Trump Might Face Prison, but Bolton and Kissinger? Never!

Trump Might Face Prison, but Bolton and Kissinger? Never!

Trump Might Face Prison, but Bolton and Kissinger? Never!

John Bolton recently joked about helping to plan coups while in office. For those on the receiving end, like the thousands who died thanks to Henry Kissinger’s machinations, America’s coups abroad are no laughing matter.


John Bolton made a staggering admission recently. Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this month, Bolton denied that what Donald Trump tried to do after the election was a “carefully planned coup d’etat.” When Tapper replied that “one doesn’t have to be brilliant to plan a coup,” Bolton pushed back—and drew on his credentials as Trump’s national security adviser and George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN. “I disagree with that,” Bolton said, “as someone who has helped plan coups d’etat, not here, but, you know, other places. It takes a lot of work…”

When Tapper followed up, Bolton refused to “get into the specifics” about any successful coups. He did mention the unsuccessful attempt to install Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela.

Venezuelan officials are furious about Bolton’s breezy reference to trying to overthrow their government. But in the United States, his confession barely made a wave. Why would it?

This is a country where Henry Kissinger is still treated as a respected elder statesman. Three days before Bolton casually admitted to having plotted some coups, the New York Post ran an article on the apparently scandalous fact that President Biden has yet to invite Kissinger to the White House “for conversations and discussions of foreign policy.” Every other president from Nixon to Trump, the Post reminds us, has extended that invitation.

Besides his unsuccessful attempt in Venezuela, we don’t know what “other places” Bolton was talking about. But we know that Kissinger was intimately involved in the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile. Allende was a democratic socialist who was experimenting with economic planning.

Had Allende won an election? Who cares? “I don’t know why we need to stand by and let a country go communist,” Kissinger notoriously said, “because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

When he made that comment Kissinger was Nixon’s national security adviser—the same job John Bolton had in the Trump administration. And every subsequent president, Democrat or Republican, has invited him “for conversations and discussions of foreign policy.”

If Biden breaks the streak, will it be because of some deep principled objection to the crimes Kissinger was involved in “not here, but, you know, other places”? Does Biden shiver when he thinks about the tens of thousands of Chileans tortured and murdered by General Pinochet, or the notorious instructions Kissinger passed on to the military after his conversations with Nixon during the illegal bombing of Cambodia—“anything that flies…anything that moves”?

I’d like to think so. But it’s entirely possible that Kissinger is being snubbed not for the long list of offenses for which any halfway decent society would have long since tried and imprisoned him, but for his support for peace negotiations in Ukraine.

Most of our bipartisan foreign policy establishment is opposed to any sort of compromise to end that war. After all, as former president George W. Bush reminded us back in May, Vladimir Putin is a monster who needs to be defeated. The Ukraine war, Bush said in that speech, is entirely the result of “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq—I mean, of Ukraine.”

Bush seemed at least slightly embarrassed by the slip. He can be heard at the end of the video muttering his age (“75”). But that’s almost drowned out by the warm and affectionate laughter of the crowd.

Judging by the reaction in the room, and how quickly the snickering died down in the country at large, you might think the offense Bush had slipped up and admitted to was something along the lines of smoking a joint when he was in the Texas Air National Guard. A bit naughty, perhaps, but who really cares?

It’s not like he ordered “shock and awe” bombing of the Virginia suburbs. And whatever else might have gone on the last time Henry Kissinger visited the White House, I seriously doubt that he and national security adviser John Bolton discussed any plots to kidnap and assassinate the governor of Michigan. And that’s why Bush and Bolton and Kissinger and a hundred others like them can walk free and crack jokes about their crimes.

Did these people start wars based on nonsense? Did they massacre civilians? Overthrow elected governments? Sure. But “not here.”

It all happened in, you know, “other places.”

So it doesn’t count.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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