Max Boot first came to public notice, or at least to mine, during the run-up to the Iraq war. He had persuaded a television producer somewhere to label him a “Defense Expert,” which, in the natural order of things, caused some people to mistake him for a defense expert. He had never been involved in even minor military operations himself, but he seemed uncontained in his enthusiasm for military operations involving other people.
As the country debated the merits of an expedition to Iraq, Max Boot seemed to be everywhere. He was in every room. While he was rarely the most influential voice in any of those rooms, he was almost always the loudest. Among his several asseverations, all of them unburdened by either evidence or experience, were these: an American invasion would rid Iraq of nuclear weapons. (Iraq had no nuclear weapons.) An American invasion would cause the Iraqis to rise up and greet us as liberators. (They rose up and fought us as invaders.) An American invasion would bring democratic stability to a troubled region. (It brought chaos.) An American military victory would be quick and decisive. (After 16 years and incalculable losses in blood, treasure, prestige, and morale, the American military is still in Iraq.)
After the heavy fighting had faded, a consensus began to form, slowly at first and then picking up speed, that the invasion of Iraq had been one of the most disastrous self-inflicted mistakes in the history of American foreign policy. For almost everybody involved, as well as those many in the region who had hoped to remain uninvolved, the so-called discretionary war in Iraq had been a tragedy.
As the question settled, some of us who had grown tired of Max Boot chirping in our ears began to wonder how he would respond. What might he say? Perhaps an abashed silence would do. Or should he undertake a penitential retreat to an obscure college, where he might meliorate his remorse with weed or alcohol? In less generous moments, we toyed with the idea that he might simply walk into the surf, after leaving an abject note of apology pinned against the sea breeze by a heavy shard of driftwood.
Our answer was a long time coming.
I am a heavy viewer of CNN, at both the airport and the barber shop, that is. One day last year, as I was having my thinning locks trimmed, the network ran a banner headline: MAX BOOT QUITS REPUBLICAN PARTY. I couldn’t help myself. I started laughing. Soon the entire shop—the sheeted customers, the startled barbers, the guys reading sticky magazines—they were all asking, along with the rest of America, who is this Max Boot? I tried to answer but I couldn’t. Each time I tried, I wound up laughing uncontrollably. CNN, which appears to have missed the earlier and equally newsworthy story, MAX BOOT JOINS REPUBLICAN PARTY, had reached its summary judgment: nothing had so become Max Boot’s secret Republican career as the leaving of it. (Seriously, one thing you can count on is the acuity of CNN’s news judgment. By a remarkable coincidence, both Arnold Thornbush of Ames, Iowa, and Phoebe Birdbath of Tempe, Arizona, had quit the GOP that very same day, but the CNN desk, laser-focused, could not be distracted from the big story.)
Ideas may or may not have consequences—the debate rages—but fake news most certainly does. Shortly after CNN’s blockbuster story, The Washington Post, or what used to be The Washington Post, offered Max Boot a regular column. No, the Post couldn’t find the stones to cast him as a defense expert. The Max Boot beat is still a bit undefined, but it seems to highlight his ad hominem attacks on former friends and associates from his secret Republican career.
Forgive Max Boot. He’s no idiot. He’s just trying to make himself useful.
Neal B. Freeman is a former editor and columnist for National Review.