Michael KreponTrump & Bolton

Lyric of the week:

I’m the jewel in the crown of the mighty Kings of Africa.
I’m the hand on the shaft of the spear that slew the lion.
I’m the soul clenched like a fist on the demon slave ship.
I’m the fire in the crack of the whip on a good man’s spine.

I’m the twist in the wire tyin’ every bale of cotton.
I’m the shout in the field that echoed ‘cross the sea.
I’m the newsprint walls of the one-room shack at Stovall.
And the blade on the knife cut my brother from the tree.

I’m in the blood of the blues
I’m in the blood of the blues

–Lyrics by Terry Abrahamson, Sung by the astounding Shemekia Copeland

The pairing of Donald Trump and John Bolton was predictably fractious. Theirs was a temporary marriage of convenience, with the convenience being a mutual antipathy to international compacts. Trump’s tie to Bolton was necessarily brief. Both men have well established track records. Their final act was fore-ordained.

Bolton has a serious, albeit skewed interest in geopolitics. Trump’s interest here, as elsewhere, is trivial and skin deep. He is ruled by a sense of self-regard; all else is secondary, including the national interest.

The connective tissue between Trump and Bolton was thin, but it held for long enough to dispense with accords that both decried. Despite this commonality, Bolton was bound to find Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders and lack of knowledge about the world appalling.

And yet working for Trump was the opportunity of a lifetime for Bolton. Trump is a walking contradiction – a man of strong and yet malleable views. He is susceptible to the advice of the last person he speaks to, and Bolton’s corner office in the West Wing was only a few steps away from the Oval Office. Bolton’s first memoir, Surrender Is Not An Option, included a section on “So Many Bad Deals to Kill, So Little Time.” He would make good use of this time in the White House.

Bolton saw eye to eye with Trump on the Iran nuclear deal, and his appointment as National Security Adviser shortly preceded Trump’s exit. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty withdrawal was, as I have argued previously, on Vladimir Putin, not Trump. Pulling out the Open Skies Treaty was a different matter – a gift to Moscow. Exiting the Arms Trade Treaty was a bon bon tossed to the National Rifle Association.

Bolton’s fingerprints were all over the Open Skies Treaty withdrawal; he was no longer in the White House, but his allies, Tim Morrison and Senator Tom Cotton, ensured that the deed was executed. This triumvirate also midwifed the trilateral count-every-Russian-and-Chinese-warhead proposal that Trump’s envoy, Marshall Billingslea, will discuss with Sergei Ryabkov this week.

Billingslea has tweeted trying to increase leverage on Beijing to join these talks, to no avail. Tweeting is what has become of diplomacy during the Trump administration. Moscow has waved off the Trump administration’s feeble suggestions that it intercede with Beijing on its behalf, and China has already opted out of preliminary discussions.

Just like that, the Trump-Bolton-Cotton-Morrison plan to count every Russian and Chinese warhead proposal has been truncated by one-third. It will be down-sized further once serious negotiations begin, after the Trump administration’s death rattle is over.

While the Trump-Bolton-Cotton-Morrison concept of trilateral negotiations to count every warhead was dead on arrival, a more serious administration led by more purposeful negotiators will seek expanded, verifiable controls over nuclear forces and the warheads they carry. In this event, the conceptualizers of Trump’s proposal could claim success, but are far more likely to reject partial accomplishments as evidence of failure.

So be it. We have work to do.