President Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was full of showmanship, featuring photo-ops, a long press conference, and one very unusual promotional video. But one player in the scene was surprisingly quiet: John Bolton, Trump’s national-security adviser.
Though Bolton was in Singapore for the summit, he has taken a lower-key approach in recent days as Trump has forged ahead with his plan of high-level diplomatic engagement with North Korea over its nuclear program. This was after Bolton had become a point of contention between the two sides leading up to the talks; he is famously hawkish on North Korea, and comments he made recently infuriated the North Koreans, throwing the summit into question. But the job of the national-security adviser isn’t to set policy, but to help implement it, and the North Korea summit shows that Bolton, despite his views being at odds with Trump’s plan, is getting with the program—whatever he might be really thinking.
Bolton is the latest case study in the administration in how much an adviser’s views and ideology can really influence—or not influence—Trump.
“The secretary of state is supposed to be the nation’s chief diplomat and top foreign-policy adviser to the President,” former Bush administration national-security official Elliott Abrams said in an email. “This is what people like Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, and Condi Rice were and what it seems Pompeo is now. The system works best this way, with the national-security adviser an inside player making sure that all relevant perspectives get to the president and that his decisions are implemented. Bolton appears to be playing exactly that role, to the surprise of some of his critics. If we now enter long and complex negotiations with NK over denuclearization, several agencies (State, DOD, CIA, DIA, and more) will have to be involved and that coordinating job is why we have an NSC. So it seems to me so far so good for Bolton.”