The end of John Bolton’s stint as National Security Advisor highlighted some of the most interesting aspects of the Trump administration, good and bad. The fact such a brash and outspoken hawk like Bolton lasted even eighteen months in a Trump administration dedicated to face-to-face dealing with any and all bad actors speaks well of Trump’s tolerance for disagreement.
What Trump apparently cannot tolerate is people who disagree with him after his decision is made. Reports are that Bolton blew a gasket when he found out Trump had planned secret negotiations with the Taliban at Camp David. This is understandable. The Taliban are dreadful uglies who not only tortured the people of Afghanistan with their Islam-o-madness but also allowed the Saudi terrorists who struck us on 9/11 to stage their operations from Afghan soil. To have them drop by for tea on the 9/11 anniversary would have been a moral error and a PR disaster. If Bolton had anything to do with stopping that, Trump should buy him a sports car as a parting gift.
But other Bolton ideas are not as admirable. He’s never met an evil tyrant he didn’t want to overthrow and, as satisfying as that thought can be, American blood and treasure cannot be squandered on every battle everywhere. Given the law of unintended consequences, such good acts can often bring very bad results, especially in a devil’s jigsaw like the Middle East.
Trump’s approach is different. Clearly, he reduces all geo-politics to relationships. He doesn’t think, “I am president and should therefore speak with moral rectitude.” He thinks, “Let me butter up this fat, crazy North Korean guy and maybe I can charm him into giving up his missile program.” This sometimes has a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect, as when he sings the praises of mobsters like Putin and madmen Like Kim Jong Un. But I think the hawkish Sen. Lindsay Graham shows real wisdom when he talks about ignoring Trump’s methods and focusing on results.
“I think Bolton looked at Trump through the traditional foreign policy lens,” Graham told Fox News’s Bret Baer. “I’ve abandoned that. You know the conventional wisdom: you don’t talk to bad guys or you elevate Kim Jong Un. I don’t care if President Trump and Kim Jong Un go on vacation. If that’s what it takes to get him to give up the nuclear weapons, I’m okay with personal diplomacy that’s unconditional. I’m okay with talking with the Iranians as long as we get a better deal … Everybody before Trump: how well did it work out?”
That said, Trump can be petty and cruel in ways that genuinely hurt the country and his cause. He tweeted that he had fired Bolton when Bolton’s story — that he resigned — is clearly more believable. He treats the people who work for him badly, criticizes and bullies them in public, fires them in humiliating ways. Many of them — James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Bolton — deserve better, even if they made mistakes or didn’t fit the job. They are accomplished people who should be treated with respect. Abusing them makes it all the less likely Trump will be able to recruit the kind of advisors he needs to keep him steady. Even a squirrely little weasel like James Comey should’ve been fired more politely. It might have saved us all a lot of trouble.
But beyond all that, there is one thing I find tremendously reassuring. The arguments between Trump and Bolton, between Mike Pompeo and Bolton, between Rand Paul and Lindsay Graham — these are big boy arguments, serious issues being addressed in a serious way by serious men. This is not Barack Obama pulling out of Iraq with no care for the consequences or “surging” in Afghanistan with no plan for victory, or scuttling a U.S. drug investigation in order to make a truly stupid deal with Iran or signing a Paris Accord that does absolutely nothing but make the world’s leaders look like posturing adolescents.
Trump’s White House may be chaotic, and Trump may behave badly at times, but heaven forbid we should hand these dangerous issues over to Joe Biden — who has already proved his incompetence by supporting the Iraq pullout — or Elizabeth Warren, who has stopped talking about anything that resembles reality at all.
As always with Trump, he is blessed in his enemies. Their ideas are so bad, that his are well worth trying, even when his behavior is borderline appalling.