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Trump Suddenly Discovers He Is Surrounded by Warmongers

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton at the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A week after we heard about Trump’s “frustration” with Bolton over Venezuela, The Washington Postreports on Trump’s apparent “frustration” with Bolton over Iran:

But President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, according to several U.S. officials.

If Trump genuinely doesn’t want conflict with Iran, he should be more than frustrated with his advisers. He should be livid and he should have been demanding their resignations weeks or months ago. The fact that he hasn’t done any of that tells us that his complaints don’t amount to much. Trump is responsible for appointing Bolton, and if he doesn’t like how Bolton has been mismanaging U.S. foreign policy in his name there is a very simple solution of telling him to take a hike. It would be slightly encouraging if Trump were prepared to act on this reported frustration with Bolton, but the article makes clear that Bolton’s job is still not in jeopardy. According to the report, “his discontent with his national security adviser is not near the levels it reached with Rex Tillerson,” so it seems Bolton won’t be going anywhere for a while. If that’s correct, Trump’s grumbling to the press about his frustration is not much better than empty venting.

The comparison with Tillerson is telling. I think Tillerson did a bad job as Secretary of State, but he mostly strove to follow Trump’s wishes and suffered repeated humiliations when he was undercut and sabotaged by none other than the president himself. Bolton has consistently pursued his own agenda regardless of what Trump has claimed to want, and on Syria, Venezuela, and Iran we keep hearing how he had exceeded his authority. Instead of being reined in after the Syria debacle at the end of last year, Bolton has been given wide latitude in pursuing two regime change policies in Venezuela and Iran. Despite all this, Trump’s discontent with Bolton hasn’t yet reached the same level as it did with Tillerson. Trump is practically inviting his appointees to do whatever they want without having to fear any repercussions from him. Trump is the president, but he is an exceptionally weak one who lets his appointees run amok at great risk to U.S. security and Trump’s own political fortunes. When they threaten to entangle the U.S. in one or more unnecessary wars, the most that he is willing to do is have people leak stories about his annoyance to the media.

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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