He published an op-ed 10 days ago titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” Ten days later, he’s saying that May is too long to wait for presidential diplomacy. What gives?
His positions aren’t as inconsistent as you think. But yes, surely the fact that he’s being considered for a high-level position in the White House is leading him to be more tactful in his public comments on Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim. From Vanity Fair:
According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said.
Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months. On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago this weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said.
A man who’s on the shortlist to be National Security Advisor doesn’t go on POTUS’s favorite network and call him a sucker for huddling with Kim. Although I bet he’d like to, given how Trump reportedly made the fateful decision to meet. Did he deliberate closely with advisors? Solicit Mattis’s, Tillerson’s, and McMaster’s opinions? Consult State Department experts on the pros and cons of a North Korea summit? Ask diplomats what sort of groundwork, including requests for concessions, might be laid before committing to the process?
Nah. Apparently he just winged it:
Behind the scenes, events unfolded even more haphazardly. Mr. Trump was not scheduled to meet [South Korea official Chung Eui-yong] until Friday, but when he heard that the envoy was in the West Wing seeing other officials, the president summoned him to the Oval Office, according to a senior administration official.
Mr. Trump, the official said, then asked Mr. Chung to tell him about his meeting with Mr. Kim. When Mr. Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Mr. Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps.
Mr. Chung, nonplused, said he first needed approval from Mr. Moon, who quickly granted it in a phone call. Mr. Trump later called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and the two discussed coordinating diplomatic efforts. Mr. Trump also plans to call President Xi Jinping of China.
By day’s end, dazed White House officials were discussing whether Mr. Trump would invite Mr. Kim to come to the United States.
Hey, it’s all good. It’ll all work out, baby. You would think that a commander-in-chief who’s that eager for dialogue would shy away from Bolton, a man who thinks dialogue at this stage is pointless. He told Newsweek two weeks ago that 25 years of diplomacy had failed and that the only real “diplomatic” measures left are regime change in North Korea by China or voluntary reunification of the peninsula by the North under South Korean rule, both of which are pipe dreams. He wasn’t impressed with Trump’s sanctions either, insisting that they’d make no difference in stopping the NorKs’ nuclear drive. Realistically, he said, there are two outcomes left: Acquiesce in North Korea becoming a full nuclear power capable of attacking the United States or unleash “the military option.”
How does all of that square with his support for a presidential summit ASAP, which Bolton clearly believes is futile? Simple: Unlike Trump, he sees it as a box-checking exercise. He wants POTUS to saunter in there, say to Kim, “Denuclearization, yes or no?”, and to saunter right back out if he gets the wrong answer. Trump is clearly expecting something more meaningful from the summit and will strain to make a deal, even if it involves painful U.S. concessions like sanctions relief, purely for the sake of having a “deal” to boast about. That’s the sort of disconnect that makes Bolton a terrible fit for him as NSA, but Bolton clearly wants the position badly enough that he’s willing to pull his punches here over a diplomatic move for which he would have brutalized Obama. He goes so far as to speculate that Kim only came to the table in the first place out of fear of Trump, which conflicts with his baseline position that the NorKs are crafty grifters who use diplomacy to play for time and that nothing short of bombs will deter them from developing ICBMs.
Click the image below to watch. Exit question via Conor Friedersdorf: Would naming Bolton NSA be a betrayal of Trump’s base? Trump ran as a skeptic of interventionism who insisted, with hindsight, that all of America’s recent wars were stupid. Part of “America First” involves redirecting the billions we spend on destroying and rebuilding foreign countries to improving the lives of Americans here at home. Now he’s going to turn around and put John Bolton in charge of national security? W-w-what?