Let’s hope. A half-dozen administration officials say otherwise — and not just about Trump.
National security adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.
For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the Treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions…
Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council official in the Bush White House, said his colleagues would likely have held “quite a few” meetings of the so-called Principals Committee of Cabinet-level NSC members in a comparable situation. A former top Obama White House official echoed that point, calling the lack of top-level NSC meetings “shocking.”
The populist retort will be that the egghead “experts” are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place, so the less they’re involved this time, the better. Right, but in this case they’re Trump’s experts. These are the people President Swampdrainer chose as an alternative to the same old conventional wisdom, none more so than John Bolton. Bolton would surely agree that the multilateralist foreign-policy consensus that dominates Washington is useless but, per Politico, he’s not seizing the reins here to impose his own vision.
And we know why, don’t we? Read this or this. Bolton has nothing but contempt for this process with the North. He made it abundantly clear before he was tapped as NSA, he made it clear with his incendiary “Libyan model” comments on TV last month, and he’s allegedly made it clear behind closed doors in the White House. He’s reportedly alienated Mike Pompeo and, to some extent, Trump. Maybe Bolton’s concluded that if this is the Mike Pompeo Show, Pompeo can go ahead and lead the prep work too. If Bolton’s too troublesome a figure to even be invited to the Oval Office meeting with Kim Yong Chol, better not to have him meddling with any cabinet meetings either.
There’s another possibility. The goals of the summit may be so diminished by now that Bolton has concluded there’s little to prepare for. He wants the NorKs to commit firmly to denuclearlization, to the point where they show up in Singapore with a list of ports the U.S. Navy can use to carry away Kim’s nukes and enrichment infrastructure. Trump has scaled those ambitions way, way back, though, telling reporters last week after the meeting with Kim Yong Chol that the summit would be a “get to know you” session. I think POTUS is now viewing this as essentially a gladhanding opportunity, a chance for him to mount a charm offensive, build a rapport, then let the eggheads take over to hammer out a compromise. He’s spent his entire adult in Manhattan real estate and politics schmoozing shady characters. How hard can it be to schmooze a monster? In fact:
[A]ccording to two administration officials, Trump has also raised the possibility of a leisurely activity and, perhaps, getting in 18 holes with Kim if the two end up getting along.
“He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a senior Trump administration official said…
“I think that would be phenomenal—I think it would be a huge foreign policy win if President Trump got Kim Jong Un on a golf course, especially if he did it at Mar-a-Lago,” Eric Bolling, a close Trump friend and former Fox News star, told The Daily Beast.
Remember that North Korean media once reported that Kim Jong Il shot 38-under in 18 holes in Pyongyang, one of the many petty ways NorK propaganda inculcates the image of a superhuman leader to its captive population. The possibility that Kim Jong Un is going to risk puncturing that image by showing off his skills in front of other golfers seems unlikely, but okay.
The State Department, by the way, insists that all of this is nonsense, that Bolton and Pompeo are working hand-in-glove to prepare and even jointly briefed the president together. Hopefully true. Although, as I say, I think Trump sees his job next week first and foremost as relationship-building. For now the details of a deal are secondary, and really more Pompeo’s and Bolton’s purview than his.
Pres. Trump on preparation for summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: "I think I'm very well prepared, I don't think I have to prepare very much. It's about attitude, it's about willingness to get things done." https://t.co/Nyx6WYLv2G pic.twitter.com/rZyctbdSRE
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 7, 2018