‘I Pity The Fool’: Mr. Max Boot on Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy ‘A-Team’

Dream with me.

Imagine an America where even marginal accountability reigned. A land of appropriate consequences for war-criminal cheerleaders. A country where going 0 for 4 on "freedom" wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria – got pundits and policymakers sent down to the minors. Heck, one might make some strategic moves in a town like that.

Alas, we live in the world as it is: whence one of the nation’s leading newspapers – the Bezos’-billionaire-owned Washington Post – would dare deign to hire such a fedora-topped neocon-retread-shell as Max Boot as columnist. Then, surely symptomatic of the upside-down society wrought by Trump-derangement syndrome, the Post recently had the gall to proudly publish that warmonger’s latest screed: "Trump relies on grifters and misfits. Biden is bringing the A Team."

In his latest broadside, Boot offers his best Mr. T impression to celebrate Uncle Joe’s "A-Team" – and overall propensity to "surround himself with good people," all of them supposedly "effective operatives." He saves special praise for the "veterans of high-level government service" on Biden’s foreign policy team.

Here again, we should look to the language. I, for one, find the prospect of Washington "operatives" running war and peace less than reassuring. But before digging into the shortcomings inherent in each of the four figures he highlighted, here’s a brief reminder of why Max and his opinions should’ve "got the boot" long ago:

  • Let’s start with my own introduction to this king of the chickenhawks: his then celebrated 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power – in which Max played unapologetic neo-imperial visionary and recruiting sergeant for an American reboot of a European colonial constabulary. He even, un-ironically I might add, lifted the title from the English chronicler of empire, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, "White Man’s Burden."
  • He once worked with an infamous Bush-doctrine, Iraq War, architect-outfit: the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) think tank.
  • Ever the faux-historian, Max drew all the wrong conclusions and lessons from the Vietnam War, in his more recent 2018 book, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. Old David Petraeus – surprise, surprise – found this work "wonderful," although, according to a real subject scholar, its endnotes "contain few, if any, materials from Vietnamese sources." The Road Not Taken belongs squarely in the – popular with mil-civ-counterinsurgents crowd – school of we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve "won" in Vietnam (and, by extension, Iraq, Afghanistan, et. al.) "if only" [insert implausible alternative tactic excuse here].
  • Oh, and he’s supported every war for the past half century – including some he thinks should’ve but weren’t fought – and has hardly met a regime he wouldn’t like to change.

Now, for the core members of Biden’s ostensible A-team of always-an-Obama-bridesmaid deputies, and just a few reasons to doubt each’s competence, character, and Trump-corrective capacities:

  • The presumed A-Team leader, Obama’s Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy National Security Adviser, Tony Blinken:
    • Though, admittedly – like Biden – more right than most in that administration on the Afghan surge folly, he played nice and helped craft a compromise policy, which, he later bragged "helped competing Afghan political blocs avoid civil war, and achieve the first ever peaceful democratic transition in that country’s history." How’s that turned out?
    • Blinken was a key architect and muddled messenger for Obama’s ever-shifting, never-plausible, and utterly ill-advised Syria regime-change-lite policy.
    • After leaving office, he teamed up with Michèle Flournoy (another unnamed Biden-top-prospect) at the consulting-firm (and Obama-alumni agency) WestExec Advisors – which helped Silicon Valley pitch defense contracts to the Pentagon. Blinken was also a partner at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners. Tony’s a human revolving-door of interest-conflicts!
    • A resident Russiagater, "arm-Ukraine” enthusiast, and Israeli hard-right apologist on Biden’s campaign advisory team, he categorically declared that his boss "would not tie military assistance to Israel to things like annexation or other decisions by the Israeli government with which we might disagree." Good to know that international legal constraints and common decency are already off the Biden-table in Palestine – no doubt, Bibi Netanyahu took notice.
  • Then there’s Obama’s ex-director of policy planning at the State Department, Jake Sullivan:
    • He was a senior policy adviser for hyper-hawk Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign. There was even chatter back then that he’d been a frontrunner for national security adviser upon her anointment.
    • Before becoming Vice President Biden’s national security guru in 2013, he was considered uber-close (pun-intended) to Secretary Clinton – at her aside on trips to 112 countries, and even reviewing chapters for her book Hard Choices in his spare time. A Vox profile dubbed Sullivan "the man behind hawkish Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy." Think Libya; think Syria.
    • Out of office, and after Clinton’s defeat, he joined Macro Advisory Partners and represented Uber in its negotiations with labor unions. Incidentally, he’s wedded to Maggie Goodlander, a former senior policy advisor to that militarist-marriage of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Perhaps that’s why Anne-Marie Slaughter, who ran the State Department’s policy planning office in Obama’s first term, called Jake "the consummate insider."
  • Next on Boot’s list is career diplomat and – sure to excite old Max – George W. Bush’s former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns:
    • During the Bush II years he – like its greatest Democratic Party cheerleader, Joe Biden – supported the 2003 Iraq invasion.
    • What’s more, NATO added seven new members and provocatively expanded towards Russia’s very borders in his tenure as alliance ambassador.
    • He left the foreign service in 2008, but graciously stayed on as special envoy to finalize the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal – that pact being proof-positive that nonproliferation has always been selectively applied by Washington..
    • Nick happens to be on the board, or affiliated with, an impressive range of hawkish Washington hot-spots, such as: The Atlantic Council, Aspen Institute, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Cohen Group – this last one a lobbying organization for arms manufacturers. He also gave paid speeches at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, State Street, Citibank, and Honeywell.
  • Lest it seem Boot only touted a Biden boy’s club, there’s also the former first female deputy CIA director – though Trump ironically one-upped her boss Barack by placing Gina Haspel at the Agency’s helm – Ms. Avril Haines:
    • Well, about the only thing you have to know about this A-Teamer is that she chose not to discipline any of the CIA agents implicated in the senate’s tell-all torture report, then was part of the team redacting their landmark indictment.
    • As for her supposed Trump-corrective chops: Haines supported Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director, even though she’d been directly implicated in CIA torture.
    • Plus, as a reminder of the duality of (wo)man, she is a fellow at Columbia University’s Human Rights Institute and consulted for the "Trump-favorite" data firm Palantir, which emerged from the CIA itself.

So really, here’s a crew of Hillary-hawks and Obama-bureaucrats without many truly fresh ideas among them. They don’t want to crash the system that birthed Trump and an age of endless wars – they are that system. The only really redeeming quality of the bunch: some helped craft the eminently reasonable Iran-nuclear deal. Count me less than enthused.

Unlike Might Max and his chickenhawk crew, time was that I fought and lived beside a real life special forces A-team (Operational Detachment-Alpha) in the villages of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mr. Boot fetishizes folks he hardly knows; I know and respect them enough to reject the disrespect of romantic-caricature. The fellas my cavalry troop shared an outpost, raised a local militia, and seized towns with, were some brave bastards – they were also flawed and fallible. We failed together in style: tactical casualties of an impossible mission dreamed up by the likes of Max Boot, and – at the time – futilely prolonged by many members of Biden’s A-Team then on the Obama squad.

Boot was the big (bad) ideas guy, Biden’s posse – Tony Blinken, Avril Haines, Jake Sullivan, Nicholas Burns, and even Michèle Flournoy – these are "company men," polite imperialists just smart enough to run the machine, and just dumb enough not to question its putrid products. Max reminds us – not incorrectly – that if "more people in [Trump’s] White House knew what they were doing, at least 172,000 Americans might not be dead."

Yet, in a classic crime of omission, he lets Biden’s shadow squad off the hook for their own morbid-complicity: had they not supported and shepherded an Obama Afghan surge that even their boss sensed was hopeless, 1,729 U.S. troops – during Barack’s tenure – might not be dead. They included three of my own scouts, who – like our unit – were only unexpectedly routed to Afghanistan because Biden’s boss chose to surge in the "good war" there:

  • Gustavo A. Rios-Ordonez, 25, of Ohio – a Colombian national attempting to gain his US citizenship via military service, and father to two young daughters.
  • Nicholas C. D. Hensley, 28, of Alabama – a father of three on his third combat tour.
  • Chazray C. Clark, 24, of Michigan – who left behind a wife and stepson.

Those young men – and two dozen others wounded in action that year – were proud members of my ill-fated team. They deserved better than the Biden-bunch that Boot bragged are "seasoned professionals, ready to govern on Day One." So too do some 8,600 of their brothers and sisters still stuck in Afghanistan, and many more sure to serve in whichever harebrained scheme Uncle Joe’s side of the duopoly dreams up.

It hardly needs saying, but most of The Donald’s defense deputies haven’t been stellar. Actually, most were establishment Republican or neocon retreads – or born-again war criminals like Eliot Abrams – themselves. Trump’s a monster and so are his misfit managers, blah blah blah. But let’s not pretend Biden’s band waiting in the wings shall be our salvation. Nor delude ourselves that Boot’s promise they’ll be "cleaning up after a Republican president," will amount to any real cleanse of Washington’s militarist system.

Mr. Boot pings Trump from the right, but he also ought heed warning from the that classic lefty Cornel West – who advised we “tell the truth” about "Brother Biden." An Uncle Joe administration with an "A-Team?" Give me a break.

I wouldn’t fill a kickball squad with this crew…

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, contributing editor at antiwar.com, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), and director of the soon-to-launch Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, ScheerPost and Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. His forthcoming book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War (Heyday Books) is available for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet and see his website for speaking/media requests and past publications.

Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen