Home/Daniel Larison/The Weak President and the Fanatic

The Weak President and the Fanatic

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

There is an interesting detail in this New York Timesreport on the Trump administration’s Iran policy:

Mr. Trump is less frustrated with Mr. Bolton over his handling of Iran — he favors the tougher measures as a warning to Tehran [bold mine-DL] — than over the evolving narrative that his national security adviser is leading the administration’s policy in the Middle East, according to three officials.

The president, they said, is well-versed and comfortable with the administration’s recent steps [bold mine-DL], which have included imposing increasingly onerous sanctions on Iran and designating the military wing of the government, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a foreign terrorist organization.

It seems that Trump’s reported frustration with Bolton doesn’t stem from unhappiness with what Bolton has been doing, but comes instead from the perception that Bolton is running the administration’s foreign policy. The “narrative” about Bolton exists because the National Security Advisor is leading the administration’s policy in the Middle East, and he seems to be leading administration policies in Venezuela and North Korea as well. The quickest way to kill the “narrative” would be to get rid of Bolton and undo some or all of the policies he has supported, but none of that seems likely to happen anytime soon.

Trump and Bolton don’t appear to have a strong disagreement over Iran policy. The report says Trump is “comfortable” with what they have done and he “favors” the measures that Bolton has taken. The president doesn’t seem to mind letting Bolton do whatever he wants as long as it doesn’t make Trump look like he’s not in control. The article says Trump has stated that he doesn’t want war, but he is in this position because he has signed off on the agenda of a warmonger whom he continues to entrust with running administration foreign policy. If he doesn’t want war, he shouldn’t have a hard-line regime change fanatic as his National Security Advisor, or at the very least he should stop agreeing to almost everything that the fanatic wants. As long as Bolton remains where he is and is allowed to have free rein, the Trump administration will keep flailing and blundering into avoidable international crises, several of which could get the U.S. into an unnecessary war.

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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