Bolton is sometimes described as a neoconservative, but that’s not really right. Neoconservatives purported to champion the expansion of American values, while Bolton just wants to impose American might. On the surface, he seems an excellent fit with Trump, who is also uninterested in human rights and contemptuous of multilateral institutions. Both are bellicose nationalists, dismissive of climate change, eager to empower the Israeli right, hostile to Islam but solicitous of Saudi Arabia.
But the uber-hawk Bolton, who still refuses to admit that the Iraq war was a mistake, has long believed that America’s most implacable enemies include North Korea, Russia and Iran. One multilateral organization he appears to value is NATO, a counterweight to Russia that he once called “the most successful political-military alliance in human history.” Now, at the summit of his career, he’s part of an administration that makes a mockery of his longtime foreign policy philosophy.
When the George W. Bush administration, in which Bolton also served, lifted some sanctions on North Korea in 2008, Bolton seemed almost heartsick. “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
So one can only imagine the ineffable sadness he felt over the weekend, when Trump stepped into North Korea to shake the hand of his friend Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s totalitarian leader. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering putting aside the goal of getting North Korea to surrender the nuclear weapons it already has, instead trying to get the country to stop making new nuclear material.
Given Trump’s limitations as a statesman, that’s probably the best that can be hoped for. But it’s almost certainly not what Bolton, who was calling for pre-emptive strikes on North Korea just before Trump appointed him, thought he was signing up for. In response to the Times article, Bolton tweeted angrily that he’d heard of no such plan, though he might have simply been out of the loop. After all, while Trump was flattering Kim, Bolton was in Mongolia.