I have to regard the first two generations of the Mongol Empire as the best run superpower in history. From diplomacy and espionage to warfare, an incredibly small band of people could grow through assimilation of other steppe tribes while also conquering much more numerous sedentary people. In the chapter on leadership in Timothy May’s ‘Mongol Art of War’ this is summarized succinctly:
‘Whereas in the rest of the medieval world military genius, or even competence, was rare, among the Mongols it was expected from every commander. Much of this resulted from how the Mongols selected their commanders and trained them in the performance of their duties. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Mongols did not base the ability to command on lineage, although this might support one’s claim to authority. Instead, throughout his ascent to power, Chinggis Khan demonstrated an extraordinary gift for spotting talent in men, whether they were of noble birth or commoners. Merit was the key to acquiring a position of leadership in the Mongol military hierarchy , and battlefield promotions were not uncommon.’
One could also apply this summary to the Mongol use of diplomats, technicians, and the like as well. Such a system enabled one of the most rapid and successful expansions of force projection in history. Such a system, also, is the exact opposite of what the United States is currently wielding to shore up its rapidly deteriorating position as unipolar superpower. As Ibn Khaldun’s theories of history accurately predict, when a previously successful power becomes complacent it loses its bonds of solidarity and loyalty and drifts into the path of corruption for the sake of defensive and hoarding elites. The ending of social mobility in the governing elite is one of the key aspects of this decline. The lanyards of today are like the court eunuchs of many terminal Chinese dynasties of the past, albeit with a far less painful mark of their status to dangle from their person. Obama himself while president called this class ‘The Blob’, a monolithic force which, in our society, constantly advocates for interventionist war as the primary method of solving what are often minor and regional diplomatic disputes, or rivalries left over from the past which no longer have relevance to the average person. At the time this was remarked upon, that very blob proved its reality by launching numerous attempts at rebuttals, some of which are mentioned and linked to here. This is the Blobocracy, an alliance of misguided idealists, blindfolded patriots, ultra-credulous West Wing fans, foreign nations with the cash to buy lobbyists, and rapacious profit motivated defense contractors (only the last two of these factions is truly achieving its objectives).
How does this get us to the newly onboarding national security adviser John Bolton? Well, because in many ways Bolton is the ultimate creature of the establishment-even though many of them serve as his greatest detractors. He is decried by war hawks as a war hawk, but really, much like the craven Republican establishment of Paul Ryan in relation to Trump, what they really dislike is the brazen overtness and tone deafness of their own polices stated publicly by an uncouth village idiot type figure. And yet the village idiot is still spawned from the context of the village that helped to mold them.
John Bolton, who I once mentioned before in the early days of this blog-if in passing, began his illustrious career in foreign affairs by joining the National Guard to duck draft service in Vietnam. I can’t fault him for that, who would want to play Burgoyne and Cornwallis to Vo Nguyen Giap’s George Washington especially when the outcome seemed negative for the US? But it is in light of his later-life commitments to sending other young men to die in ill conceived and strategically disastrous conflicts that casts a retrospective shadow of hypocrisy on this once logical decision. Bolton proceeded to behave like many of the eager beavers DC is still host to today, rising up the partisan ranks by attaching himself to a school of thought with inside the Beltway cred. This was the neoconservative movement, a truly Guy de Lusignan-esque medley of ex-Trotskyites, defense hawks fearful of the end of the Cold War, and Lawrence of Arabia LARPers committed to the naive teleology of enlightenment progress in geopolitics and determined to do to the Middle East what had already been done to Japan and Western Europe and eager to rush out into the desert to end up with mass graves. The problem, of course, is that Japan and Western Europe had already been industrialized nation states before their reconstruction after World War II. The fact that the very nation that had failed to adequately reconstruct and reintegrate the former Confederate States of the American Civil War had really lucked out on occupations in 1945 allowed a delusional belief to fester, despite the fact that the next up to develop states were largely places that did it on their own terms. But loyalty to cause rather than ability decided (and still decides) the upper echelons of promotion in DC. It was this constant falling upwards, a common feature in the professional classes of policy wonkery, that Bolton rose to higher and higher positions.
Bolton, to his credit, did not actually believe much of the pablum about democracy promotion and ‘the end of history.’ But what he did believe, and still does believe, is the merit of constant applications of offensive force-which was the true core of underlying those other beliefs. This is an overtly realist blog and hardly one to dispute the utility of power projection, but power projection is always dangerous when it comes to military action and usually should be a last resort after much planning for contingencies. Allies, certainly, should not be alienated and wars unnecessary for the vital national interest (that should be apparent to an average citizen to be worth their support or participation) should not be pursued. The effect of Bolton’s policy positions is actually identical to, say, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, or Hillary Clinton, but simply with more unilateralism and less caution. The underlying effect of them, however, remains largely the same. Infamously establishment Thought Loser Shadi Hamid even recently pined that he *wished* Bolton was a neocon, largely for purely semantic and utterly virtue signalling reasons. The problem with much of this is that the cause does not matter. Looking, post-World War II at major American military interventions serving even its own narrow interest, one cannot help but see the failures far outweigh the success and even the utterly ambiguous results. The Korean War was a success measured by its original stated goals but became a disaster when hubris expanded those goals into a new war. Vietnam was an unmitigated disaster. So was Lebanon and Somalia if on a much smaller scale-and then you have everything post 9/11. This leaves the First Persian Gulf War and Kosovo as the only real wins, with the first leading to a repeat of the over-extension in hubris of Korea ( in subsequent rather than the same conflict) and the second’s benefiting any member of NATO or even the world in general extremely in doubt. American group think has a planning problem. Even if you made a case for all of these conflicts, it would be hard to say they had been planned and executed well by the Blob. And Bolton is very much the greatest cheerleader of continuing these blundering policies. Perhaps even expanding them.
Bolton maintains, to this day, that Iraq was a success. He supported the Libyan intervention and the (thankfully failed) attempt to regime change Syria. He constantly advocates for war upon Iran and North Korea. We can, of course, hope that his appointment is a canny move by Trump to create a fearsome persona making his upcoming negotiations with foreign foes easier, but such moves require a strategic thinker like Theodore Roosevelt or Richard Nixon-something that Trump so far has shown he is not. But one thing that cannot be stated is that Bolton is some crazy outlier, coming into a sensible system ready to play wrecking crew. He is in fact merely the strongest fundamentalist proponent of that very system. If the Bipartisan Consensus is a Southern Baptist convention advocating for young earth creationism on the Middle East than Bolton is merely the Westborough Baptist Church picketing across the street cutting straight to the fire and brimstone. He is exceptionally dangerous, but he is hardly an abnormality to the Blobocracy.