BOLTON’S RESIGNATION DOESN’T BODE WELL FOR JAPAN
On September 10, John Bolton abruptly resigned as White House national security adviser. Bolton, who was adamantly opposed to making a half-baked denuclearization deal with North Korea, stood firm on his principle of sternly demanding that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear and missile program. He was also one who continued to show deep sympathy with, and understanding of, the issues pertaining to the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens.
If Bolton’s sudden resignation should lead Trump to settle pending disputes with Pyongyang and Beijing by unfavorable compromise, it could deal a heavy blow to Japan as well.
While at times expressing reservations with Trump’s policies, The Wall Street Journal（WSJ）has fundamentally supported the administration. In its September 11 editorial, however, the journal criticized Trump for failing to tell the truth about Bolton’s departure.
Trump tweeted that he had asked Bolton to resign. A quick read of related reports in various US dailies convinces one that the Journal’s criticism is appropriate: Trump obviously lied to hide the truth. The press reports can be summed up as follows:
•On September 9, Bolton offered to resign after an acrimonious conversation with Trump about Afghanistan.
•Trump said they’d talk again in the morning.
•After sleeping on his resignation decision at home that day, Bolton sent a two-sentence letter of resignation to the White House the following morning (September 10).
•That morning Bolton also attended his last meeting of his national security team in the Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing of the White House.
•Trump tweeted at 11:58 a.m.: “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House.”
•Twelve minutes later, at 12:10 p.m., Bolton left the White House for good, tweeting: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”
The WSJ editorial pointed out: “Shortly thereafter (i.e., after Bolton submitted his resignation letter), Mr. Trump tried to spin the resignation as his idea with his tweet. None of this speaks well of the President, who fears looking bad for having lost his third NSC advisor in three years.”
Very Hard Boss to Work for
Needless to say, there have been forces critical of Bolton. The New York Times, for one, front-paged in its September 11 edition an opinion by John Gans, the director of communications and research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, criticizing Bolton for having “effectively destroyed the National Security Council system.” Gans charged Bolton with having had in mind “something closer to (President Franklin) Roosevelt’s juggling: The President in a room with the national security adviser and a few aides making decisions about the most important issues in the world…To realize that plan, Mr. Bolton included fewer people in meetings, made council sessions far less regular, and raced to always be by Mr. Trump’s side…”
WSJ further stated: “Mr. Bolton had the thankless task of telling Mr. Trump that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and that strategic ground must be prepared in advance and over time if you want to get a good deal.” The journal pointed out that Trump was absolutely disinterested in listening to different viewpoints. It would be reasonable to describe Trump as a very hard boss to work for. But I believe we Japanese, especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, must strictly bear in mind the harshness of Trump’s opinion of Bolton as reflecting an aspect of his personality that must be carefully dealt with in seeking to cement our future relations with the US.
The day after Trump announced Bolton’s “discharge,” he declared in the Oval Office:
“We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model…Take a look at what happened to Gaddafi, with the Libyan model. And he’s using that to make a deal with North Korea?”
These remarks by Trump are vivid proof that, since immediately after he summoned Bolton to the White House as his national security adviser, the American leader has been making the same mistake time and again, having learned virtually nothing about the “Libyan model,” among other things.
On May 17, 2018, shortly after appointing Bolton as his national security adviser, Trump publicly stated that he was not considering applying the “Libyan model” to North Korea and that US forces had entered Libya in order to eradicate its leader Muhammad al-Gaddafi.
Trump has completely failed to understand what the “Libyan model” implies. It is a format under which economic sanctions imposed on a nation are lifted, allowing it to be welcomed back into the international community after it verifies that its nuclear and missile program has been completely abandoned.
In December 2003, Gaddafi renounced his nuclear program, with the US and Britain transporting out of Libya in the next three months all of its nuclear development materials and devices, including enriched uranium, missile control apparatus, and centrifuges, and later destroying them. When the entire process was completed, the US began rewarding Libya, normalizing diplomatic relations in May 2006.
Gaddafi was not killed in October 2011 by US armed forces. He was killed by his own people during an Arab Spring uprising.
Trump’s Re-Election Top Priority
To this day, Trump appears to have no interest in the circumstances involving Gaddafi’s fate. As for Kim Jong-un, he will never relinquish his missiles or nuclear weapons. Bolton, who had adamantly demanded North Korea’s complete and verifiable denuclearization, was no favorite of Kim’s. Kim did not bother to hide his disdain for the national security advisor, declaring he would never negotiate with him. As regards Kim’s criticism of Bolton, Trump had this to say this time:
“I don’t blame Kim Jong-un for what he said after that. And he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton…That’s not a question of (Bolton) being tough or not; that’s a question of being not smart or not.”
In calling Bolton not smart, Trump denigrated his top aide. Defense and State Secretaries James Mattice and Rex Tillerson had been forced to resign in a similarly mean manner, but how Trump fired Bolton was far more sinister. It is absolutely unacceptable for a US president to have fallen into line with what North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, of all people, had to say, degrading a valuable advisor he himself selected as the key figure in his administration’s national security team.
The missile launches Kim has been conducting since July are clearly a violation of the UN Security Council resolution, as Abe has pointed out. But Trump continues to assume a wait-and-see attitude, asserting that launching newly-developed short-range missiles does not violate any agreements between the US and North Korea. In point of fact, Bolton was the only member of the Trump administration who was unafraid of pointing out that the launches clearly violated the UN resolution.
Military experts affirm that it would be technically impossible at the moment for the US or Japan to effectively intercept these new North Korean missiles. One can only assume that Trump is turning a blind eye to the North Korean threat to Japan.
I believe Trump is ignoring the obvious North Korean threat to America’s important Pacific ally because the only thing that is on his mind now is winning reelection next November 3. Following Bolton’s sorry departure, I expect Trump to vigorously push on toward realizing summits with heads of state that would make him look good on television and be useful for his reelection.
Trump may make easy compromises in exchange for photo opportunities showing him shaking hands with Kim Jong-un, Xi Jing-pin, and Vladimir Putin—the dictators he claims to get along well with. If Trump gives priority to winning reelection over safeguarding America’s national interests and those of its allies, one can easily see a scenario evolving that would be extremely disadvantageous for Japan, especially in its relations with North Korea and China. Bolton’s untimely departure is indeed a great loss for Japan. (The End)
(Translated form “Renaissance Japan” column no. 869 in the September 26, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)