Since he held himself out as a courageous conservative critic of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign last year, Max Boot has enjoyed something of a career revival. He is regularly feted on MSNBC and given prominent space in the New York Times to opine on how the Republican Party sold its soul in capitulating to Trump. Now, it might be true that the Republican Party did in some sense “sell its soul” in accommodating Trump’s eccentricities, vulgarities, and unorthodoxies; that’s a legitimate line of inquiry. But concurrent with that dynamic is that a coterie of once-discredited neoconservative pseudo-intellectuals, who long ago should’ve been permanently cast out of respectable opinionating society, have been rehabilitated and embraced by the liberal commentariat — a commentariat whose sole and unabiding objective is to throw anything and everything at Trump and see what sticks, because it fulfills their current political (and especially commercial) imperatives.
To clarify: it’s perfectly viable to diverge with someone on core principles, but agree with them on a discrete concern. For example, a libertarian and a leftist might agree on a narrow question pertaining to military intervention, but not have common cause on other things. So, the notion of cross-ideological agreement isn’t what’s at issue here. Rather, what’s at issue is that the liberals and neoconservatives have a critique of Trump which increasingly appears identical — in the sense that both the liberal critique and the neoconservative critique are grounded in the same core principles.
At least in the case of the neoconservatives, you can argue that they’re being consistent; they’ve demanded a belligerent international posture as an essential precept of their ideological project for years. But in the case of Democrats and liberals — whose foreign policy views, in the main, are now virtually indistinguishable from neoconservatives — their shift often looks like nothing more than pure partisan machination, the kind of cynical move based entirely on simple, surface-level aversion to the sitting president rather than any reasoned positioning. Trump inspires such visceral rage in liberals that this has become their central organizing principle: opposition to Trump, no matter from what angle. And because a certain strain of neoconservative thought also runs in opposition to Trump, liberals are eager to embrace it.
So after a slew of fawning media appearances in which he was heralded as the only enlightened conservative left standing in the Trump era, Max Boot appeared on the Tucker Carlson show last week:
It fell to Tucker to actually probe the assumptions underlying Boot’s critique of Trump in relation to Russia. Yes: perhaps Tucker has opportunistic reasons for doing this, as his Fox News audience is likely to be overwhelmingly pro-Trump and to view the whole Russia controversy as bogus. But even so, it’s an indictment of the current media climate that only Tucker would be in a position where challenging the neoconservative pablum being espoused on national TV is seen as politically or commercially advantageous. Boot, whose hideously blemished track record is typically obscured in all his other friendly media appearances, was actually confronted by Tucker on his history of profound, catastrophic failure (namely with respect to Iraq) whereas on MSNBC and other Democrat-allied venues, Boot’s simply rolled out as a convenient Trump-criticizing conservative foil.
There are certain people whose complicity in epic failure, such as the invasion of Iraq, ought render their reputations permanently blotted. And yet, we find that so many of these people not only faced zero consequences, they’ve been permitted to continue promulgating the same ideas which undergirded their case for war. Boot now does this by framing his mission in terms of some kind of anti-Trump crusade, and MSNBC — always in search for “reasonable” conservative Trump critics — is happy to oblige him. It should be emphasized that Boot is one of the absolute most egregious examples of this; unlike others of his neocon ilk, he’s proudly unrepentant:
As anyone with a passing familiarity with their past ought to know, neoconservatives have always sought to ingratiate themselves into political coalitions that might not be self-evidently hospitable; they subtly accrue influence and leverage. That’s how they ended up playing such a starring role in the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign. And now, by running around denouncing Trump, Boot is afforded the opportunity to implant his foreign policy notions in the minds of exercised MSNBC viewers, most of whom likely have no idea who he is or what destruction he and his compatriots have wreaked.
The central, animating philosophy driving Boot shouldn’t be forgotten. He articulated it very lucidly and directly, in a Weekly Standard treatise entitled “The Case for American Empire,” published shortly after 9/11. Therein, Boot argued that “the most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role.”
Occupying Iraq and Afghanistan will hardly end the “war on terrorism,” but it beats the alternatives. Killing bin Laden is important and necessary; but it is not enough. New bin Ladens could rise up to take his place. We must not only wipe out the vipers but also destroy their nest and do our best to prevent new nests from being built there again.
What Boot was calling for there is obvious: perpetual worldwide war, undertaken by the United States, to ‘pacify’ impassive foreigners; i.e., the most basic logic of classic imperialism. It’s the mindset which was embraced wholeheartedly after 9/11 by the political and media class, and which bedevils us still today.
Boot views Trump, rightly or wrongly, as an impediment to the exertion of American imperial power, and sees Trump as lessening America’s hegemonic prowess. In fact, Boot may be correct to deduce this; Trump makes the U.S. government look almost outlandishly comical in much of the world, and therefore hinders the salability of American misadventures abroad. If you are a neoconservative intellectual ideologically invested in the maintenance of American Empire, it would make perfect sense that you’d find this state of affairs intolerable.
But what’s galling is that American liberals have adopted essentially the same critique; that Trump is undermining American clout, by, for instance, declining to antagonize Putin and in fact partnering with him in select areas of mutual interest. This, both liberals and neoconservatives shriek, is supposed to constitute the “selling out of democracy” to Russia.
What’s also amazing is that Boot made a version of the exact same argument against Barack Obama, contending that he was weakening America’s international standing by not taking a forceful enough line against the dastardly Russians. In 2012, when Boot was serving as a national security advisor to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney — a credential now touted by his fans on MSNBC as proof of his sterling impartiality — Boot ran to the New York Times to demand that Obama assume a “more muscular” policy in Syria: which of course meant full-scale military intervention in defiance of Putin. All throughout Obama’s presidency, Boot joined with other sinecured thinktankers in denouncing Obama’s tendency to “kowtow” to foreign leaders in a naive attempt to attain diplomatic accord. He now applies similar criticisms to Trump, and liberals cheer.
In a recent Weekly Standard post, Stephen Hayes lamented that Trump “caved” to Putin at their recent G-20 meeting. Read through the post and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that couldn’t be earnestly written today in a liberal opinion journal. That’s not because of a “strange bedfellows” situation where Democrats just-so-happen to align with the flagship neoconservative publication on some narrow issue. It’s because Democrats have adopted the same principles as the neoconservatives: anguish about Trump seeking to “further Russia’s interests,” face-value acceptance of the idea that Russia is waging a sinister global campaign to undermine the so-called “liberal democratic order,” and unquestioning acceptance of evidence-free Intelligence Community assertions. These all have become central to the Democratic strategy of opposing Trump.
Again, give the neocons credit. At least they’re consistent.