There have been so many commentaries critical of Trump’s appointment of John Bolton, and the damage he may do to this nascent outreach with North Korea, that it’s hard to know where to begin. You could try here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here. But not here. How to even square the circle of a person who thinks the U.S. should break a nuclear deal with Iran while trying to get North Korea to agree to one?
Generally, the criticism is across the board. Daniel Larison at the American Conservative has written 10 blog posts criticizing Bolton in the three working days since the appointment was announced. This one focused on the damage he may do to a U.S.-North Korea summit outcome. The South Korean media, after seeing the Blue House downplay the Bolton appointment, are telling the Moon administration to wake up.
Bolton is the über-hawk on North Korea, as he demonstrated back during the six-party talks in the George W. Bush administration and again recently with this op-ed in the Journal. Chances have seemed so slim for a meaningful outcome from a U.S.-North Korea summit, though. Has Bolton changed them from slim to none? There’s no way to answer that.
But here’s why Bolton’s appointment matters: Jeffrey Lewis, the proliferation expert and founder of the Arms Control Wonk blog, suggests that Bolton may push for conflict after a summit failure. He warned about this in a Washington Post column on March 14 in which he asked: “What if Trump, having deluded himself into thinking he’s going to pick up Kim Jong Un’s bombs, suddenly decides that he’s been double-crossed? He could use the summit outcome to discredit diplomacy and open the pathway toward war.” Larison suggests he is driving toward conflict anyway. And Lewis returned to the point in some tweets last week after the Bolton appointment.
They still think Kim Jong Un is giving up North Korea’s nuclear weapons. He’s not and when Bolton and Trump end up with egg on their face, they will blame Kim. This is dangerous. https://t.co/qL2Pv0pC00
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) March 25, 2018
Perhaps Bolton will pull the plug on the summit once he realizes it won’t accomplish what he’s after, telling Trump they’ll look worse in failure than by canceling. But if summit plans continue to evolve, I expect we’ll hear a rehashing of Bolton’s involvement in the Bush-era interactions with North Korea. Mike Chinoy, a former CNN correspondent, wrote about them in his book, “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis,” which is the tick-tock of the diplomacy with North Korea in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
John Bolton’s efforts to sabotage Bush-era diplomacy with North Korea are chronicled in detail in my book “Meltdown.” https://t.co/u8OijkXvWm
— Mike Chinoy (@mikechinoy) March 23, 2018