For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble … but, phew, everybody, panic’s over. John Bolton, Her Britannic Majesty’s government’s new bestie, has popped over from Washington to promise a quick and bounteous bit-by-bit US trade deal. So put the diazepam back in the medicine chest and chill out. Everything’s coming up roses after all.
I hesitate to ask this, not wishing to undermine the cheery tone and be a right Debbie Downer, but would anyone within several post codes of their own senses really want this horror for a BFF, or come to that for a distant acquaintance?
Donald Trump’s national security adviser is, to put it mildly, a pungently divisive figure. There are those, for instance, who see the foreign policy megahawk with the bushy Maga moustache as potentially the most dangerous person on the planet. So much for his detractors.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
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His fans, on the other hand, regard him as a virulently Islamophobic, borderline fascistic habitual liar who’d target cruise missiles on San Marino in the sacred if bemusing cause of American exceptionalism.
And exceptional this particular American certainly is. He is an exception to the unwritten rule that US presidents do not entrust the security of their nation, and others, to the tender mercies of those who appear to be clinically insane.
Even in this administration, where for 11 gloriously fun-packed days The Mooch was in charge of comms, Bolton shines out as the most wilfully eccentric hire yet made.
Trump himself finds him amusingly bellicose. “John has never seen a war he didn’t like,” he observed in July in one of his deliciously rare sorties into the realm of the literal truth.
In March, when Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, was granted a St Patrick’s Day audience in the Oval Office, Trump raided his stockroom of Wildean thrusts to ask Bolton: “John, is Ireland one of those countries you want to invade?”
If it isn’t, the UK unquestionably is. The purpose of Bolton’s jaunt to London has little to do with trade, which is in no way the business of a national security adviser.
His visit is a scouting machine for the invasionary force waiting on the other side of the Atlantic to colonise this country, and yoke it immovably to US foreign policy which is, god save us, his business.
Whatever Bolton may have said about a “sector by sector” approach to constructing a speedy and generous trade deal is well worth the effort of instantly forgetting. It means nothing. If that.
The United States will do what the US always does, and act solely in its own interests. It will do precisely what it did with the Iraq calamity for which Bolton, who frequently and categorically stated the existence of Saddam’s WMD, was among the loudest cheerleaders: it will ask for everything, including absolute subservience, while offering next to nothing in return. And Boris Johnson, it appears, will be overjoyed to acquiesce.
Specifically, it will demand total obedience on the matter of Iran. For many years Bolton has been enraptured by dreams about regime change (a phrase to the jog the memory in the context of that region) in Tehran.
With the phantasmal carrot of unlimited tariff-free trade dangled before it, the government will first be coaxed into joining the US in withdrawing from the nuclear deal. It will then be expected to parrot whatever propaganda Bolton chooses to peddle about Iran’s nuclear intentions, and lend what minuscule assistance the pitiably diminished British armed forces can muster in the unlikely event (Trump being less keen than Bolton on warfare) that serious military action ensues. Iraq, in other words, all over again.
As for China, the Trump administration will tolerate no dissent there. The heraldic motto of this White House, stencilled above the tangerine man-baby rampant, is lifted from George W Bush: you are with us or against us. Any trade deal – which incidentally requires the consent of a congress hardly certain, and not that likely, to give it – will be dependent on siding with the US, in its Canutian attempt to reverse the tide of economic history against the Chinese.
Reneging on the plan to involve Huawei in the 5G network, as Bolton hints Johnson is willing to do, would be the least of it. Any future trade deal between Britain and China would be effectively dependent on American approval.
This is what the freedom to trade on our terms, as promised by Johnson, Gove and the other horsemen of the Brexocalypse, means for a weak, desperate and irrelevant American client kingdom.
As for the man cast to type in this charming playlet as the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, enticing the British government into captivity with the promise of sweeties that don’t exist …well … if you want to know what drives John Bolton, check out his last job.
Before Trump recruited him in pursuance of his policy of hiring only the very best, he was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, an unusually repellent far, far, far right-wing think tank which promotes hatred of immigrants, and inflames fear of Muslims with invented scare stories about birth rates and the imminent “jihadist takeover” and Islamicisation of Europe.
If you find the warmth of this maniac’s Downing Street welcome terrifying enough to liquify the bowels, small wonder about that. With best friends like these, who needs enemas?