How ‘President Bolton’ Gets His Way

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Associated Press reports on Bolton’s efforts to undo the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria:

According to seven administration officials, Bolton’s influence was central to the “reinterpretation” of Trump’s initial order and convincing the stubborn commander in chief to go along with it. White House aides maintained that the two have a strong relationship in part because Bolton has tried not to draw attention to the changes [bold mine-DL]. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe Bolton’s role and the administration’s policy thinking.

It was a sign of Bolton’s outsized role in foreign policy that when he traveled to Israel and Turkey earlier this month to clarify the policy, he brought along a contingent of press aboard a modified Boeing 757 of the type typically used by the vice president and secretary of state. It was the first trip by a national security adviser to include reporters in recent memory.

Bolton is a particularly dangerous National Security Advisor because he serves a malleable, easily-swayed president and has his own ideological agenda that he presents as administration policy. He has an “outsized” role because he is acting as much more than the president’s chief national security adviser, and he is doing things on his own that would likely get him fired in a different administration. Because Trump can’t be bothered to pay close attention to what his own administration does, Bolton can “reinterpret” presidential decisions that he doesn’t like and put the most hawkish spin on the decisions he supports. So long as he doesn’t clash openly with Trump or brag about his influence, Bolton is allowed to craft the foreign policy he desires regardless of what Trump occasionally says or tweets.

The AP story presents this upside-down arrangement as “massaging” Trump’s statements into a foreign policy agenda, but that understates the significance of having a National Security Advisor who essentially makes up his own policies and then gets the president to sign off on it after the fact. We have a very strange situation where the president can be effectively overruled by his own appointees if they don’t announce that they are overruling him, and he is so lazy and hands-off in conducting foreign policy that he may not even notice the changes that they make to his decisions. A strong, well-informed, and attentive president wouldn’t tolerate this, but unfortunately Trump is none of those things.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

17 thoughts on “How ‘President Bolton’ Gets His Way”

  1. Larison writes, “A strong, well-informed, and attentive president wouldn’t tolerate this, but unfortunately Trump is none of those things.” as well as claiming that Trump is malleable and easily-swayed. He may be all of these things. I, however, would like to assert that it is indeed possible that President Donald Trump is strong, well-informed and attentive. It certainly seems to me that Trump is pursuing a path that is not clearly anti-war but does intended to accomplish, over time, a shrinking of the US Empire. He confounds many with his past and present initiatives to wind down overseas US military occupations that appear to be impeded by various of his pro-war staff.

    I believe that he allows such behavior as part of a plan to accomplish maximum gain with minimum pain. The US Military Industrial Complex has had tight hold of the US government and the US media for more than 50 years and short of having Ron Paul or Rand Paul elected president cannot readily be thwarted without consequences to Trump, perhaps mortal.

    He has some staff, like John Bolton, which are clear examples of avid believers of the unvarnished benefits of bombs and bullets. He also appears to maintain contact and communication with US Senator Rand Paul. I believe it is entirely plausible that Donald Trump is sympathetic to a non-interventionist US military policy but does not wish to be deposed or have him or his family harmed or threatened. He, therefore, has taken steps to wind down the empire and has allowed his efforts to be temporarily stymied by they/them/those while he bides his time to pursue his long term goals (to the extent they can be accomplished by a non-Paul).

    1. “He, therefore, has taken steps to wind down the empire and has allowed his efforts to be temporarily stymied by they/them/those while he bides his time to pursue his long term goals”

      Oh yes, he is “biding his time” or “playing 3D Chess.” Oh, the true believer. Can’t the much more simple explanation that Trump is no friend of liberty and peace possibly be the truth?

      I had to endure a year or more of the same lame excuses which were floated as to why Rand Paul sold out the liberty principles of his father, and how it was necessary to get himself elected, and then he would show his true liberty colors. Well, it didn’t get him elected, and all it did get him was alienating potential recruits who did believe in liberty and peace, but found his inconsistency and hypocrisy quite off putting.

      Donald Trump is the F*cking President, for God’s sake. If he wanted liberty and peace there are literally thousands of actions he could take to achieve them, all of them consistent with his Constitutional role. If he received a death threat from the Deep State, he has the power to expose that threat and clean house. NO MORE EXCUSES!

      1. You have high standards which is fine by me.

        You and I expected more from Rand Paul and yet here we are. I certainly cannot point to a better US Senator than Rand Paul. You and I can both hope and expect a different Donald Trump but neither Trump nor Rand are dancing to our drum, indeed each has free agency to accomplish their ends via their means. As for death threats from the deep state (which for all you or I know were given to each top tier Republican candidate prior to the convention) I say that only a fool courts a strike by those who measure deaths on a spreadsheet.

        As for exposing death threats how did that work out for John F. Kennedy?

      2. I don’t believe that I am a Donald Trump true believer but as Scott Adams might put it, I would hardly know if I was.

        I do think that Trump is playing a 3D chess game. I do believe that he appears to be winning on the whole while maintaining a low risk profile.

        Has Donald Trump reduced the US empire in South Korea? I honestly have to say either no or not much. Even so I believe that Trump has moved closer to a wind down of US troops in South Korea than any US President I have observed in my 51 years here in the US of A.

        1. “closer to a wind down” uh huh…trump deployed 3 B-2 bombers and 6 B-52H to Guam last week. These planes are nuclear capable, whereas the B-1s which were already there, are not, thanks to the 2010 Start treaty. Your “has not escalated” president just added units that level North Korea in one go.

          1. Perhaps, whoever was elected in 2016 was going to be faced with the failed militant adventures, and a nuclear North Korea. No new wars would be feasible, for whoever was elected. Question is, what has occurred? He has escalated every theater. His statements are for withdrawal of forces he has deployed himself, yet, he has not made any statements for disengagement. He would be wise to throw the wars back to congress as Obama did in 2015 concerning WMD allegations in Syria.

    2. Please, no one is going to assassinate Trump because he fires Bolton and withdraws from Syria. Stop the 4D chess nonsense.

    1. Bingo. The fake “libertarian” Koch brothers won’t give any money to Trump becuase he doesn’t support their cheap labor open borders agenda. So Adelson bough Trump’s foreign policy for a few hundred million in campaign contributions.

      1. Yes, the Koch brothers are all about what’s good for the Koch brothers. Just like every other business (for example, it’s not coincidence that DuPont donated heavily to Greenpeace’s campaign to ban Freon … just as their patent on Freon expired and they patented a new, more expensive coolant to replace it).

        But your characterization works just as well if you remove the word “cheap” before “labor.” It’s not just price, it’s availability at all. When Georgia and Alabama cracked down on using migrant farm workers, crops rotted in the fields until they figured out that wow, there really are jobs Americans won’t take (my city mouse sister-in-law is horrified by my brother’s and me’s stories of growing up farming — she thinks we were “abused” just because the cow had to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, whether we’d rather be doing something else or not, and because yes, someone has to actually kill the steer before you can eat the steak, etc.).

        And there are other reasons that “open borders” are good for the Koch brothers. Low or no tariff walls make it cheaper/easier for them to import the component elements they need and cheaper/easier for them to export their products.

        Thing is, all those reasons are good for everyone else, too. The average American worker neither wants nor needs a job picking tomatoes. He does, however, want to pay a reasonable price for those tomatoes. And he wants whatever company he DOES work for to have as many customers as possible, even if those customers pick tomatoes for a living.

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