Before John Bolton entered the Trump White House as national security adviser, he had a lucrative career as hawk-on-demand for Fox News and groups seeking public speakers. To the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, confrontation was always the answer. He repeatedly called for military action in Iran and North Korea — “two sides of the same coin.” As for U.S-North Korea diplomacy, he wrote in August 2017 that “negotiations legitimize the dictatorship, affording it more time to enhance its nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities.”
For these reliably warmongering views, Bolton was drawing an annual salary of $569,000 from Fox by the time he joined the White House, plus nearly $750,000 in speaking fees thanks to his Fox-boosted fame. Indeed, it was this Fox perch that in part drew President Trump’s eye and brought Bolton to the prominent national security policymaking role he always craved. But instead of a crowning glory, Bolton’s new position has become a comic spectacle in which he has to defend the most ridiculous kowtowing to authoritarians.
Sunday morning, Bolton guested on both “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “State of the Union” to defend Trump’s failed summit in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Naturally, both Chris Wallace of Fox and Jake Tapper of CNN asked Bolton about the president’s assertion that Kim knew nothing about the fatal treatment of American student Otto Warmbier. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” the president told reporters after the summit, drawing condemnation from Warmbier’s family and rare rebukes from Republicans.
Bolton’s defense on Fox was to change the definition of “taking someone at their word.” “When he says, ‘I’m going to take him at his word,’ it doesn’t mean that he accepted it as reality,” he told Wallace. “It means that he accepts that’s what Kim Jong Un said.” One could tell Bolton didn’t believe those words even as he was uttering them. The national security adviser’s helplessness was even more obvious on CNN:
TAPPER: Do you take Kim Jong Un at his word?
BOLTON: The president takes him at his word. (CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: No, I know he does, but what about you?
BOLTON: My opinion doesn’t matter.
Similarly, on both shows Bolton was stuck making excuses for Trump’s siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over U.S. intelligence agencies (on election interference and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, respectively). “He’s not saying he’s siding with dictators over Americans,” Bolton told Tapper, “He has — he has expressed his opinion about what they have said on these various points.” Oh, okay then.
Last week, Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen warned Republicans on the House Oversight Committee that those selling themselves to the Trump cause would end up like him: humiliating themselves with “silliness.” Anyone who works for a president (or any elected official) will at times have to defend policies that they disagree with. But to go from arguing (wrongly) that authoritarian regimes deserve bombings almost by default to defending trusting those same regimes’ leaders, all because Bolton threw in with Trump — that is a special level of humiliation.