The real divide in the Trump administration is not between hawks and doves. By any reasonable standard, all of Trump’s officials are hawks. Defense Secretary James Mattis was forced out by President Barack Obama, who felt he was too tough on Iran. U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, another supposed voice of caution, has staked out hawkish positions on everything from Iran to Russia.
The new divide is between litigators and planners. The litigators, led by Trump and deputized to Bolton, see national security policy as a way of settling scores with enemies, foreign and domestic, and closing the file. They will torpedo multilateral deals, pull out of international commitments and demonstrate American power before moving on to the next target.
The planners insist that the administration must have a plan for the day after the score settling. They know American foreign policy is a marathon, not a sprint. They are thinking about the U.S. position in Asia after a preventive strike, the future of the Iranian nuclear program after abandoning the JCPOA, and the health of alliances after trade wars. They worry that the litigators will get the United States into a whole lot of trouble with no way out—so they urge caution.