decision, anyway? Hmmmmm.
Update: Bolton might not be running, says Aaron Goldstein, but he’d make a fine Secretary of State. And thanks to Harry Reid’s nuking of the filibuster for cabinet appointees, Bolton could be confirmed this time with a bare majority of 51 Republican votes.