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Bolton’s Growing Influence

Donald Trump and his National Security Advisor John Bolton during NATO Summit 2018. Gints Ivuskans/shutterstock

Curt Mills reports on Bolton’s extensive and expanding influence in the Trump administration:

But in the meantime, in return for his occasional, minor humilation, Bolton enjoys wide-ranging authority to craft the national security policy of the United States, behind the scenes. He’s the contra Mattis; instead of resigning in moral protest, Bolton wears the mask of obsequiousness, while subtly nudging a reluctant president toward a more tough-minded line.

We have seen how Bolton has been able to delay and even partially undo one of the president’s initial decisions in Syria (all the while emphasizing that the president’s decision was being faithfully carried out), and his fingerprints are all over the demise of the INF Treaty. Now we are starting to see the same thing happen with North Korea policy. Bolton’s combination of shameless flattery of the president and relentless promotion of hard-line policies threaten to usher in one or more foreign policy debacles in the remaining years of the Trump presidency.

The National Security Advisor is horrible at his official job of organizing and running a competent policy process, but he has been able to exploit the ensuing dysfunction to advance his own agenda. He will rarely contradict Trump in public, and even when he does he will deny that he is doing it, and that affords him the luxury of being to craft his own foreign policy with as little input from the rest of the administration as possible. The predictable result is an increasingly confrontational and reckless set of policies. Because he doesn’t advertise his influence and consistently minimizes his role in public statements, he avoids wounding Trump’s vanity and secures his ability to lead Trump where he wants him to go. Judging from Bolton’s record, that means new wars and explicit policies of regime change.

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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