CNN sources: State Dep't thinks Bolton tried to tank the North Korea summit by talking about the "Libyan model"

Heh. I think the right will divide into two camps about this. Devout Trumpers who hate any report of conflict within the administration will declare “fake news” and point to the double whammy of CNN citing anonymous sources. Whereas devout hawks who love Bolton and hate the idea of pointless diplomacy with a propaganda-hungry Kim will say, “I sure hope it’s true.”

This is a logical follow-up to yesterday’s CNN report about tensions between Bolton and Pompeo over the summit. Simple question: Do you think John Bolton, America’s National Security Advisor, who’s spent his adult life on foreign policy and has insisted for years that diplomacy with the NorKs will go nowhere, didn’t realize that bringing up Libya would spook Pyongyang? The entirety of U.S. media somehow recognized that was incendiary — but Bolton didn’t?


It’s easy to believe that Bolton, thinking Trump was on the brink of a momentous mistake, might have rattled his saber expecting one of two good outcomes. If the NorKs flipped out and canceled the summit (or rattled their own sabers and led Trump to cancel, which is what happened), great. A bad diplomatic initiative was dead. And if the NorKs didn’t flip out, that’s fine too. Signaling to them that the U.S. expected nothing short of Libya-style denuclearization after their talks was a firm hawkish baseline to set before the summit, particularly if Bolton was worried about Trump agreeing to a weak deal purely for the sake of notching a “win.” Needless to say, it’s also easy to believe that Pompeo’s State Department would bristle with rage at Bolton’s gambit, sensing that the super-hawk was trying to sabotage their achievement of bringing the U.S. and North Korea together. The Secretary of State and the NSA are obviously at odds on the current policy and the NSA is losing. Talking about the “Libyan model” was a way to try to flip the board and reset the pieces in his favor. A highly dysfunctional way, but a way.

Just one question. If Bolton went rogue by bringing up Libya, what the hell was Mike Pence doing bringing it up afterward as well? Did Trump get spooked that he looked weak after agreeing to several NorK demands (e.g., no joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises) and decided that a little more Boltonesque rhetoric was needed to keep them honest, like a pitcher throwing up and in to a hitter who’s dug in? Maybe he worried that if no one backed up Bolton’s Libya comments, it’d become glaringly apparent that the hawks are isolated in the West Wing on the subject of North Korea right now. Trump wants to follow the Pompeo approach but he also doesn’t want to look desperate to do so. Backing up Bolton, the “bad cop” to the North’s “good cop,” is a way to signal that there’s an iron fist inside the velvet glove.

We should all be rooting for the Pompeo approach to work, though. Not just for reasons of world peace but because if things go well we may end up being treated to one of the great freak-show diplomatic spectacles of our lifetimes:

Trump has been advised not to offer Kim any concessions, as the White House seeks to put the onus on the North Koreans to make the summit a success, one U.S. official said. The president is determined to walk out of the meeting if it doesn’t go well, two officials said. Alternatively, Trump is toying with the idea of offering Kim a follow-up summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida — perhaps in the fall — if the two men hit it off.

Imagine the monster of Pyongyang waddling around the links with Trump in Palm Beach, hobnobbing with bridal parties in the ballroom during down time as POTUS himself is known to do. He probably already knows the layout of the place. Make this happen.

Exit question: Is Rudy Giuliani trying to tank the summit too? Knowing that Kim cares more about his personal prestige than even Trump does, what would possess the president’s lawyer to say that “Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged” for the summit to be rescheduled after Trump canceled initially?