Surrender is Not an Option – Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad. John Bolton. Simon & Schuster, Threshold Editions, New York. 2007.
It is an interesting perspective, that of America needing ‘defending’, but it is one that John Bolton holds to thoroughly in “Surrender is Not an Option.” Surrounded by terrorists, ‘Islamofascists’, the old guard complacency of the “EUroids”, a resurgent Russian Empire, a belligerent if not hostile China, and almost above all else the two largest threats of Iran and North Korea, the United States certainly finds itself in a hostile world. Internally the “liberals”, the left, the “High Minded” are all appeasing fifth columnists who do not know how to defend America properly against these external threats. Bolton’s focus is trying to promote this perspective as U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations headquarters in New York, a building as such that he is oft quoted as saying would not be affected if the top ten floors disappeared.
For Bolton, finally, the UN could up and disappear for all he is concerned unless he can make it useful to U.S. purposes. In an all too brief summary of American views he holds that “the UN was widely viewed in America as ineffective at best, and adverse to U.S. interests and deeply corrupt at worst.” The audience he is hoping to reach “is not only these disillusioned Americans, but those who think glowingly of the UN as they had imagined it on Halloweens long ago.” I fit both categories – okay, I am not American, but a resident of the nearest and weakest full on ally – as one who is constantly reminded of the peacekeeping promise of Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester B. Pearson’s resolution to form “"an emergency international United Nations force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities," now witnessing Canadian foreign policy (and indeed domestic policy) falling in line with the military-corporate line of the United States. For once I agreed with Bolton, that the UN needs serious reforming, but assuredly with strongly different ideas as to how to do so.
I had hoped when purchasing this book that I could delve into the workings of Bolton’s mind, be able to examine his reasoning, be challenged and angered and affronted (something Bolton takes personal pride in towards the liberal, left, High minded folks), to check my knee jerk reactions to examine them for reasoned support or erroneous pre-conceptions. Usually when I read books on economics, politics, militarism, history et al, they are filled with margin notes, question marks, cross page referencing of both supporting and contradictory messages, and quick comments that I qualify and perhaps quantify later on. While expecting a good combative read from Bolton’s philosophy and perspective of his own story, I unfortunately was, in Bolton’s words, disillusioned.
This is not quintessential Bolton: it is not “A fascinating chronicle of his career,” it is not a “revealing memoir,” nor is it “a more realistic global security arrangement for the twenty first century” (jacket cover descriptions). For the latter, global security for Bolton can be summed up with the idea that the world needs to operate as the U.S. sees it, as the U.S. requires for its own security and strategic interests and the rest of the world be damned. For the former, the revelations and fascination were regularly overcome by the somniferous effect of this essentially meaningless work. If you already are familiar with John Bolton, this offers no new insights (although I was briefly hopeful when he began with the first chapter that actually showed some character development with his father, Jack Bolton). If you are not familiar with John Bolton, this work offers very few insights, and without providing background reasoning or underpinning philosophical ideas, there is little to clue the reader in to Bolton’s deeper thoughts, unless….
There were no knee jerk reactions to this ‘chronicle’ of Bolton’s life. Where was the great arguer? The great antagonizer? Where were his argumentative positions on all that was wrong with the world outside the United States and justification for its god-given right to world supremacy? At times, just when I thought he might be getting into something more meaty, such as “How and why the promise of the UN Peacekeeping was blunted in the post-Cold War era,” he signs it off saying “it is beyond what I can treat here.” He leaves all his positions as supposedly self-evident, as though his deeper thoughts….
So what does he “treat here”?
The treatment here is a long diary of whom he met with, when he met them, where he met them, who manipulated whom, with the main ‘character’ development being the frequent, short, sarcastic Coulterisms used to describe those personalities and ideas he did not like. As for actual personality, not much comes through. For all his encounters with Rice, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Bush at home and with all the other UN representatives, there is little if anything in the way of character development that could draw the reader into the dialogue and diary much more intently. All the characters are bland, all they seem to do is meet, talk, vote, fly around, meet, talk, and vote some more. So what is Bush really like, other than “the guy who got elected?” Does he really speak in full complex sentence structures as you quote, or is he really the speech challenged individual evident on the news sound bites? What is it really like to work with Cheney? Is he the genial grandfatherly type as his wife indicated on John Stewart? Is Rumsfeld truly a sneering sarcastic manipulator for the American cause as media sound bites show? There is no sense of character even for himself other than the endless righteous minded servant serving “the guy who got elected.”
And then, what of the ideas, the political perspectives – other than the so narrowly defined good-guys bad-guys black and white world of us and them? Every now and then a brief hiccup of an idea comes through, such as the one mentioned on Africa above. Very briefly unconditional support for Israel is touched upon without any reasoning or thought applied to tell the “audience” why it should be that way, leaving the reader to know that the fall back position is always America first, foremost, and always and anything along the way that promotes their strategic global control.
One of Bolton’s final statements is “Disagreement reveals underlying issues that should be resolved consistently with our own interests, and it is those interests that should determine how we proceed.”[emphasis added] Great, tell us about those underlying issues, tell us about what really interests the U.S. and why, get back to the old antagonizing zealous self and put your reasons forward. No more of this brief idea, no development, and then off into the world of who met whom, who voted for what, when, and where, but never reasoned why.
Unless…unless that is all there is? Bland personalities. Shallow thinkers. Sarcastic adjectives posing as intelligent thought. Where is the fiery guy of whom Jesse Helms said “"John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil." John, is that bland fellow really you? I hardly think so…yet from your writing here, it is a highly plausible conclusion.
Hopefully Mr. Bolton, your next work – and there should be another one as your final lines indicate that you will “keep moving. And keep firing” – will present more self, more argument, more analysis from your perspective. Something to really dig into and be aggravated by. As it stands, “Surrender is Not an Option” is mostly a diary of what, where, when, and who, perhaps an accurate historical record, but certainly not something that will achieve lasting status as a work of critical thought.
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.