Thursday, July 18, 2024

John Bolton’s Latest Regime Change Idea Is His Most Insane Yet

It’s no secret that former President Donald Trump made a lot of bad hires. One of the worst hires he made was that of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.

Remember why Bolton became National Security Advisor in the first place. It was because he could not win U.S. Senate confirmation to the State Department. Trump ultimately passed on Bolton for the State Department after U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said he wouldn’t vote to confirm him. Why did Paul refuse to support Bolton? Because Bolton loves war and regime change like a pig loves mud.

Bolton, like so many former Trump hires, eventually turned on Trump and wrote a book attacking him. After the 2020 election, he has largely kept a low profile until now. Bolton wrote an article on the website 1945 calling for regime change, which wouldn’t be newsworthy except for the country he wants to change the regime of. Bolton is calling for regime change against Russia.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” President Biden said of Vladimir Putin in March, a month after Russia’s second unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, in remarks the Washington Post called “the most defiant and aggressive speech about Russia by an American president since Ronald Reagan.”  Biden’s staff, however, immediately backpedaled, saying, “the president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.” Later, Biden himself dutifully resiled from regime change.

Look this website is not going to defend Joe Biden very often but there is a reason why he backed away from regime change in Russia. What’s already being lost and we’re just in the first paragraphs is that Russia is a nuclear power. In fact, it has more nuclear weapons than any country on the planet. This isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq. The whole purpose of this exercise is not to get nuked.

Why the angst? There is no long-term prospect for peace and security in Europe without regime change in Russia. Russians are already discussing it, quietly, for obvious reasons. For the United States and others pretending that the issue is not before will do far more harm than good.

Russians are not discussing regime change. This is fantasy. The only reason why Russians protested mobilization is that they don’t want to fight in the war themselves. They want everyone else to fight for them.

There is no long-term prospect for peace and security in Europe, or globally for that matter if the U.S. commits to regime change in Russia. Like it or not the most likely scenario for ending the war in Ukraine, without the use of nuclear weapons, is a negotiated end to the war. If Putin and the Russian state believe that its very survival is on the line it is much less likely to seriously pursue peace talks.

Notwithstanding recent Kyiv’s military advances, the West still lacks a shared definition of “victory” in Ukraine.

That may be true but overthrowing and/or going to war with a nuclear power is not a serious proposal.

To avoid the war simply grinding along indefinitely, we must alter today’s calculus. Carefully assisting Russian dissidents to pursue regime change might just be the answer. 

Another thing that is being missed in all this is that most Russians support Russia’s current policies. In fact, there are social media accounts called Not Just Putin where you can see for yourself how widespread Russian militarism and imperialism are among the Russian people. Pro-Western dissidents are genuinely not popular in Russia, to the extent they even exist.

Russia is, obviously, a nuclear power, but that is no more an argument against seeking regime change than against assisting Ukrainian self-defense. 

Assisting Ukraine is not unprecedented. The Soviet Union backed Vietnam against the U.S. and the U.S. backed the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union. Proxy wars, which is what Ukraine is, have always been a proportional response to a fellow nuclear power’s actions.

What would be an unprecedented escalation is announcing that we’re going to destroy the Russian state. The purpose of maintaining a nuclear arsenal is deterrence against threats to the state and if the state feels an existential threat, it is more likely to use those weapons.

Obstacles and uncertainties blocking Russian regime change are substantial, but not insuperable. Defining the “change” is critical, because it must involve far more than simply replacing Putin.  Among his inner circle, several potential successors would be worse. The problem is not one man, but the collective leadership constructed over the last two decades. No civilian governmental structure exists to effect change, not even a Politburo like the one that retired Nikita Khrushchev after the Cuban missile crisis. The whole regime must go.

Good luck with that.

Actually effecting regime change is doubtless the hardest problem, but it does not require foreign military forces. The key is for Russians themselves to exacerbate divisions among those with real authority, the siloviki, the “men of power.” Disagreements and animosities already exist, as in all authoritarian regimes, exploitable as dissidents set their minds to it.  Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank outside the Russian White House in 1991 evidenced the fracturing of the Soviet ruling class. Once regime coherence and solidarity shatter, change is possible.

But in the previous paragraph, Bolton said the whole regime had to go. Yeltsin at the time he stood on the tank was president of the Russian republic. What Bolton is advocating is a revolution and those tend not to turn out well.

Inside Russia’s military, intelligence, and internal security ministries, there is almost certainly shock, anger, embarrassment, and despair about Moscow’s performance before and during the current invasion of Ukraine. As in many coups in third-world countries, the likely leadership for regime change will not come from the top flag officers and officials, who are too personally invested in the Putin regime, nor from the ranks of enlisted personnel or lower-level bureaucrats. It is from the colonels and one-star generals, and their civilian-agency equivalents, where the most-likely co-conspirators to take matters into their own hands.

So the regime is expected to overthrow itself and just go away? This doesn’t make sense.

Also, Russia is not Africa. I imagine some rando junior officer will not have as much luck as they do over there.

Obviously, the desired interim outcome is not an outright military government, but a transitional authority that can hold the ring while a new constitution is formed. This stage alone is very risky business, but unavoidable given Russia’s current domestic political structures.

I’m forced to conclude that Bolton knows nothing about Russian history. Russian history is basically the story of strongmen seizing and holding power. This is on par with the folly of building liberal democracies at American bayonet point in the Middle East, which Bolton was also a fan of.

What Washington says publicly about regime-change should be concerted with the dissidents and other foreign allies.  Keeping our actions covert may be impossible, but there is likely no need to ballyhoo them.

Well, it’s a little late for that.

Washington’s obvious strategic objective is having Russia aligned with the West, a fit candidate for NATO, as we hoped after the Soviet Union’s breakup. Others may be unhappy about such a new Russia. China can hardly welcome the collapse of a regime that is turning into Beijing’s junior partner, if not an outright satellite. Chinese efforts to support Putin, even militarily, cannot be ruled out.

There is actually a worse scenario than China backing Putin. Russia descending into civil war with a massive nuclear aresnal that just anyone can get access to. Do we want Libya on such a massive scale?

Also, do we have anyone that would be better than Putin? Bolton is betting on rando junior officers, bureaucrats, and dissidents that may not be on board with closer ties to the West. After all, they’re just as likely to see their Ukraine adventure as yet another Western humiliation of Russia and push them closer to China. What Russia would become is a North Korea with nukes.

Pushing regime change in Russia is an utterly insane idea. Bolton and his insanity should be dismissed as the crackpot idea that it is.