Max Boot is a neoconservative writer and military historian. A steadfast supporter of aggressive U.S. interventionism, Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he holds a security studies position named after the late Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.
The author of several books on military history, Boot is a highly visible presence in the neoconservative print media. He has worked as an editor for the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributes frequently to neoconservative publications like Commentary and the Weekly Standard, where he is a contributing editor. His work also appears regularly in mainstream outlets like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
Boot has described himself as a neoconservative who "believe[s] in using American might to promote American ideals abroad" and has urged the United States "unambiguously to embrace its imperial role." Starting in 2002, he signed a series of open letters issued by the Project for the New American Century advocating, among other things, massive U.S. military budgets and a prolonged commitment to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
He is also a staunch Republican."I've never been a Trotskyite, a Maoist, or even a Democrat," he wrote in 2002, contrasting himself with an earlier generation of neoconservatives who migrated from the left. "There's no 'neo' in my conservatism. … I've always identified with the Grand Old Party."
Boot is an official foreign policy advisor to the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). He has defended Rubio for "endorsing the underlying concept" of U.S.-led nation-building overseas and has lambasted what he terms "ill-advised aversion to the very idea of 'nation-building.'"
Boot has, however, praised former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—a likely Democratic presidential candidate—as "a principled voice for a strong stand on controversial issues, whether supporting the Afghan surge or the intervention in Libya," both of which Boot also supported.
In the aftermath of the 2014 U.S. midterm elections which ushered in a Republican-controlled Congress, Boot wrote an op-ed for the neoconservative Commentary urging President Obama to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy on all fronts.
In particular, Boot focused on Iran, where he said the President should "make clear that any deal with Iran will require the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities." If the President is unwilling to do this, Boot contends that "lawmakers can demand that Obama submit any deal with Iran for Senate approval as a treaty and, if he refuses, they can vote to keep sanctions in place that Obama will try to suspend unilaterally." Boot went on to also call on President Obama to "end the rapprochement with Iran that has scared our closest allies in the Middle East," arguing a good way to restore the confidence of these allies would be by "launching airstrikes on Iran's proxy, Bashar al-Assad."
In response to Boot, Daniel McAdams of the conservative Ron Paul Institute opined: "The foreign-born Boot, who was not himself inspired to join the military of his adopted country, nevertheless sees the election result as a clear mandate for...you guessed it: more and larger US wars overseas."
Boot is an unabashed supporter of a "global policeman" role for the United States. "To answer the question of why America should be the world's policeman," he remarked in a 2003 speech, "start by asking yourself: Does the world need a police force? To my mind, that's like asking whether San Francisco or New York needs a police force. I think we'd all agree that yes they do need a police force, for the very simple reason that as long as evil exits, you have to have somebody who will protect peaceful people from predators."
Accordingly, Boot has endorsed sustained and aggressive U.S. intervention in a variety of countries. He's called it "vitally important" to keep "at least 10,000 [U.S. military] personnel" in Afghanistan after 2014, and was an early supporter of the Iraq War, which he said was necessary "to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law." (Claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda were of course false, and critics have described the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq as a blatant violation of international law.)
In 2014, three years after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, militants from the extremist group ISIS poured over Iraq's Syrian border and plunged the country into a renewed bout of conflict. Boot rebuffed charges that the Bush administration bore responsibility for the unrest, claiming that the violence in neighboring Syria meant a civil war in Iraq would have been likely even if the United States hadn't invaded Iraq (a dubious claim, since the prior implosion of Iraq contributed mightily to the rise of militancy in Syria). Instead, said Boot, the "tenuous calm [in Iraq] started to unravel the minute that U.S. troops pulled out at the end of 2011."
Although Boot said the United States should be wary about supporting Iraq's sectarian Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the United States should "immediately offer to send into Iraq a limited number of special operations forces and military trainers who can call in airstrikes and buttress the battered Iraqi security forces."
In the Weekly Standard, he added: "This would need to be combined with action in Syria to roll back Islamist advances there, meaning principally providing more arms and training to the nonjihadist opposition to Bashar al-Assad. This could be coupled with American airstrikes directed not only against Assad's forces but also those of ISIS and other Islamist organizations such as the Nusra Front." (Boot was an early backer of military intervention in Syria, writing as far back as 2011 that the United States should support "armed action to bring down the Assad clique.")
In August 2014, Boot argued for sending "western advisory and special operations" personnel to Iraq to for the purpose of "defeating ISIS." Writing for The Spectator, Boot proposed sending "10,000 to 15,000 personnel" as well as "sending aircraft that will be based in Iraq, rather than at sea or from distant bases, to facilitate a more sustained bombing campaign." In a follow-up piece for Commentary, Boot specifically mentioned sending "10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators" to "annihilate ISIS."
In addition to military intervention, Boot has been a persistent advocate for direct U.S. involvement in the political affairs of other countries. Alongside his advocacy for U.S. airstrikes to roll back ISIS in Iraq, for instance, Boot said that President Obama "must get personally involved" to ensure that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "doesn't win a third term in office." In Afghanistan, he advocated using the CIA to handpick a successor to President Hamid Karzai, insisting that "the United States can't afford a holier-than-thou attitude of committing ourselves to free and fair elections while remaining agnostic about the outcome." And in Egypt, he has called on "the U.S. to do more to aid secular liberal groups."
In November 2014, Boot reiterated his call for U.S. ground troops to be used in the fight against ISIS and also called for a "no-fly zone" to be implemented in Syria to in part spur greater Turkish intervention in conflict. "[A] greater U.S. commitment, demonstrated by a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Assad's forces, should be sufficient to entice Ankara to play a greater role," he wrote for CFR. Boot also stated that the United States should "prepare now for nation-building" in Iraq and Syria and form new states out of those countries. "The United States should lay the groundwork for a postconflict settlement in both Iraq and Syria that does not necessarily require keeping both political entities intact," he opined.
After the November 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, Boot wrote in a Commentary op-ed that "we will probably need at least 20,000 personnel and they will need much more permissive rules of engagement" in the war against ISIS. He lamented that "even now the truck drivers are receiving advance notice to leave their vehicles ahead of the bombing for fear they will get hurt." Boot added: "This is hardly the action of a superpower fighting a war of survival."
Quipped one observer: "Has any serious person suggested that IS poses an existential threat to the United States or Western Europe?"
In another op-ed published after the Paris attacks, Boot argued for the United States to unilaterally declare an autonomous Sunni region in Iraq. He stressed the "need to create a new Anbar Awakening by offering Sunnis autonomy within a federal Iraqi structure—something that the U.S. can effectively guarantee even without Baghdad's cooperation." He also argued that the United States can "simply train and arm Sunni rebel fighters."
Quipped one commentator: "Wow, it is so simple. I'm sure that the Shia-led government in Baghdad would never challenge a unilateral action like that. And it certainly won't be necessary for U.S. warplanes to patrol the newly autonomous region as they did over Kurdistan for more than 10 years after the first Gulf War. And if Baghdad or its well-armed Shia militia allies did object to such an arrangement, I suppose a simple declaration by Washington would persuade them to back off."
Boot has also been a leading agitator for a U.S. attack on Iran, accusing the country (against the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community) of developing nuclear weapons and insisting that "the only credible option for significantly delaying the Iranian nuclear program would be a bombing campaign," as he put in a 2011 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. "If the U.S. is truly determined to prevent [a nuclear Iran]—and if we're not, we should be—the most effective option is to use force," he added in a 2012 post for Commentary. "Obviously, air strikes carry risks of their own, but those risks have to be measured against the risk of letting Iran go nuclear." (Steve Walt, a realist scholar at Harvard, countered that such strikes would constitute "an unprovoked war of aggression" that would kill "many innocent people" and would, in any event, fail to "prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons if it wants them badly enough.")
Political developments in Iran have failed to change Boot's mind. In late 2013, for example, even as Western governments were reaching an interim accord with the relatively moderate Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani concerning the country's nuclear enrichment program, Boot complained that Rouhani was "no Gorbachev" and warned that the Iranians would never "end their cold war against the West." Boot has also rebuffed broader efforts at U.S. cooperation with Iran, charging in 2014 that Iran's "dreams of regional hegemony" mean that cooperation is "destined to fail."
Boot also denounced the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached between Iran and six major world powers in July 2015 as a "massive capitulation to Iran." He wrote for the neoconservative Commentary magazine at the time: "[F]uture historians may well write of July 14, 2015, as the date when American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium."
A relentless critic of the Obama administration's foreign policy, Book described the "Obama Doctrine" thusly in a March 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed: "The U.S. puts down the burden, and Iran picks up the slack."
Boot was an early supporter of U.S. intervention in Libya's civil war as well. After the UN passed a resolution authorizing NATO to protect civilians in the conflict, Boot argued that the United States should bend the language of the resolution to justify a full-fledged intervention on behalf of Libya's rebels. "The only way we and our allies can achieve our objectives in Libya," he wrote in March 2011, "is to remove [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi from power."
Quoting language from the UN resolution, which did not authorize action to topple the Libyan leader, Boot insisted, "The Obama administration should argue that the only 'peaceful and sustainable solution' [to the conflict] would be for Qaddafi to abdicate power." NATO forces eventually did help topple Qaddafi, which critics said helped to ensure that Russia and China—which had cautiously supported the resolution even as they opposed intervention against Qaddafi—would later veto resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council.
In a 2003 interview with the Washington Monthly, Boot endorsed targeting Saudi Arabia. "We need to be more assertive and stop letting all these two-bit dictators and rogue regimes push us around," he said, "and stop being a patsy for our so-called allies, especially in Saudi Arabia. If necessary, Boot added, the United States could end up "occupying the Saudis' oil fields and administering them as a trust for the people of the region."
To support his vision for a global U.S. military role, Boot has consistently supported increases to the U.S. military budget.
In a July 2010, Boot penned an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he decried the effort by some Democrats and the Barack Obama administration officials to modestly reduce the U.S. military budget. Pointing to historical cases like the period following the American Revolution and the reductions to the size of the army after World War I, Boot argued that every time the United States has reduced its military expenditures, "enemies" have taken advantage of the purported U.S. weakness.
Also among his "cases" he cited was the post-Vietnam War U.S. military. He wrote: "After the Vietnam War, our armed forces shrank from 3.5 million personnel in 1969 to 2 million in 1979. This was the era of the 'hollow army,' notorious for its inadequate equipment, discipline, training and morale. Our enemies were emboldened to aggression, ranging from the anti-American revolutions in Nicaragua and Iran to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We are still paying a heavy price for the Iranian Revolution, with Iran on the verge of going nuclear."
Commenting on the article, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service wrote: "The implication of the second and third sentences … is that, if the armed forces hadn't shrunk, they could somehow have deterred, or, if necessary, actually intervened in Nicaragua and Iran to thwart 'anti-American revolutions' that presumably would never have taken place were it not for our enemies' 'aggression.' The notion that these revolutions, as in Vietnam, might have had homegrown roots doesn't seem to have occurred to Boot for whom the whole post-World War II era of decolonization was presumably a Communist conspiracy masterminded in Moscow and/or Beijing. (And if the Shah had remained in power, it would have been inconceivable to Boot that Iran might try to acquire nuclear weapons!)"
Lobe argued that Boot's rhetoric was reminiscent of Sen. Daniel Moynihan's reasons for distancing himself from the neocons in the 1970s, charging that his erstwhile comrades "wished for a military posture approaching mobilization; they would create or invent whatever crises were required to bring this about." Lobe quipped that Boot's "op-ed in the Washington Post … makes clear that he thinks permanent mobilization is a very good thing."
Boot has been a vocal supporter of some of Israel's most controversial actions and has made a number of critical statements about Palestinians.
As Palestinian civilian casualties mounted during Israel's 2014 incursion into Gaza, for example, Boot complained that Hamas was winning a "public relations victory" amid the increasing international opprobrium over Israel's actions. "In the battle of victims," Boot wrote for the neoconservative Commentary,"Israel is losing—there are more dead Palestinians than dead Israelis. But that does not make the Hamas cause just, any more than the fact that, in World War II, the U.S. armed forces inflicted a lot more casualties on Germany and Japan than they themselves suffered made the cause of the Nazis and Japanese militarists a just one. Those are the incontrovertible facts." (The vast majority of Palestinians killed, however, were civilians, not Hamas fighters.)
Boot has supported Israeli aggression against Gaza in the past, writing after Israel's 2012 bombing of the densely populated strip that Israel would have to "reoccupy Gaza" if "it wants to end the Hamas rocket threat for good." But Boot reserved his most vitriolic commentary for his review of the Goldstone Report, a UN investigation of the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza led by the Jewish South African jurist Richard Goldstone that accused both Israel and Hamas fighters of war crimes. Lauded by advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch, the report recommended that if the Israeli government and Hamas authorities failed to conduct credible investigations into alleged abuses, the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
In a scathing commentary that spurred one commentator to call Boot an "apologist for war crimes," Boot wrote: "It's a good thing that the United Nations wasn't around during World War II. I can just imagine its producing a supposedly evenhanded report that condemned the Nazis for 'grave' abuses such as incinerating Jews, while also condemning the Allies for their equally 'grave' abuses such as fire-bombing German and Japanese cities. The recommendation, no doubt, would have been that both sides be tried for war crimes, with Adolf Hitler in the dock alongside Franklin Roosevelt. Actually, that may be giving the UN more credit than it deserves. To judge by the evidence before us, the likelihood is that the UN in those days would have devoted far more space to Allied 'abuses' than to those of the Axis and would have recommended that FDR stand alone before the world court." (The comments were reminiscent of Boot's past criticisms of U.S. opponents of torture, whom he said "would turn international law into a suicide pact" with their "absolutist grandstanding." )
Instead of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or its blockade of the Gaza strip, Boot has blamed Palestinian economic troubles on Palestinian culture. In 2012, after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was criticized for asserting that Palestinian underdevelopment was due to "culture and a few other things," Boot—then a Romney campaign surrogate—defended the former governor. "Palestinian development has been hijacked by corrupt opportunists (like those who dominate the Palestinian Authority) and fanatical extremists (like those who run Hamas)," wrote Boot. "Gov. Romney was guilty of no gaffe. He was just telling it like it is: If Palestinians are to prosper, their culture—characterized all too often by anti-Semitism and blame-mongering—needs to change."
Boot's books include Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (2013), War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today (2006), The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002), and Out of Order Arrogance, Corruption, and Incompetence on the Bench (1998).