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Reminder: Trump, Not Bolton, is the President

Unsatisfied with the direction of U.S. foreign policy? You’re not alone. The Washington Post describes [1] a “frustrated” Donald Trump who feels he has been “misled” about how easy it would be to oust Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

“The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires,” the Post reported on May 8.

Channeling pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, Trump may be beginning to recognize that his administration’s stance toward Iran is crazy and that Tehran should call him, maybe. “What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down; we can make a deal, a fair deal. …We’re not looking to hurt Iran,” Trump told [2] reporters at the White House. “I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy. But they should call, and if they do, we’re open to talk to them.”

Trump dismissed [3]New York Times report [4] that the White House was reviewing a plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East—”military plans against Iran, in echoes of Iraq war”—as “fake news.”


“It used to be that the staff around the president were the counterweight to some of his more aggressive impulses. Now it seems as if the situation has reversed itself,” former Trump official Fernando Cutz told [5] the Washington Examiner. “The president is the counterweight to some of his more hawkish staff members, particularly Bolton.”

Trump has said as much himself. “I actually temper John,” he recently advised reporters. “I have John Bolton and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him and ultimately I make the decision.”

Who are these doves? And when will the president of the United States make a decision that overrides a rogue national security team ideologically committed to policies that are nearly the opposite the ones he campaigned on in 2016? Those are the fateful questions that could determine the course of a presidency—and the country.

For even on Iran, long an unprincipled exception [6] to Trump’s “America First” skepticism of regime change in the Middle East, there have been signals that the president is reluctant to do Iraq 2.0 [7]. “We are not going to war in Iran,” said White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a group [8] of Iranian-American community leaders that the administration wasn’t contemplating military intervention, asserting, per Axios, “We’re careful not to use the language of regime change.” Pompeo also sought to distance the White House from Bolton’s and Rudy Giuliani’s dalliances with Iranian resistance groups.

But things certainly seem to be moving in a more warlike direction [9] and Trump’s personnel choices seem a poor fit for his stated policy preferences. When something similar happened under Ronald Reagan, conservative admirers of the president exhorted his aides to “Let Reagan be Reagan.” The columnist Joe Sobran eventually quipped, “Let someone else be Reagan.”

“Let Trump be Trump” is a battle cry of the 45th president’s populist admirers. (It’s also the title of a book by Trump campaign veterans Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.) The columnist Ann Coulter is probably ready to say, if she hasn’t already, “Let someone else be Trump.”

There are two key differences here, however. First, Reagan was himself when he ignored his more hawkish advisers and boosters at the tail end of the Cold War. On many critical foreign policy decisions, he was right and they were wrong.

Second, this president is already letting someone else be Trump—Bolton on foreign policy and Jared Kushner on immigration [10]. The results are different than what his supporters voted for and could be disastrous for the republic.

Either way, the buck does ultimately stop with the president, as Harry Truman said. Trump could have allowed Congress to reassert its constitutional war powers. Instead he vetoed the Yemen resolution, arguably the greatest bipartisan antiwar legislative triumph in a generation.

It is understandable that some George W. Bush retreads would make it into the next Republican administration. It is inexplicable that Never Trump neocon Elliot Abrams has been pulled from retirement to oversee Venezuela policy.

Trump has sought to end two wars—Afghanistan and Syria—without starting a major new one, unlike his two immediate predecessors. If he does not soon remind Bolton and company who is in charge instead of acting like an innocent bystander in his own White House, his foreign policy legacy will be very different—and the American people will likely let someone else be commander-in-chief.

W. James Antle III is editor of The American Conservative.

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "Reminder: Trump, Not Bolton, is the President"

#1 Comment By WorkingClass On May 14, 2019 @ 10:04 pm

I take no pleasure in saying this. I am a Deplorable. But Trump is one of them. The only other explanation is Trump is a moron.

I vote in Texas. Some say Texas will be a battleground state in 2020. If Bolton still has his job on election day I will devote the day to drinking.

#2 Comment By Tom On May 14, 2019 @ 10:24 pm

Reminder: Trump has never forgotten who is President.

#3 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On May 14, 2019 @ 10:38 pm

Whem, in 2015, I heard Trump quoted that he admired Bolton I took a foreboding pause. So he warned us he was going to hire Bolton. Did Trump actually like him, or was he told to like him by Sheldon Adeslon, etc. So maybe Trump had hus marching orders to hire him, but I would like to ask him was it worth it?

#4 Comment By Artyom Strelok On May 14, 2019 @ 11:23 pm

I was surprised to see a Carly Rae Jepsen reference in this article, but I can’t say I’m upset.

#5 Comment By Bullwinkle J. Moose On May 15, 2019 @ 2:45 am

Trump is using Bolton as the ‘bad cop’ to his ‘good cop’, same as he is doing with the China trade talks. Our Great Deal Maker will triumph and sweep the 2020 elections like he did in 2016. Jobs, prosperity, and border security will be ensured for the next generation.

We the People will vanquish the Beltway Bandits!

#6 Comment By HenionJD On May 15, 2019 @ 6:24 am

Does anyone in this government know what the hell is going on?

#7 Comment By George Hoffman On May 15, 2019 @ 6:47 am

I beg to differ on Reagan’s sagacity when it comes to issues of foreign policy vis-a-vis foreign interventions. His advisers were against him sending troops to Beirut, but yet he overrode their misgivings. On October 23,1983, a suicide bomber drove his truck up to the barracks and killed 241 Marines and wounded 60. It was the deadliest single-day death toll for the Marines since the Battle for Iwo Jima, the worst week since the Tet Offensive of 1968 (I served at a base hospital that got a ton of wounded Marine grunts from the Battle for Hue during my tour of duty which was horrific) and top this trifecta of disaster the worst terrorist attack against Americans prior to the 9/11 attacks. House Speaker Tip O’Neill observed, “I knew he was tough but I thought he was also smart.” Reagan was our first elected celebrity to hail from what FCC Commissioner Newton Minnow called that “vast wasteland” of television. It has only gotten worse with this current realty TV star occupying the White House. I have my fingers crossed that Trump doesn’t sleepwalk into World War Three as he skippers the ship of state onto the next shoal like a Captain Ahab on a bad acid trip looking for his White Whale that will nail his foreign policy legacy In history. While this plays outs in the Middle East, he and his other neocon clowns in their clown car thankfully have failed to do repeat of the Bay of Pigs in Venezuela. Never has our foreign policy for regime change been so schizophrenic and that includes GWB’s WMD debacle in the Iraq War. But this is what happens when you have baby boomer presidents who dodged the draft in the Vietnam War and yet want to go down in history as the reincarnation of Gen. George Patton.

#8 Comment By Sid On May 15, 2019 @ 7:48 am

Or stop the pretense and “Let Netanyahu be Trump”

#9 Comment By Liam On May 15, 2019 @ 8:10 am

“The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton”

I hope it actually has crystallized…normally, Don Trump’s dissatisfaction merely oozes for a while and then drains off. The most hopeful news item I’ve read in a while about him.

#10 Comment By Dan Green On May 15, 2019 @ 8:16 am

My guess is with the Marketing effort by the Bush administration to sell America on invading Iraq has left a clear message to todays politicians . War is out of favor. Am sure Trump is aware of that. Am sure the Generals are ready for a new war.

#11 Comment By Dan Stewart On May 15, 2019 @ 8:17 am

Had Trump said in his presidential campaign the John Bolton would be as National Security Advisor and Jared Kushner would set his immigration policy, he would not be president today.

#12 Comment By TomG On May 15, 2019 @ 8:56 am

I certainly don’t agree with Mr. Antle’s assertion that the Yemen resolution was arguably the greatest bipartisan antiwar legislative triumph in a generation. It could have been had the Republican majority over-ridden the veto, but alas they would only reassert their incompetence and willingness for unhinged executive over-reach.

#13 Comment By JeffK On May 15, 2019 @ 9:56 am

@Bullwinkle J. Moose says:
May 15, 2019 at 2:45 am

“Our Great Deal Maker will triumph and sweep the 2020 elections like he did in 2016. Jobs, prosperity, and border security will be ensured for the next generation.”

I’ve noticed a few of your postings here. I cannot remember the details, but this one makes me wonder. Are you serious, or is this sarcasm?

#14 Comment By Sid Finster On May 15, 2019 @ 10:03 am

Trump appears to be weak, stupid, reckless and easily manipulated because he is in fact weak, stupid, reckless and easily manipulated.

#15 Comment By JR On May 15, 2019 @ 10:58 am

You seem to be stretching awfully far to distance Trump from current Iran policy and Bolton, who is obviously just acting in exactly the way anyone who was listening to his boss for the past couple years would act. I would suggest you read all the articles in The American Conservative critical of Trump’s own position on Iran for some insight on this issue.

#16 Comment By phree On May 15, 2019 @ 11:30 am

Trump is the President who hired Bolton and knew or should have known exactly what he was getting. If Trump has to step in to stop the sabre rattling before it becomes war, that is just more evidence of his incompetence.

Boy I hope Bullwinkle is being facetious. If not, it just shows how deep the delusion goes.

#17 Comment By Collin On May 15, 2019 @ 11:36 am

My big problem with the Trump foreign policy is Trump talks very hawkish but will not be hawkish in with military intervention. And he hired Bolton and Pompeo to talk very hawkish and they seem bent on pursueing war tactics which Trump pulls back at the last moment. While this might have been effective the first couple years, I increasingly worried that this tactic could easily fail and lead to a nasty.

1) So the Bay Of Bolton coup in Venezuela came across as a half assed plan to force Maduro out. Unfortunately, this drew a line that Guiado is begging for US military intervention which lowers the chance of free elections (or Guiado victory) in the future. So Trump is stopping military action but I bet right now I bet China is gaining the people support with their aid.

2) With Iran Trump appears much more aggressive and probably a longer war than either Venezuela or Iraq. And they really are waving the red flag here, almost begging for Iranian action to the point that muted administration claims that Iran is behind oil tanker attacks.

What I don’t like is Trump loves edging towards war so sooner or later he is going to get it.

#18 Comment By Groucho On May 15, 2019 @ 12:55 pm

It’s hard to imagine anybody being less qualified for the office of president than Donald Trump. Anyone who still thinks that he is going to “drain the swamp“ and ride to the rescue of ordinary Americans is delusional. This should have been obvious to any thinking person shortly after he was elected when he made his cabinet appointments.

The first paragraph of this article says a lot. There is zero understanding of the complexity of the Venezuela situation. Nor is there any principled observance of international law and the sovereignty of states. Somebody told Don that it would be a good thing and easy-peasy to oust Maduro so away we go!

The real risk of course is Iran. As the war mongers in the administration continually push for confrontation it’s only a matter of time until there is some kind of conflict whether by design or accident. When this happens don’t expect Trump to be the voice of reason. He was manoeuvred into the missile strike on Syria based on an obvious false flag and he will respond the same way to Iran when the time comes. Iran however is not Syria. It is a large populous country and has lots of cards to play in the event of a US attack. Iran is also a key ally of Russia and China and they will not stand by and see chaos in Iran.

Trump is an abomination and a disgrace to the presidency. What does it say about the US political system when his opponent in the last election was almost certainly even worse?

#19 Comment By mohammad On May 15, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

A reminder: Netanyahu is the real president of the USA.

#20 Comment By EarlyBird On May 15, 2019 @ 1:16 pm

Trump is attempting to do a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine with Iran, with Bolton playing Bad Cop. He thinks it’s setting him up to “do a deal” with Iran. This is absurd, of course, given that the moment he go into office he reneged on the best deal and best chance for some sort of detente with Iran, America’s unnecessary enemy.

All the saber rattling, the “leaks” about 120,000 troops being sent to the region, and the recent false flag operation of ship sabotage in the Gulf, is pretty “on the nose” as they would say in Hollywood.

The trouble with all of this is that we could stumble into a real war with Iran, one Trumpolini doesn’t want, but one which the Israelis, Saudis and UAE desperately want. Of course, should it go badly – as it would – Trump would cut Bolton so fast his moustache would peel off.

#21 Comment By John S On May 15, 2019 @ 1:22 pm

“What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down; we can make a deal, a fair deal.”

I don’t expect that, after the mindless shredding of the nuclear deal, the Iranians think POTUS is worth their time.

“…his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires…”

Trump doesn’t have views. He doesn’t have ideas. Only impulses.

#22 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 15, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

I—like not a few others—assumed that Trump’s hiring of the mad, warmongering, neocon trio of Bolton, Pompeo, and Abrams was likely just another of many attempts to satisfy the Deep State’s hawkish foreign policy demands and thus persuade Mueller to drop the Russia hoax.

But now that the Russia hoax has been officially laid to rest, it’s time to get rid of the mad, warmongering, neocon trio of Bolton, Pompeo, and Abrams.

My latest email to the White House (I’m paraphrasing): I’ve been a staunch Trump supporter from the beginning. One of the biggest reasons I have supported Trump is because he promised not to get the US involved in any new Middle East wars. But now THE Trump administration is beating the drums of war with Iran. “If your administration takes the US into a new Middle East war—this time with Iran—I’m walking, Mr. President. I’m walking!”

Read my lips, Mr. President:

#23 Comment By polistra On May 15, 2019 @ 1:44 pm

Trump is a blogger. If he was President, we could see some indication that his wishes and commands are obeyed by at least one or two government employees. There is no such evidence because he is not in charge of anything except his Twitter account.

#24 Comment By Classicist On May 15, 2019 @ 1:47 pm

Trump is an ignorant narcissist who is happy to outsource policymaking to guys like Bolton, who are superficially “tough” and whom Trump believes make him look “tough,” and bonus points if liberals are on the record as not liking the guy (liberal animus being a chief fuel source for Trump’s self-esteem).

Then, when reporters point out to Trump that Bolton is actively undermining Trump’s own ostensible policies, Trump panics and says whatever he can to try to extricate himself from the situation with his own ego intact, including simple denial of the facts. But he won’t hold Bolton accountable, because Bolton’s function isn’t to provide sound national security advice, but to make Trump feel tough.

#25 Comment By JimDandy On May 15, 2019 @ 2:02 pm

I always assumed that he threw Bolton into his cabinet because it would confuse people (including his Neocon enemies) and give him options when he wants to scare foreign countries he’s negotiating with. Trump golfs with Rand Paul, too, let’s not forget. The problem, of course, is that our military/naval presence in the region gives rogue Mossad operatives or the Saudis opportunities for false flag Gulf of Tonkin scenarios. This is what Trump needs to watch out for above all right now.

#26 Comment By USMC0846 On May 15, 2019 @ 2:32 pm

Bolton has been trying to pick a fight with Iran since forever, there’s nothing new in that. As for Trump putting his foot down, well I guess we’ll see won’t we. He has a tendency to buckle when push comes to shove. Also the general malaise in this administration has been from the start that they really don’t know what the he’ll they’re doing on virtually every level.

#27 Comment By Cratylus On May 15, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

I agree with Pat Buchanan’s opinion expressed on various occasions. Trump ran on a platform of peace and prosperity. Today unemployment is low (including for Blacks to record lows), wages are edging up and the DJIA has climbed from 17,000 to above 25,000, almost a 50% increase (I wish I had invested in 2016.).
BUT if Trump does not deliver a trade deal that helps the farmland and ends the trade war, he will lose in 2020.

Trump also ran on a platform of peace. Whereas W began 2 wars and Obama added 5 more, Trump has added no new wars!! He has however not exited Afghanistan and Syria yet – as promised. He began negotiations with NK but they are stalled thanks to Bolton. And the war in Yemen goes on. And there is a threat of war with Iran. Iran and Yemen demonstrate again Trump’s Achilles heel which was always his slavish devotion to Israel.
If Trump gets out of Syria and Afghanistan, does not get into a war with Iran and moves ahead further on NK, he can win. Some peace dealings with Russia would be a bonus. BUT if he starts a war with Iran or reopens the war on Syria, he will lose.
If the peace forces in the Dem Party or close to it are serious, then if Trump delivers as above, they will be unthinking fools not to vote for Trump over Biden.
Trump’s path to victory is clear and he is in control of it right now. One false flag laid to Iran, and he is out of control.
The Donald should dial John Bolton right now – not later – and say “You’re fired.”

#28 Comment By Sid Finster On May 15, 2019 @ 3:41 pm

@JimDandy: Bolton is National Security Adviser, not a Cabinet member.

For one thing, National Security Adviser is not subject to Senate confirmation.

#29 Comment By Mont D. Law On May 15, 2019 @ 6:20 pm

If you walk into a barbershop enough times, eventually you’ll get a haircut.

If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz we will see what we will see. Trump is a delusional bully that can’t stand being thwarted.


#30 Comment By Archrevenant On May 15, 2019 @ 6:37 pm

Maybe it is time to stop falling for the cheap trick that allows Trump to pursue his worst policies while blaming them on someone else (Bolton, Kushner, etcetera.

Trump IS the President, this is HIS chosen National Security Adviser, and the war with Iran is HIS POLICY.

#31 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 15, 2019 @ 7:06 pm

W. James Antle III: ”Channeling pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, Trump may be beginning to recognize that his administration’s stance toward Iran is crazy and that Tehran should call him, maybe.”

Like Artyom Strelok (May 14, 11:23 pm), “I was surprised to see a Carly Rae Jepsen reference in this article.”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe” is closing in on 1.2 billion Youtube views (!), but I wonder how many people reading this article “got” the reference.

Are you a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, Mr. Antle?

#32 Comment By JimDandy On May 16, 2019 @ 12:08 am

That is true, Sid Finster.

#33 Comment By didi On May 16, 2019 @ 8:02 am

Captains of ocean-going ships go through many years of training. What I have observed since January 20 until now is an utterly untrained captain on the bridge of the USS USA. This captain appears to be snoozing in his cabin too often and too long thereby allowing many pretend-captains to crowd the bridge and fight about who is allowed to steer.
Consequently this captain has hired and fired numerous officers but, alas, he seems to be still utterly unqualified to sail that ship.
Is it therefore really a wonder that the USS USA swerves almost continuously from left to right and never seems to sail in a straight line? And frequently loads then unloads its cannons?
If this were not so frightening one could chuckle about this pretend-governance.

#34 Comment By TheSnark On May 16, 2019 @ 11:08 am

The issue is management, or, more specifically, lack thereof. Trump is a terrible manager. He does not pay attention to details, he does not understand the issues (and does not try to learn), he delegates without direction or supervision, and he highly is susceptible to flattery.

He also does not understand that “maximum pressure” in business leads to lawsuits. In international politics it can lead to war.

At least the wars started under Bush and Obama were intentional. It seems that if we start one under Trump it will be by mistake.

#35 Comment By Richard Steven Hack On May 16, 2019 @ 4:05 pm

Anything Trump says is a waste of time. And it’s a waste of time to analyze it because there is no real thought behind anything he says. He turns on a dime based on whatever he saw on TV recently.

I mean, he didn’t even attend the briefing by the Pentagon on sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East. Or so he claims, a claim I doubt. So he’s either lying or he’s so out of the loop on what the neocons are doing that he doesn’t even know a war is being designed.

The reality is that all this talk about “Iranian proxies” is being done to set that concept in the public’s mind. And that is being done because the real target is the biggest “Iranian proxy” in the region – Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah is the only thing preventing a war with Iran. Israel can’t afford to start an Iran war as long as Hezbollah has its missile arsenal. And Israel can’t degrade Hezbollah on its own. It needs US troops and US strategic bombers to do that, things Israel doesn’t have.

So the neocons are pumping up the notion of “Iranian proxies” so when Israel foments a false flag incident on the Lebanese border, it can claim it was attacked and get the US to join it in attacking Lebanon. Congress will be forced to accede to Trump starting a war in Lebanon, which then can be extended by Israel and the neocons into Syria and eventually Iran.

Trump has been convince or will be convinced by the neocons that he can get a “poll bump” before the 2020 elections by destroying a “terrorist group that threatens Israel.”

Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant. The neocons can convince him of that and they don’t care whether he gets re-elected or impeached. Either way they get their war with Iran, either with Trump in his next four years or with a new President (other than Tulsi Gabbard, anyway) or they get the Iran war by osmosis of the current Lebanon war by extending it into Syria and then Iran.

So we’re looking at another “summer war” either this year or next year. And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

#36 Comment By Eileen Kuch On May 16, 2019 @ 4:35 pm

I fully agree with you, Kurt. Perhaps Trump took on Bonkers Bolton, Pompous Pompeo and Creepy Demon Abrams in his administration to satisfy the Deep State’s hawkish foreign policy demands and thus persuade Mueller to drop the Russia hoax.
Now, Trump’s beating the drums of war with Iran after having promised to stay out of any further wars of aggression. “If your administration takes us into another Mideast war – this time, with Iran, I’m walking, Mr. President! I’m walking!”
Read my lips too, Mr. President:

#37 Comment By Anthony Pun On May 17, 2019 @ 5:10 am

I recently came across Col Larry Wilkerson articles about the lies manufactured by the then Secretary of State Colin Powers and under the administration of President George Bush, for the American people to justify the war in Iraq. And the Colonel is saying the same thing about the propaganda manufactured by the Administration (pointing at Bolton) to goad America to war with Iran.
The rhetoric pumped by Bolton seems to be contradicted by Trumps recent comments which telegraphs a message of perhaps a backdown by the administration.
The question naturally arises on “Who is in charge at the White House, Trump or Bolton?”
Or the same game is played (Good Cop, Bad Cop) with Bolton & Pompeo raising tensions in the Persian Gulf and talking themselves into a war with Iran whilst Trump wants to pull out from the Middle East.
One thing for sure, that is, the US action in protecting her global hegemony in geopolitics and trade is consistent but the approach is like a see-saw, and with each upward swing, we are being led closer to WW3, and on the downward swing, we breathe a sigh of relief.
The same good cop bad cop game is also played with DPRK and Venezuela. This reminds me of the “Ping Pong diplomacy” of the Kissinger era but we should now call the current foreign policy as the “Ping Pong” war teasing game. One slip on either side – BOOM!!
The question is “How much of the roller coaster ride can the world tolerate before the rail car jump off the track into MAD?”

#38 Comment By Good morning Iran! On May 17, 2019 @ 8:36 am

This is probably a good time also to remind people that Trump, not Benjamin Netanyahu, is president.

It seems that there’s a lot of confusion on that point, especially because everyone knows that Bolton is a stand-in for Israel’s interest in American foreign policy.

Trump already wasted the first half of his presidency advancing Netanyahu’s Middle East agenda and doing political favors for him. He did this instead of building the wall, stopping immigration, building infrastructure in America, and the rest. And he did it at America’s expense. For example, he gave Netanyahu a check for more money than the cost of the Wall, and then he had the nerve to complain that he didn’t have enough money left to build it.

Now he’s letting Bolton make noises about a war with Iran, something Netanyahu has pushed for decades.

Will Trump waste the second half of his presidency on Israel too?

What happened to “America First”?

#39 Comment By JeffK On May 19, 2019 @ 8:33 am

@Good morning Iran! says:
May 17, 2019 at 8:36 am

From your tagline I assumed you were alluding to Robin Williams/Adrian Cronauer “Good Morning Vietnam” rant.

Nobody beats Robin Williams.

#40 Comment By Twodees Partain On May 26, 2019 @ 9:16 am

Mr. Antle, if you’re saying that Trump claims he was “misled”, isn’t that an admission that he is being led by Bolton, et al?