Saturday, March 24, 2018

John Bolton's appointment as national security advisor heralds the coming of the sum of all fears

Max Boot, writing an opinion at the Washington Post about Bolton, says we can Add another zealot to the White House personnel roster.

Most presidents initially stock their administrations with cronies and ideological purists. Then, after suffering inevitable setbacks, they usher them out in favor of less ideological and more competent professionals. President Trump is doing it in reverse. He is jettisoning anyone who could serve as a break on his extremist tendencies, and replacing them with fire-breathing TV personalities.

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn resigned in protest over Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum; now Trump is adding tariffs on China as well. Cohn is being replaced by former CNBC anchor Lawrence Kudlow. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired, in no small part, because he disagreed with the president’s desire to destroy the Iran nuclear deal. He is being replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who twisted his own agency’s findings to claim that Russian interference had no impact on the 2016 election. Now Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, one of the military’s brightest strategic thinkers, is out as national security adviser. He is being replaced by John Bolton, a Fox TV talking head who is likely to reinforce, rather than rein in, Trump’s worst instincts.

In addition to his controversial tenure as US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton comes to his new job as national security advisor with more baggage. The New York Times reports that Bolton Was Early Beneficiary of Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook Data.

The political action committee founded by John R. Bolton, President Trump’s incoming national security adviser, was one of the earliest customers of Cambridge Analytica, which it hired specifically to develop psychological profiles of voters with data harvested from tens of millions of Facebook profiles, according to former Cambridge employees and company documents.

Mr. Bolton’s political committee, known as The John Bolton Super PAC, first hired Cambridge in August 2014, months after the political data firm was founded and while it was still harvesting the Facebook data.

"The data and modeling Bolton’s PAC received was derived from the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a data expert who was part of the team that founded Cambridge Analytica. “We definitely told them about how we were doing it. We talked about it in conference calls, in meetings.”

“The Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues,” Mr. Wylie said.

“That really meant making people more militaristic in their worldview,” he added. “That’s what they said they wanted, anyway.”

Using the psychographic models, Cambridge helped design concepts for advertisements for candidates supported by Mr. Bolton’s PAC …

… the relationship between Cambridge and the Bolton PAC [grew] so close that the firm was writing up talking points for Mr. Bolton. In an email dated Oct. 1, 2014, Cambridge staff outlined a few sentences that Mr. Bolton could use to describe the work the new firm was doing for his super PAC.

Beyond their conservative politics, Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolton and Cambridge Analytica all share a patron — the Mercer family of Long Island … [Robert] Mercer was financially supporting Mr. Bolton’s PAC, donating $5 million between April 2014 and September 2016, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The Mercers also backed Mr. Trump in the presidential election.

All that was predicable, I guess, from Bolton’s history as a war monger. But there are other reasons to fear his appointment by Trump as national security advisor. Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) explains why The real reason Trump’s choice of John Bolton should terrify you.

… What’s really happening is that Trump is increasingly surrounding himself with advisers who are better than the “adults in the room” at manipulating his erratic and shifting impulses and whims, by giving a shape to them he can accept and act upon.

… when Trump was debating whether to certify the Iran deal last summer and was unhappy with advisers urging him to do so on substantive grounds, then-adviser Stephen K. Bannon handed him a piece by Bolton urging him to decertify. Bolton’s piece cast that as the only course consistent with Trump’s “view that the Iran deal was a diplomatic debacle,” because Obama had given Iran “unimaginably favorable terms.” Trump has no idea whether this is true — it isn’t — but it persuaded Trump to come close to decertifying, though ultimately the adults prevailed that time.

The point is that Trump doesn’t grasp the details, but Bolton skillfully gave shape to his impulses. Now Bolton will be in an even better position to persuade Trump to kill the Iran deal, and if and when that happens, to push Trump more in the direction of his own bellicose designs, which Bolton will almost certainly cast as in keeping with Trump’s vow to be tougher than Obama.

Or take North Korea. Everyone knows that when Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un, he did so on an impulse, with no thought through rationale or sense of the risks and complexities involved. Bolton wants to go to war with North Korea and has dismissed talks. But he cleverly greeted Trump’s announcement by describing it as “shock and awe” and an opportunity for Trump to give North Korea an ultimatum if it does not immediately begin “total denuclearization.” This, too, gave a shape to Trump’s impulse that he will very probably find flattering, but also one that might move Trump toward Bolton’s position.

If Trump now “feels” that Bolton will give him the policies he wants on Iran and North Korea, it’s because Bolton is skilled at making Trump feel that way. That’s ominous, because it means Bolton may be able to push Trump toward believing that Bolton’s goals are a realization of his own foreign policy vision, such as it is.

Bolton’s appointment is just one example of what is going on in the Trump administration. On other matters, like trade and the Russia investigation, we also see the rise of individuals who know how to manipulate Trump. Sargent continues.

On trade, the process leading to Trump’s decision to impose tariffs was a joke with no regard for specifics. But it did showcase the rising star of trade adviser Peter Navarro, who unabashedly stated that he had provided the “analytics” to “confirm his intuition,” which is “always right.” Trump just pushed out lawyer John Dowd, who advised careful cooperation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and has added Joe diGenova, who has fed Trump’s fantasies of a “deep-state” plot against him, signaling the much more aggressive confrontation with Mueller that Trump clearly craves, without having the foggiest strategic rationale. In both cases, these people are successfully giving shape to Trump’s impulses.

As Michelle Goldberg recently observed, one after another, the people who are supposed to be “checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims” have departed. But this doesn’t mean Trump is getting back to being who he always wanted to be. It means he is increasingly listening to people who are good at exploiting and shaping those instincts and whims.

Only one of the original “adults in the room” remains, and that is Secretary of Defense James Mattis. If he goes, there will be no one left to provide the “checking of Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims”. And, by the way, you can discount the Republican-controlled Congress which shows zero spine when it comes to a check and balance on the child-like impulses of Trump. But even if Mattis stays, Max Boot asks can “Mattis restrain Trump now that the president is surrounding himself with fellow zealots?”

Without any such restraint we might well find ourselves (in addition to a trade war with China) in a two-front shooting war with Iran and North Korea, the reason being that a cabal of war mongers have figured out how to play the narcissist in the White House.

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