The Trump Doctrine has never been all that beholden to things like policy or needing to know where countries are. But a new report from Axios on Trump’s relationship with national-security adviser John Bolton further reveals just how off-the-cuff the president’s foreign-policy understanding is.
“Trump thinks that Bolton is a key part of his negotiating strategy,” said a source who had “criticized the national security adviser” in conversations with the president. “He thinks that Bolton’s bellicosity and eagerness to kill people is a bargaining chip when he’s sitting down with foreign leaders. Bolton can be the bad cop and Trump can be the good cop. Trump believes this to his core.”
The report reads as something of a roast of the national-security adviser: According to two sources who attended a March meeting with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office, Trump jokingly asked Bolton, “Is Ireland one of those countries you want to invade?” Shortly after Bolton’s appointment, Trump reportedly told advisers that Bolton “want[s] to start three wars a day, but I have him on a leash.” In the situation room last year, “Trump’s national security team was going around the table discussing a topic that was nuanced and had no relation to major military action. A source in the room said that as the conversation got to Bolton, Trump joked: ‘Okay, John, let me guess, you want to nuke them all?’” From this zinger, the room “died laughing.” (Because Trump’s bullying is omnidirectional, Bolton isn’t the only target in the report. During talks on the trade war with China, Trump reportedly told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: “You’re so weak. You didn’t used to be this way in business. You’re so weak now.”)
The TV-cop metaphor for the Trump-Bolton relationship isn’t perfect, failing whenever the president undermines a baseline foreign-policy relationship, like his gut distrust of NATO. But it does help explain why Trump chooses to keep Bolton — whose ultrahawk counsel he ignores on Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela — in his tumultuous administration, even if he calls him “Mike,” like the singer, and sends him, non-metaphorically, to Mongolia during major summits.