Bolton’s exit makes room for rise of Pom­peo

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY GUY TAY­LOR

Pres­i­dent Trump’s stun­ning dis­missal of John R. Bolton clears the stage for Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo — along with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, one of the few mem­bers of Mr. Trump’s orig­i­nal na­tional se­cu­rity in­ner cir­cle still stand­ing — to wield more in­flu­ence over a raft of for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges con­fronting the White House.

While Mr. Pom­peo was pub­licly aligned with the ousted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser’s no­to­ri­ously hard-line po­si­tions on sev­eral fronts, in par­tic­u­lar on Iran, the two sharply dis­agreed in pri­vate on a range of other mat­ters, most no­tably the pur­suit of sen­si­tive nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea.

Na­tional se­cu­rity sources said that Mr. Bolton’s de­par­ture could open the way for re­newed “work­ing level” talks and a pos­si­ble step-by-step ap­proach with North Korea — an ap­proach the State De­part­ment was once seen to ad­vo­cate only to be shut down by Mr. Bolton’s de­mand that Py­ongyang ac­cept an al­lor-noth­ing deal.

It wasn’t the only area where the two men dis­agreed. Mr. Pom­peo’s back­ground as a tea-party-backed star in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has made him more adept at work­ing per­son­ally with Mr. Trump, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to thread­ing the pol­icy nee­dle im­ple­ment­ing the pres­i­dent’s “Amer­ica First” for­eign pol­icy im­pulses.

But the sec­re­tary of state’s in­flu­ence was chal­lenged when Mr. Bolton, an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind of for­eign pol­icy con­ser­va­tive, joined the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ner cir­cle in April 2018.

Mr. Bolton’s neo­con­ser­va­tive bent — fa­vor­ing U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion and regime change as go-to pol­icy op­tions — ini­tially added heft to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pres­sure cam­paigns against Iran and North Korea. But it also soon clashed with Mr. Trump’s de­sires to with­draw U.S. forces from un­de­sired con­flict zones and to per­suade for­eign nations to take more re­spon­si­bil­ity for global se­cu­rity, even if it means pres­sur­ing al­lies to pay more for their own de­fense.

Mr. Pom­peo cul­ti­vated a close re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Trump af­ter be­ing named head of the CIA, giv­ing Mr. Trump per­sonal in­tel­li­gence brief­ings. One sign of his con­tin­u­ing clout: One of the first names floated as a per­ma­nent re­place­ment for Mr. Bolton was Stephen E. Biegun, the sec­re­tary of state’s en­voy to talks with North Korea and a close po­lit­i­cal ally.

The sec­re­tary of state has not al­ways meshed per­fectly with his boss, in­clud­ing Mr. Trump’s sur­prise recog­ni­tion of Is­raeli con­trol of the Golan Heights and the pres­i­dent’s cut of for­eign aid pro­grams to Cen­tral Amer­i­can nations.

But Mr. Pom­peo’s per­sonal rap­port with Mr. Trump, his will­ing­ness to de­fend the ad­min­is­tra­tion in the me­dia and his de­ter­mined cam­paign never to show day­light be­tween him­self and the pres­i­dent on ma­jor is­sues are likely to take on new sig­nif­i­cance with Mr. Bolton gone.

Mr. Pom­peo made no se­cret of the fact that he and Mr. Bolton crossed swords on pol­icy over the past year.

“There were many times Am­bas­sador Bolton and I dis­agreed; that’s to be sure,” the sec­re­tary of state told re­porters. “But that’s true for lots of peo­ple with whom I in­ter­act.”

He said sep­a­rately that Mr. Trump “should have peo­ple that he trusts and val­ues and whose ef­forts and judg­ments ben­e­fit him in de­liv­er­ing Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy.”

U.N. test

The fall of Mr. Bolton and rise of Mr. Pom­peo could play out quickly when world lead­ers gather for the an­nual U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York this month. While the State De­part­ment has en­er­get­i­cally im­ple­mented Mr. Trump’s “max­i­mum pres­sure” cam­paign against Iran af­ter the with­drawal from the 2015 nu­clear deal, Mr. Pom­peo has been care­ful to leave room for Mr. Trump’s ex­pressed wish for a pos­si­ble per­sonal di­plo­matic over­ture along the lines of his North Korea pol­icy.

Asked whether there could be a prece­dent-shat­ter­ing meet­ing be­tween Mr. Trump and Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani at the U.N. gath­er­ing, Mr. Pom­peo said sim­ply, “Sure.”

“The pres­i­dent has made very clear he is pre­pared to meet [Ira­nian lead­ers] with no pre­con­di­tions” in search of a bet­ter deal to curb Tehran, Mr. Pom­peo said.

One Repub­li­can in­sider told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Mr. Bolton’s op­po­si­tion to such a meet­ing was a pre­cip­i­tat­ing fac­tor in his dis­missal.

Some Repub­li­cans ap­peared to openly cheer Mr. Bolton’s dis­missal. Sen. Rand Paul, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can and mem­ber of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, told re­porters that Mr. Trump has long been clear that “he’s not for regime change.”

“He said that [on] North Korea, he’s ac­tu­ally said that [on] Iran, and you know, Bolton’s been very, very loud in his call for regime change around the world,” Mr. Paul said. “I think the prob­lem is that it’s a naive point of view to be­lieve that we can mil­i­tar­ily top­ple regimes around the world and that they’ll be re­placed with democ­ra­cies.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who serves on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, told CNN that Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolton were like “oil and wa­ter,” while the pres­i­dent’s “re­la­tion­ship with Sec­re­tary Pom­peo is quite strong.”

North Korea diplo­macy could feel an im­me­di­ate shift with Mr. Pom­peo’s rising clout. Mr. Bolton in­fu­ri­ated Py­ongyang and stunned oth­ers in the ad­min­is­tra­tion when he said the U.S. was look­ing for a “Libya-style” model for the North Kore­ans — even though Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi lost his power and then his life af­ter agree­ing to give up his nu­clear pro­grams in a deal with the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Bolton’s de­par­ture could open the way for more low-key, lower-level con­tacts be­tween Washington and Py­ongyang to bet­ter lay the ground­work for the next Trump-Kim sum­mit.

“Bolton’s exit may lead to a more re­al­is­tic, step-by-step ap­proach to North Korean de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, where Bolton’s ‘all or noth­ing’ ap­proach to eas­ing sanc­tions has pro­duced a dead­lock de­spite three TrumpKim sum­mits,” said Alexan­der Ver­sh­bow, a former U.S. am­bas­sador to Rus­sia and South Korea and a former NATO deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral.

“Bolton’s de­par­ture was only a mat­ter of time,” Mr. Ver­sh­bow, a fel­low with the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Scowcroft Cen­ter for Strat­egy and Se­cu­rity, said in com­ments cir­cu­lated to re­porters. “Still, the tim­ing is ironic, com­ing af­ter Trump’s ter­mi­na­tion of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban on which Bolton was right to be skep­ti­cal (maybe Trump didn’t like hear­ing ‘I told you so’).”

Mr. Pom­peo has also ap­par­ently been spared the oc­ca­sional dress­ing-down that former Trump aides say are a reg­u­lar fea­ture of work­ing in this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I ar­gue with ev­ery­one,” Mr. Trump told New York Mag­a­zine in a 2018 in­ter­view. “Ex­cept Pom­peo. I don’t think I’ve had an ar­gu­ment with Pom­peo.”


Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s per­sonal rap­port with Pres­i­dent Trump and his will­ing­ness to de­fend the ad­min­is­tra­tion in the me­dia are likely to take on new sig­nif­i­cance with John R. Bolton out of the White House as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

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