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John Bolton: Republicans Must Exorcise the Ghost of Neville Chamberlain When it Comes to Ukraine

John Bolton: Neville Chamberlain’s ghost is not at rest in today’s Republican Party, and this is clearly the time to take him on when it comes to Ukraine.

Russian anti-tank weapon. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian anti-tank weapon. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Labor Day is behind us, Congress is returning to Washington, and the 2024 campaign is well underway. For Republicans who stress philosophy and policy over performance art, no issue is more ominous than the opposition within some party circles to helping Ukraine repulse Russia’s unprovoked aggression. In the months ahead, military and diplomatic developments, combined with congressional votes on Ukraine assistance, could have enormous implications for the party’s future direction.

Core Strategic Realities

Thwarting Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine is a vital US national security interest. Encouraged by Barack Obama’s pathetic response to Moscow’s 2014 attack, and by Donald Trump’s willful inability to see Ukraine except through his own self-interest, Vladimir Putin is seeking to reverse the Soviet Union’s collapse and forge a new Russian empire. If successful in undoing the USSR’s beneficial and liberating disintegration, the Kremlin would again endanger all surrounding regions and prompt China and others to take advantage elsewhere of perceived US weakness and lack of resolve. 

Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first and only freely and fairly elected leader, freely agreed to end the USSR at Belovezha after a 1991 Ukrainian referendum revealed majorities for independence in every region, including Crimea. Moscow’s current attempt to eliminate or severely compromise Kyiv’s sovereignty and territorial integrity manifestly endangers US interests by threatening the cornerstone post-1945 principle that peace and security in Europe are vital to our wellbeing. 

That, in two paragraphs, is the core strategic case for Washington assisting Kyiv. 

Congressional aid opponents have not seriously or systematically argued to the contrary. They have instead offered bumper-sticker-level rationales, straw men, and non-sequiturs, the very antithesis of strategic thinking. 

The most frequently heard complaint is that President Joe Biden worries more about defending Ukraine’s border than America’s Mexican border. While this complaint has political resonance with many Republicans, it is the very paradigm of a non-sequitur, linking two issues that have no logical connection. Assuming (correctly) that Biden’s illegal-immigration policy is erroneous, failure on the Mexico border hardly justifies failure to contest Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The same applies to the fallacy that resources committed to Ukraine distract us from other global priorities. The real problem is not Ukraine, but wasteful domestic spending that overwhelms both expenditures for Ukraine aid and military spending generally.

Geopolitics by Bumper Sticker

The next most popular is the criticism that Washington should not “write blank checks for Ukraine.” Diligent research does not reveal a single member of Congress or the commentariat who has advocated unlimited “blank-check” support. True, Biden has been unduly deterred by unwarranted fear of Russian escalation. He has dribbled out extensive military assistance in an incoherent, helter-skelter fashion, thereby impairing Ukraine’s ability to act more strategically in expelling the Russians. But the administration’s incompetence does not alter fundamental American interests. 

Nor has anyone opposed scrutiny of how the Pentagon and USAID distribute assistance, or of how Ukraine employs it. Corruption in government programs is endemic worldwide, including here at home, but being “shocked” at finding corruption in Ukraine does not excuse strategic malpractice. To the contrary, it is entirely in America’s interest that our assistance is employed effectively to achieve its intended purposes. Concededly, the “no blank checks” criticism fits on a bumper sticker, but it is otherwise utterly irrelevant.

In the straw-man category falls the criticism that China’s status as our pre-eminent adversary this century means we must effectively abandon Washington’s interests elsewhere. Whether in Europe, the Middle East, or beyond, we are told, significant US military commitments divert available resources necessary to defend Taiwan and other allies and interests in the Indo-Pacific. 

This is nonsense. In reality, supporting Ukraine strengthens rather than impairs our politico-military ability to defend our interests elsewhere. Indeed, failure to defeat Russia’s aggression only encourages other American adversaries to act belligerently in their regions. The US has failed over multiple post-Cold War presidencies to meet Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” standard by devoting adequate resources to defense, intelligence, and foreign-affairs objectives. Nonetheless, promptly correcting that failure hardly requires us to cut Ukraine loose. 

Missing from critics’ analysis is the crucial acknowledgement that China is scrutinizing the Ukraine war more closely than many countries in Europe itself. Nor are they merely watching. The new and developing Sino-Russian axis, with Beijing as the command center, is already effectively engaged in the Ukraine war. We ignore this alignment at our peril. China’s significantly increased purchases of Russian oil and gas, the camouflage it provides for Russia’s international financial transactions, and its supply of dual-use equipment and other key resources aiding Russia’s war effort make Moscow and Beijing full partners. Ukraine is not just fighting Russia.

What China Sees

Moreover, Beijing’s strategists are seeking to assess whether Washington has the necessary determination to protect its interests in Europe. If not, China will undoubtedly conclude that the United States does not have the resolve to do so in East Asia and will recalibrate its thinking accordingly, particularly regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea. America’s Indo-Pacific allies have no doubts about what is at stake for them in the Ukraine war, which is why South Korea’s president and the prime ministers of Japan and Australia attended NATO’s recent Vilnius Summit. How can we miss what they see so clearly?

Of course, critics note that several European countries are not pulling their weight, a critique fully shared by Ukraine supporters. Nonetheless, saying rightly that many Europeans should do more does not mean we can wait around until they do. Washington has too long turned a blind eye to European defense inadequacies, but we can hardly subordinate — indeed, endanger — our own national security while Germany and others get their act together. Criticism of European underspending is accurate, but it is not enough in setting the right strategy to counter Russia. 

Haunting all the opponents’ arguments is their tacit assumption that Ukraine is too distant to matter, that it is “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Neville Chamberlain’s ghost is not at rest in today’s Republican Party, and this is clearly the time to take him on. 

About the Author, Ambassador John R. Bolton 

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton.

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Written By

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton.



  1. Steve Smith

    September 5, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    I’m sorry it does come down to budget questions and Ukraine is not a priority for the US. Maybe it’s time the Europeans stepped up. Heck it wasn’t even a sovereign country until 1992. It may be a concern for Raytheon and other defense contractors but’s it’s not a concern for Americans unless of course you have a child in the military.

  2. Jim

    September 5, 2023 at 4:06 pm

    A solid casus belli laid before the American People.

    He wants to go to war.

    What does he want?

    World War Three, sounds to me.

    John, are the American People with you… or just an elite echo chamber?

  3. pagar

    September 5, 2023 at 4:37 pm

    Chamberlain was a man who saw the forest in the distance, not the tree in front of him.

    Hitler’s aim was to march eastward, to get hold of the hated ‘jews & bolsheviks.’

    Instead, the Brits and french decided to confront Hitler, instead of seeing Hitler and Stalin banging away at each other from the get go. And what did ya know.

    Hitler was forced to turn westward.

    As a result france fell in four weeks.

    Britain got lucky mainly due to goring’s incompetence and Luftwaffe overconfidence.

    Back to Ukraine war.

    The Ukraine war has been manufactured by Biden and stoltenberg with zelensmiyy in tow.

    The ukros were hammering the Donbass natives with massive heavy firepower followed by batefield attrition tactics. With aid from US DoD and CIA.

    In Feb 2022 russia decided to step in, but has so far held off the use of tactical nukes.

    Russia, therefore is much like the 1939/1940 Brits and french, failing to see the forest.

    Thus the severe losses in manpower and equipment.

    Now, russia must act like what Truman and gang did in 1945.

    Russia cannot afford to lose the Ukraine war, since if ya look ahead just beyond the forest, ya got to see clearly US-NATO imposing their one-world fascism-wokeism belief and way of life on the entire world.

    Without any hindrance or opposition.

    Thus to act like Truman, russia must employ nukes now, today. Before US and NATO get hold of destiny-changing hypersonic weaponry.

    It would be game over then.

    In August 1945, Truman used nukes despite opposition from some, knowing that he didn’t do so, Japan would likely end up getting swallowed by the USSR.

    Thus, to avoid getting swallowed by US-NATO and their one-world hog swill, russia must use nukes now, today.

    FORGET THE 2024 games.

  4. Cheburator

    September 5, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    Do you understand that Russia caught the United States on live bait? And Ukraine is the live bait, Russia can eliminate the Zelensky regime at any moment, simply by destroying the decision-making vertical. And don’t lie that they can’t do it. General Potts has already died during a business trip to Ukraine.
    The Ukrainian offensive failed – Ukraine lost 60,000 fighters barely poking through the Russian buffer zone. As a result, Ukraine can only arrange sabotage close to terrorist acts – loudly in the information field, but zero value for the war.
    There is a high probability that Ukraine will have to retreat to the Dnieper, because Ukraine does not have the resources to hold the left bank.
    And what will happen when the Ukrainian regime starts to fall? Will you attempt forceful intervention? A war with a country with a large nuclear potential – I would call it poker games with bad cards.
    Ukraine is the bait and the United States is the fish that gets tired. The Russians hold a front of 1000 km with only 200 thousand soldiers on the zero line and they have 500 thousand personnel in reserve, Ukraine keeps 300 thousand soldiers at the zero point and only the militia is in reserve.
    So what’s next?

  5. Webej

    September 5, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    Alas, another articulation of the ubiquitous mythology about Neville “appeasement” Chamberlain against ultra-armed Nazi Hitler … Some study of the actual chain of events would be salutary compared to this primitive propaganda cartoon.

    »Thwarting Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine is a vital US national security interest … seeking to reverse the Soviet Union’s collapse and forge a new Russian empire.«

    »The new and developing Sino-Russian axis, with Beijing as the command center«

    Bolton is as dim as a stripped bolt: Obviously not a tough guy on the school playground or the football team, he has spent his life vicariously fascinated at decoding tough guy dynamics with his mind, never penetrating what is actually at play.

  6. 403Forbidden

    September 5, 2023 at 5:12 pm

    The GOP must avoid joe robinette biden’s crazed obsession with russia and ukraine.

    Biden’s obsession with russia and ukraine stems from the trouble caused by hunter and his dealings with burisma and ‘russian disinformation.’

    While biden busily hurls over $100 billion bucks to europe, he has failed to note china’s solid space successes plus digital fabrication progress and north korea’s fast-growing prowess in nuke delivery systems.

    While on the home front, US cities are being overwhelmed by rising migrant invasion and serious crime, including flash mob robberies.

    The GOP therefore cannot follow biden’s errors and guffaws.

  7. TheDon

    September 5, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    Good assessment.
    Ukraine needs help and it does affect us as noted in a Russia NK alliance.

    Fighters, electric subs, long range missiles needed to offset the disparity further weakening Russia.
    Right now the Ukrainians are stalled with high casualties.

    Planning can’t be business as usual.

    The time is now.
    Congress should reopen NAFTA and limit production of any product to 1/3 of sales volume including spare parts, removing any potential for shortages.

    In fact , congress should raise tariffs on every chinese good monthly until the remove kim from power and break from russia. Economically, they can sell to russia and nk, lets see how that works.

    Knock off products from amazon , ebay, etc should be immediately assessed for costs, undercutting, and cheap quality. Ive had junk chinese bearings fail in a year that should go 20. Car diagnostics damaged the ecu.

    Our ceos need an A kick.
    GM got bailed out and now most Buicks are 99% chinese.
    Mary lied to congress on knowing the key issue and threw her engineers under the bus. Ceos know everything.
    GM had the ev1 , the volt is the most advanced hybrid which allisons is successfully making a great product, but mary cant.

    Congress needs a change.
    Weve moved production, sold advances in magnet production to them, sold appliance companies, battery, and car production, and aircraft engines.
    A lot of blame but these acts have aligned them with Russia and is bankrupting us, and supporting nk.

    Its not looking good unless some serious changes occur.

    The Ukraine war by US news is rosey. I guess I dont believe it and believe Tuckers interview more than our press which is supporting democratic election.

    Change is needed now.
    Whos going to tell the american people who dont read 1945.

  8. 404NotFound

    September 5, 2023 at 6:43 pm

    Few people take cognizance of chamberlain’s position during his era when he was in peace negotiations.

    During the late thirties, the British RAF was still very much equipped with biplane aircraft powered by radial engines as its frontline airpower while the German luftwaffe was already flying aircraft powered by sleek inverted inline direct-injection engines.

    The luftwaffe had benefitted greatly from its condor legion air warfare experience during the Spanish civil war.

    There was no way for the RAF of the time to match the luftwaffe.

    Even after chamberlain’s time, during the battle of France, British fighters were consistently bundled out of the sky by their German counterparts.

    During the crucial battle of Britain, the luftwaffe failed to utilize its new Messerschmitt me bf 109F fighter, then already available albeit in small numbers, to gain strategic advantage.

    Had hermann goring used his brains, he would have forced the luftwaffe to use the 109F as escort CAP aircraft while utilizing the older 109E in the fighter-bomber role.

    Once the RAF was kaput, he could then unleash the heinkels, junkers and dorniers as he pleased.

    But that didn’t happen and so Britain won the battle of Britain.

    Chamberlain deserved greater credit for his levelheadedness than being allowed.

  9. Duane

    September 5, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    The author is a dedicated neocon so he merely needs to assert that bloodying Putin’s nose is “a vital American interest” Neocon skeptics say, now just one minute, that ain’t necessarily so. To question the neocon assertion does not make one a “Putin lover”. If could mean that, of course, but there is a wide range of vital American interests that don’t depend upon Putin hate.

    Such as countering the Chi Coms whom most people versed in geopolitics believe is a far larger threat to American and allied interests by their far larger economic power and military capability than Russia has, and whom are directly threatening the entire West Pacific basin including the U.S., unlike Putin. Putin is only threatening Ukraine, not NATO or the US.

    Then there is the moral failing of using a poor small nation as a pawn to threaten and do battle with a medium sized threat, spilling no American or NATO blood while hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are doing all the ultimate sacrificing for our benefit. As a minimum that is morally dubious if not outright wrong.

    I have no love of Putin or Russia … and none for Zelenskyy or Ukraine either. I reserve my love for the USA and our treaty Allies, which does not include Ukraine. We’ve provided massive aid to Ukraine at the cost of degrading our ability to counter China. That makes no sense whatever.

    I don’t call for cutting off all aid to Ukraine. We must maintain economic sanctions on Russia until they exit Ukraine. But our aid to Ukraine needs to be downsized a lot. That is where most American voters are today.

    We took our eye off the China ball for more than two decades of jihadi fighting, and for godsakes, we’re still doing it in Ukraine. Will we never learn where our vital national interests truly lay?

  10. HAT451

    September 5, 2023 at 8:52 pm

    What Jhon Bolton failed to mention is that in 1990, the Russians would not object to the reunification of East and West Germany, NATO would commit to not expand to any former Warsaw Pact countries.

    The west lied to Russia, and that promise was broken in 1999 with the addition of Poland, Hungry and the Czech Republic. This is the first red line that NATO crossed.

    There were lots of other red lines crossed by NATO, between 1999 and the start of the “official start” of the SMO in Feb 2022. The start of the SMO is the straw that broke the camel’s back, in this case that start of kinetic military operations in Ukraine.

    If anyone one was Chamberland, it was the Russian prior to Feb 2022. For someone with Jhon Bolton pedigree, education, and experience, I’m appalled at the lack of intellectual honesty, and amount of warmongering anti-Russian propaganda in this article.

  11. Scottfs

    September 5, 2023 at 9:09 pm

    John Bolton? Really?


  12. David N. Tate

    September 5, 2023 at 9:47 pm

    The Ukraine holds no critical National Security Interest for the United States or the American taxpayers. The NATO Alliance is the most powerful military alliance on Earth. The Russian Federation is not a threat to the European Union. NATO member states spend well over $1.1 Trillion annually on defense. The Russian Federation spends less than $70 Billion annually on defense. The NATO alliance holds overwhelming military superiority over the Russian Federation. So far this war has resulted in over 300,000 casualties and the destruction of over $1 Trillion in public and private property damage. It is time for a negotiated settlement.

  13. John R. Shanahan

    September 6, 2023 at 12:14 am

    Mr. Bolton, I am sure that we disagree on many issues, but I agree with you here. I want to see a return to the internationalist policies held by the post WW2 Republican Party. I would very much appreciate a true statesperson of H.W. Bush’s stature as a Republican presidential candidate.

  14. Ben Leucking

    September 6, 2023 at 12:59 am

    Excellent article sir, and very well said.

  15. June

    September 6, 2023 at 2:08 am

    After this war, I am almost certain that Russia will be very cautious about future aggression. So this war could be the last opportunity to straighten out Russia. Only unbearable suffering would teach Russia why aggression is not a good strategy and guarantee Ukraine’s security.

  16. Tamerlane

    September 6, 2023 at 2:32 am

    The moronic straussian neocons re-emerge. Bolton’s been wrong on every major foreign policy of the last 35 years.

    No thanks again on this one.

  17. John

    September 6, 2023 at 6:15 am

    GOP is not making defence a priority and after capping the defense budget are now ok with a government shutdown which will delay the Columbia program. They are silent on the Russian, Chinese,NK and Iranian nuclear buildup. They are not promoting expanding our nuclear forces.
    Hoky woky Dems also unelectable.
    Stopping drinking also not an option.
    And Europe? Fuggatabout it. The West has become a total failure

  18. Gew

    September 6, 2023 at 7:24 am

    Where is the money? Perhaps spending money to prevent illegal border crossings at the Mexico border costs less than supporting Ukraine.

  19. Ezra Teter

    September 6, 2023 at 7:33 am

    The truth is that people like John Bolton empowered Hitler because they thought he was going to focus his murderous energy on the monomanaical pursuit of Communists. It was people like Bolton who made Hitler Times Man of the Year in 1937. I will celebrate when this demented war pimp finally croaks.

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  23. Galerius

    September 7, 2023 at 12:19 am

    You lost in Ukraine and you will lose in a hot war with Russia with the hands down because Russia spends way less to destroy your equipment from what you spend to destroy theirs. Russia always comes with new solutions and adapts way faster and more efficiently.
    You don’t even have cheap reliable mobile anti-drone counter measures to protect your foot soldiers, Russia has.
    The US military industrial complex is a dinosaur. They need to change people cut ties with (((specific groups))) and come with new ideas and new weapons (defensive and offensive) who are cheap reliable and efficient.
    Russia has already adapted and achieved some new scientific discoveries. That’s the beauty of War.

  24. George Gordon Byron

    September 7, 2023 at 3:35 am

    For June:
    1) Yours: “After this war, I am almost sure that Russia will be very careful about future aggression.”
    Answer: Have the US, EU, NATO become more cautious after their failed aggressions against dozens of countries?
    3) Yours: “Only unbearable suffering will teach Russia why aggression is not a good strategy and guarantee the security of Ukraine.”
    Answer: what about the unbearable suffering of the US, EU, NATO since 1945 and now and in the future? They continue to suffer and buy products, titanium, uranium, gas, oil, rare earths, fertilizers from Russia and other countries “inconvenient” for the West ….
    Products, titanium, uranium, gas, oil, rare earths, fertilizers continue to suffer and support Russia and other “inconvenient” countries for the West ….

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