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Bolton the Ideologue

There was an important detail in this article on Bolton and the National Security Council that merits a few comments:

But before he resigned, the defense secretary wrote a sharply worded letter to Bolton, insisting that the paucity of meetings was crippling the policy process. Mattis was particularly upset that not a single principals committee meeting had been held to discuss U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, the INF [bold mine-DL].

There have not been many of these meetings since Bolton took over as National Security Advisor, and this has been most noticeable for some of the most important decisions that Trump has taken as president. There weren’t any meetings held to discuss abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and there weren’t any held to discuss quitting the INF Treaty. Major administration foreign policy decisions have been made without serious consideration of their costs and potential pitfalls, and that’s because Bolton doesn’t want those costs and pitfalls to be considered.

Anthony Blinken wrote about this earlier this year, and he explained that the lack of these meetings increases Bolton’s control over policy:

Under Mr. Bolton, the National Security Council headed by the president, the Principals’ Committee headed by Mr. Bolton and the Deputies Committee, which I once led and which coordinates policy deliberations, have gone into deep hibernation.

Some combination of these committees typically met multiple times a day. Now, it is reportedly once or twice a week at most. The result is greater control of the policy process for Mr. Bolton and fewer messy meetings in which someone might challenge his wisdom. Mr. Mattis, who once complained about death by meetings, protested to Mr. Bolton about the lack of them.

Bolton has no interest in hearing dissenting views, and he certainly doesn’t want to present those views to the president. He does a truly terrible job of running a policy process that presents the president with a full range of views and options because he long ago decided what the policy should be. Bolton hated both the INF Treaty and the JCPOA, and he was determined to get the U.S. out of both. Why would he bother consulting with other members of the administration when they might have a different opinion? The result is that an ideologue answerable to no one but the president has acquired unusually great influence over the substance of major foreign policy decisions, and all the while he keeps up the pretense that he is merely an adviser.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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