In my profile of Bolton, I quoted a North Korean official who in 2003 called Bolton “human scum,” a “bloodsucker,” and “a beastly man bereft of reason.” Irritating America’s enemies was no liability in the Bush administration. But the North Koreans responded to Bolton’s methods by trying to go over his head, since they had reason to believe his president was, like most humans, more of a softie. The North Koreans’ invective ended by noting that George W. Bush seemed, by contrast, a nice guy, and that in the future they intended to deal with him, rather than with the subhuman parasite he had designated as his envoy.
If the national security adviser has no heart, and the president has no brain, their adversaries will play their respective deficits off each other, appealing to the heart when the brain says no. Bush and Bolton were at least in general agreement, and the North Koreans’ hope of splitting them was just that—a hope. Presidents have disagreed with their national security advisers before. Now, however, the split is real and visible. National security advisers have, in the past, had confidence that their presidents would at least approach international security issues consistently, so that threats bore the proper menace, and enemies could not respond by waiting around for the boss to change his mind. Bolton never changes his mind, but Trump changes his mind constantly, so who cares?
The Iranian strategy is, as Mike Doran notes, to convince the president that his government is captured and controlled by maniacs, who are whispering bloodthirsty advice to him from within the White House. (Given the Iranians’ fondness for anti-Semitic rhetoric, it should be noted that “neoconservatives” is often code for “Jewish.” Bolton isn’t Jewish, but Carlson named Bolton’s “old friend” Bill Kristol, a Jew, as if the former Weekly Standard editor headed the cabal that was influencing him.) Whatever Bolton’s faults—and they are considerable—he is one of the only senior national-security officials to have worked on this sort of crisis before, and to wedge him away from the president is to increase the chaos in an already wild administration. Carlson even repeated, on the air and apropos of nothing, a statement of Persian cultural supremacy: “Iran is a sophisticated country,” he said, and its cities “not at all like Riyadh or Dubai,” the seats of Gulf power friendly to Trump and unfriendly to Tehran. I like the poetry of Hafez and Rumi as much as the next person, but it is nonetheless startling to hear Iranian propaganda repeated on Fox News.
When Bolton was appointed, his political allies and enemies all agreed that he was a rarity in the Trump administration: a bureaucrat who knew the bureaucracy and could make it follow his commands. He has spent much of the past year denying that he has the powers attributed to him. “I am the national security adviser,” he told me, “not the national security decider.” In the end, Bolton wields only the power the president allows him. And once it becomes known that the president favors the advice not of his government but of his favorite television host, Americans (and foreign powers) might conclude that we have no government at all. Bolton’s immediate prior employment, before joining the administration, was as a pundit on Fox News. Now that Fox’s star host has savaged him, and his president apparently agrees that he is a parasite, I suspect Bolton is thinking about drafting a letter of resignation and a fresh CV, all at once.