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.