Never mind about John Bolton. Trump's ego could force a North Korea deal anyway

Many people are understandably alarmed by President Trump's appointment of unrepentant George W. Bush-era hawk John B...

Posted: Mar 29, 2018 12:53 PM
Updated: Mar 29, 2018 12:53 PM

Many people are understandably alarmed by President Trump's appointment of unrepentant George W. Bush-era hawk John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser to replace General H.R. McMaster, who is unceremoniously marching off into the sunset on the heels of his predecessor, General Michael Flynn.

Is Donald Trump recanting his recanting on the Iraq War and belatedly throwing his lot in with George W. Bush and his neoconservative war council?

In 2003, Bolton rode in the vanguard of the war party, pushing to topple Saddam Hussein on the specious grounds that Iraq was pursuing nuclear and chemical weapons and in cahoots with al Qaeda. Unchastened by the Iraq debacle and the exposure of the bogus rationales for the war, an out-of-power Bolton has sniped at the Obama administration's Iran nuclear agreement and beat the drums for war to denuclearize North Korea.

While putting Bolton back in power may signal the demise of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran, I am less worried, ironically, about the prospects for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. Indeed, I can see a way that the President's ego, combined with his penchant for ignoring his advisers, could advance a diplomatic solution to the tinderbox straddling both sides of the 38th Parallel even while they drive the last nail in the coffin of the Iran nuclear deal.

This would be a shame, given that the JCPOA has broad international support among our allies and other important powers such as Russia and China. Like most arms control agreements, it is not perfect, but most of its supposed defects involve things like Iranian meddling in other countries, support for terrorist organizations, or development of ballistic missiles which were not covered by the original agreement.

Most knowledgeable observers inside and outside the United States concede, even if grudgingly, that Iran has abided by the narrow terms of the agreement itself.

So why would President Trump discard a good agreement with Iran and pursue what is likely to be a far more flawed one with North Korea? Such an approach makes little strategic sense, but strategy has little to do with how the President thinks about the world. Rather, our Art-of-the-Deal President operates primarily on a personal level.

While he hates former President Obama's Iran deal, primarily because he, himself, did not cut it, I could imagine him reaching a far worse deal with North Korea which he would love, warts and all, because it was his.

To be sure, there are also more credible reasons for him to pursue a diplomatic, rather than military, solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. It has become apparent in recent months that, despite the President's badgering of his military advisers for a plan to pre-emptively knock out the Hermit Kingdom's budding nuclear arsenal, the best he can get out of them are plans to give Pyongyang a bloody nose through symbolic strikes, hoping that will scare Kim into surrendering his arsenal.

Nor can America's military planners assure the President that even a reasonably successful first strike on Kim's nuclear arsenal would prevent a catastrophic conventional war that would kill hundreds of thousands of Korean civilians. This realization that their capitol Seoul and millions of their citizens are within range of tens of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces has led our South Korean allies to push hard for jaw-jaw rather than war-war, to borrow Winston Churchill's famous phrase.

China is joined at the hip with North Korea in a dysfunctional marriage of inconvenience, in which the Middle Kingdom provides its wayward younger brother with most of its food and energy supplies to avoid having an American ally on its border and preserve the last shred of its increasingly threadbare international Communist legitimacy. So it would also welcome a deal that ends the slow-motion crisis between Washington and Pyongyang.

Finally, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's flurry of diplomacy with the South and hasty train trip to visit his patrons in Beijing could signal that North Korea's foremost Dennis Rodman fan may also want to play Let's Make a Deal.

Predicting what President Trump will likely do is as fraught an endeavor as divining the murky palace politics of "little rocket man's" regime. But assuming that ego trumps strategy in Washington these days, the desire to cut a North Korean nuclear deal makes sense of some of the recent puzzling moves from the President, particularly the indecent alacrity with which he accepted Kim's olive branch delivered via Seoul a couple of weeks ago.

Incoming Trump National Security Adviser Bolton will surely not want to play along with this diplomatic Kabuki dance, which is unlikely to roll back North Korea's nuclear program. Indeed, most analysts think that in exchange for an easing of the crippling economic sanctions, the best President Trump is likely to get is a "freeze" on additional North Korean missile tests. This is hardly a great deal from Bolton's global regime change perspective or even compared with the JCPOA.

But if I am right that Trump's ego will trump Bolton's hardline strategic agenda, any flaws in an agreement with North Korea may be irrelevant.

Ironically, this might be one instance in which the President's well-documented penchant for bypassing his advisers may favor diplomacy. Indeed, a cynic might wonder whether Bolton's appointment was in part Trump's effort to protect his right flank as he pursues a historic, if flawed, North Korean nuclear "deal."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500286

Reported Deaths: 9968
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34281537
DeSoto32039402
Hinds31911626
Jackson24466379
Rankin21971390
Lee15501235
Madison14566279
Jones13825242
Forrest13438250
Lauderdale11984316
Lowndes11003188
Lamar10510135
Pearl River9494237
Lafayette8542139
Hancock7727126
Washington7418157
Oktibbeha7139131
Monroe6765176
Warren6679176
Pontotoc6655102
Neshoba6625206
Panola6511131
Marshall6460134
Bolivar6302148
Union601294
Pike5815152
Alcorn5662101
Lincoln5431134
George496579
Scott472198
Tippah468381
Prentiss466581
Leflore4654144
Itawamba4628105
Adams4584119
Tate4579109
Copiah447792
Simpson4440116
Yazoo443687
Wayne439172
Covington428694
Sunflower4235105
Marion4225107
Coahoma4154104
Leake408088
Newton381679
Grenada3703108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359492
Attala331089
Jasper329565
Winston314091
Clay307676
Chickasaw299467
Clarke292194
Calhoun278945
Holmes267887
Smith263350
Yalobusha233347
Tallahatchie226851
Walthall218763
Greene218248
Lawrence212440
Perry205256
Amite204755
Webster202646
Noxubee186440
Montgomery179456
Jefferson Davis171442
Carroll168738
Tunica159439
Benton148438
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132237
Humphreys129238
Franklin119428
Quitman106428
Wilkinson104839
Jefferson94434
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 815989

Reported Deaths: 15311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1144621915
Mobile723961330
Madison52114694
Shelby37488348
Baldwin37167547
Tuscaloosa35013606
Montgomery34031734
Lee23177245
Calhoun22190476
Morgan20719376
Etowah19774497
Marshall18277302
Houston17333411
St. Clair15967339
Cullman15365292
Limestone15270198
Elmore15126284
Lauderdale14205294
Talladega13783276
DeKalb12598260
Walker11142369
Blount10132175
Autauga9910146
Jackson9819182
Coffee9190191
Dale8874185
Colbert8803201
Tallapoosa7063198
Escambia6755130
Covington6695184
Chilton6608161
Russell626659
Franklin5947105
Chambers5563142
Marion4966126
Dallas4902200
Clarke474083
Pike4722105
Geneva4567126
Winston4493103
Lawrence4286117
Bibb423686
Barbour356576
Marengo337489
Monroe330863
Randolph328263
Butler325396
Pickens314182
Henry311865
Hale310688
Cherokee301660
Fayette291379
Washington251151
Cleburne247160
Crenshaw244075
Clay241268
Macon231763
Lamar219547
Conecuh185753
Coosa179439
Lowndes174464
Wilcox167839
Bullock151644
Perry138440
Sumter132038
Greene126244
Choctaw87827
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