John Bolton is a veteran U.S. diplomat and foreign policy hawk. As the man’s Wikipedia page notes, he is “an advocate for military action and regime change by the US in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen, and North Korea”. So you could say he wants America to ‘have a role in the world’.
Bolton served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006, and as National Security Advisor to President Trump from 2018 to 2019. But he spends most of his time writing op-eds calling for the U.S. to bomb various countries, or to topple their governments.
Discussing the events of January 6th with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Bolton denied that Trump was behind a “carefully planned coup d’etat”. Tapper retorted that “one doesn’t have to be brilliant to attempt a coup”. And Bolton replied, “I disagree with that. As someone who has helped plan coup d’etats – not here, but you know, other places – it takes a lot of work.”
Perhaps even more amazing than Bolton’s admission was the fact Tapper – a leading American journalist with over 3 million Twitter followers – just nodded along while he was speaking. Tapper then asked Bolton a friendly follow-up question about his “expertise having planned coups”, while the two chuckled. This is what speaking truth to power looks like at CNN.
Of course, the levity with which Bolton and Tapper treated the former’s admission is extremely ironic given the subject they were discussing at the time: the alleged coup at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th – which many people (including Tapper himself) regard as a ‘fundamental attack on democracy’.
For Tapper, then, attempting a coup in the U.S. is a ‘fundamental attack on democracy’, but attempting coups in other countries – ah, well, that’s just something America gets up to every now and again. It’s certainly not something he should be concerned about.
What’s the relevance of all this? As I’ve noted before, the event that put Ukraine and Russia on a collision course was the 2014 Western-backed coup. The ‘Revolution of Dignity’, as it’s officially known, saw the replacement of Ukraine’s democratically elected (though highly corrupt) pro-Russian government with a government made up of (similarly corrupt) pro-Western nationalists.
Incidentally, we know it was a ‘coup’ thanks to the leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, in which the former specifies who the new Prime Minister of Ukraine will be two weeks before the pro-Russian government was toppled. (What we don’t know is whether the U.S. had prior knowledge of the Maidan Massacre.)
Fast forward to 2022, and we have John Bolton bragging on TV that he has “helped to plan coup d’etats”. Now, I have no evidence that Bolton was involved in the ‘Revolution of Dignity’. After all, the U.S. plans a lot of coups, so different people may be involved in each one. But his statement shows there’s nothing conspiratorial about pinning regime change on the U.S.
Now, you might say, ‘The U.S. deeply cares about democracy, which is why they backed the 2014 coup’. But that argument doesn’t work. Ukraine was already a democracy (albeit a highly corrupt one). And if the U.S. really cared about democracy, they would back coups in places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Instead, the U.S. buys oil from those places, and sells them weapons – which they then use (in Saudi Arabia’s case) to bomb civilians in Yemen.
No, the most plausible reason why the U.S. backed the 2014 coup was to antagonize Russia, since the long-term goal of many neoconseratives (like Bolton) is to “see Russia weakened” or even to partition that country.
Don’t get me wrong: just because the U.S. was trying to antagonize Russia, doesn’t mean Russia’s invasion was justified. As Aaron Maté notes, “Even if a case could be made that Russia has the right to defend besieged ethnic Russians, that argument is undercut by Russia’s decision to attack far deeper into Ukrainian territory.”
But it does suggest this war might have been avoided if the U.S. hadn’t sought to change the status quo in 2014.