John Bolton's political utility

National security adviser John Bolton is for all intents and purposes an über-hawk.  In a June 23 interview on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, President Trump summed it up nicely when he quipped: "John Bolton is absolutely a hawk.  If it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time, okay?"  The president then added that he has Bolton in his Cabinet because he likes to hear "both sides."  That's a commonsense thing for the commander in chief to do. 

Recently, Bolton had his advice rejected when the Iranians shot down a sophisticated U.S. drone in international airspace.  At that time, Bolton urged a punishing military strike against the mullahs.  After listening to Bolton present his case, the president ultimately said "no."

Bolton got his wings further clipped with the president's visit to North Korea last week to meet with Kim Jong-un.  He did not accompany the president there.  Instead, Bolton was sent to Mongolia, of all places.  This is probably because Bolton is at odds with the Trump's general approach to North Korea.  According to the New York Times, the president favors an incremental approach.  A first step would be for President Kim to close down his nuclear facilities, thus preventing any more fissile material being made.  This would leave Pyongyang's existing arsenal in place.  In return,  the U.S. would then make some concessions to ease living conditions in North Korea.  From there, the next step could be taken to denuclearize North Korea. 

Trump views this nuclear problem as an elephant that needs to be eaten one bite at a time.  Bolton, on the other hand, has been urging President Trump to settle for nothing less than a grand deal — swallow the elephant whole.  He has long insisted that North Korea dismantle their nuclear program and give up their entire arsenal of warheads before getting any rewards.  And he's been vocal about this.

Bolton is out of step with Trump.  So why is the man even the administration?  Yes, so the president can hear both sides on a pending policy decision and have options.  But other hawks like secretary of state Mike Pompeo can do that just as well.  And Bolton, because of his reputation, might be of marginal use to keep enemies of the U.S. off balance.  But there's yet another way of looking at things.  Bolton could serve a political purpose to Trump.

The man is a neo-conservative champion and a lightning rod to those who oppose military interventions and wars.  That could give him political usefulness for Trump.  This is speculation, but suppose at an appropriate time in the 2020 campaign, Trump jettisons his national security adviser.  This would gratify Trump's base and could also tip many fence-sitters to the president's side, depending how vocal and warlike Bolton is between now and then.  Timing may not be everything, but it definitely is important.

Some might argue there's a danger in keeping Bolton in the Cabinet, that he might lead Trump down the wrong path.  That's doubtful.  Trump by any measure is his own man.  Hopefully, Bolton won't jump ship before Trump can unload him at the opportune time.

National security adviser John Bolton is for all intents and purposes an über-hawk.  In a June 23 interview on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, President Trump summed it up nicely when he quipped: "John Bolton is absolutely a hawk.  If it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time, okay?"  The president then added that he has Bolton in his Cabinet because he likes to hear "both sides."  That's a commonsense thing for the commander in chief to do. 

Recently, Bolton had his advice rejected when the Iranians shot down a sophisticated U.S. drone in international airspace.  At that time, Bolton urged a punishing military strike against the mullahs.  After listening to Bolton present his case, the president ultimately said "no."

Bolton got his wings further clipped with the president's visit to North Korea last week to meet with Kim Jong-un.  He did not accompany the president there.  Instead, Bolton was sent to Mongolia, of all places.  This is probably because Bolton is at odds with the Trump's general approach to North Korea.  According to the New York Times, the president favors an incremental approach.  A first step would be for President Kim to close down his nuclear facilities, thus preventing any more fissile material being made.  This would leave Pyongyang's existing arsenal in place.  In return,  the U.S. would then make some concessions to ease living conditions in North Korea.  From there, the next step could be taken to denuclearize North Korea. 

Trump views this nuclear problem as an elephant that needs to be eaten one bite at a time.  Bolton, on the other hand, has been urging President Trump to settle for nothing less than a grand deal — swallow the elephant whole.  He has long insisted that North Korea dismantle their nuclear program and give up their entire arsenal of warheads before getting any rewards.  And he's been vocal about this.

Bolton is out of step with Trump.  So why is the man even the administration?  Yes, so the president can hear both sides on a pending policy decision and have options.  But other hawks like secretary of state Mike Pompeo can do that just as well.  And Bolton, because of his reputation, might be of marginal use to keep enemies of the U.S. off balance.  But there's yet another way of looking at things.  Bolton could serve a political purpose to Trump.

The man is a neo-conservative champion and a lightning rod to those who oppose military interventions and wars.  That could give him political usefulness for Trump.  This is speculation, but suppose at an appropriate time in the 2020 campaign, Trump jettisons his national security adviser.  This would gratify Trump's base and could also tip many fence-sitters to the president's side, depending how vocal and warlike Bolton is between now and then.  Timing may not be everything, but it definitely is important.

Some might argue there's a danger in keeping Bolton in the Cabinet, that he might lead Trump down the wrong path.  That's doubtful.  Trump by any measure is his own man.  Hopefully, Bolton won't jump ship before Trump can unload him at the opportune time.