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Issues & Insights

John Bolton’s Art Of The Non-Deal

I&I Editorial

What it takes to survive for long in the Trump White House would fill a tome that may command a seven-figure advance for whoever ends up being qualified to write it. But whatever now-ex National Security Adviser John Bolton ends up writing might solve an even more perplexing mystery: What is really at the heart of this president’s foreign policy?

It cannot be denied that Donald Trump is a hawk, despite his rhetoric sometimes indicating otherwise. He backed large increases in Pentagon spending during his first two years and this year focused on out-maneuvering the Democrats’ majority in the House on federal budget caps to get another increase for fiscal 2020, irking fiscal conservatives as well as dovish liberals. And, of course, Trump used force last year against Syria.

He has also risked military conflict with Iran over scrapping the nuclear deal President Barack Obama agreed to, driving the left to warn of a spiral of dire consequences.

But there is also the Donald Trump whose son-in-law Jared Kushner aspires to solve the unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Elements of Kushner’s proposal that were floated in June, despite its including a $50 billion handout, were rejected out of hand by Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.

There is the Donald Trump who decided to be the first U.S. president to negotiate face-to-face with a North Korean ruler, despite the risks of it ending in monumental embarrassment for the United States. And who now seeks an open-ended meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose constant smile hides a long history of shrewdly practicing anti-Western deceit at the negotiating table.

It’s no secret to anyone that Trump likes to win at that same negotiating table, particularly when the odds are against victory. “One of the keys to thinking big is total focus,” his “The Art of The Deal,” written more than 30 years ago, says. “I think of it almost as a controlled neurosis, which is a quality I’ve noticed in many highly successful entrepreneurs.” In New York real estate, Trump adds, “you are dealing with some of the sharpest, toughest, and most vicious people in the world. I happen to love to go up against these guys, and I love to beat them.”

Not Dazzled By The Negotiating Table

Bolton, on the other hand, has made it clear that the world’s most vicious rulers, such as Rouhani and the ayatollah who rules over him, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, can be negotiated with only when their backs are against the wall – and even then they might not ever accept the terms the U.S. should demand.

“The deal is poorly negotiated and vaguely worded,” Bolton wrote of Obama’s Iran deal before he joined the Trump administration, expressing sentiments with which Trump would certainly agree. “Obama failed to demand baseline inspection of the Iran program’s military dimensions before inking the deal, and the IAEA [the United Nation’s nuclear weapons watchdog] is now routinely denied access to regime military facilities,” Bolton noted.

“Trying belatedly to ‘strictly enforce’ such a deal is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. The saying that ‘Iran has never won a war, and never lost a negotiation’ surely applies with full force here,” he added.

“Nor is it possible to ‘fix’ the deal. A conceivably acceptable Iran agreement would require truly intrusive international inspections, as far as imaginable from those permitted under Obama’s deal. Iran (like North Korea or any authoritarian society) could simply not accept the kind of international presence required to prove compliance. So doing would undermine the regime itself. Fixing the deal is out of the question,” was Bolton’s conclusion.

It was undoubtedly this kind of sharply informed toughness that attracted Trump to Bolton. But there is no doubt the president gets quite the thrill from sitting at a deal table with villains; so much so that he might even be prone to wishful thinking that could lead to an unwillingness to walk away from a flawed deal which could bring a few years of personal accolades, but ultimately danger for the free world.

Bolton, by contrast, has never been dazzled by dealmaking and might be well-warranted in entitling his account of his time with Trump, “The Art of The Non-Deal.” The president has now lost this important force against his own decades-long inclinations toward wheeler-dealering, and perhaps toward believing he always has the ability to produce negotiated victory in the end. Not a pleasant thought on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.

— Written by Thomas McArdle


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5 comments

  • I see Trump as one who probes as far as he can go into the possibililty of a good deal, but is ready to walk away if his sticks and carrots (which include flattery of the other side) don’t move things in the right direction. Some of this probing looks foolhardy, but keep in mind that he’ll abandon an initiative that’s gong nowhere, or he’ll put it on the shelf. This kind of probing is foreign to someone like Bolton who looks at it as Step One towards surrender.

  • Te president certainly has his flaws. I preferred a different candidate in the primaries.

    I think we can see that his approach is preferred over the average democrat candidates values though

  • I really want to hear Trump’s apologists hem and haw about this. This president actually was going to invite the Taliban to Camp David. Think about that for a second. This is a terrorist group responsible for thousands of American deaths (military and civilian) and this president thought this was a good idea.

    So now instead of Bolton, we still have the no-talent Kushner for some reason controlling all the major levers foreign policy. What is his background, other than he is the son-in-law, and was involved with corrupt real estate deals. How and why are Republicans defending any of this? Has the Trump cult of personality truly changed the party forever?

  • You are clearly going to have to define what you mean by “hawk” – as in eager for war That is entirely different than – maybe the opposite of – building military and defensive capability through budgetary support. “Peace through strength” is totally opposed to the feckless Obama rushing out to intervene (leading from behind, of course), in whatever little 3rd world fray Susan Rice has set her sights on today. If you intend to so badly abuse the meaning of words like “hawk”, then at least give your readers a chance to make sense of what you are really saying, by defining those terms.

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