Reuters reported that February’s Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi was unexpectedly derailed after the American President handed his North Korean counterpart a document demanding Pyongyang’s complete and verifiable denuclearization along the lines of the controversial Libyan model that National Security Advisor Bolton had previously supported. It’s long been speculated that Bolton’s influence on Trump was responsible for spoiling his summit with Kim, and the latest report lends credence to that theory.
It says that the US wanted North Korea to transfer its nuclear weapons to its former adversary just like Libya did with its own “Weapons of Mass Destruction” technology a decade and a half ago, something that would have been totally unacceptable for Pyongyang given its aversion to following in the footsteps of the former Jamahiriya that was later destroyed by NATO once it voluntarily surrendered the instruments that could have otherwise provided it with credible deterrence.
To be sure, North Korea seems serious about denuclearizing, though at its own pace and in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions and procurement of economic aid, not unilaterally in the undignified manner of a defeated nation that doesn’t have any guarantees that it’ll receive anything in return. This understanding was held to be “conventional knowledge” by both the public and government officials alike, with it having been written about extensively over the past year since the US-North Korean “thaw” that followed the Trump-Kim “war of words” and ultimately led to their historic summit last summer in Singapore.
Despite this, Bolton evidently used his influence over Trump to convince the President to make unacceptable demands to the North Koreans, knowing full well that they would reject the proposal and that this would therefore ruin the summit, to say nothing of the “Singapore spirit” that the participants were supposedly enthused with.
It’s difficult at this moment in time to analyze why he chose to go that route, let alone what will come next given how unpredictable the president has proven himself to be, but it’s possible to prognosticate just how difficult Bolton’s influence over Trump will make it for the US to fulfill its other deal-making plans elsewhere in the world. Many pundits try to draw a connection between progress or lack thereof on the North Korean front with the Iranian one, though such equivalencies are mostly rhetorical because the US’ relations with both states are very different, as are its modus operandi for getting what it wants from them.
Furthermore, even though Trump’s disrespectful demands to Kim obviously reduce the chances of the Ayatollah ever agreeing to deal with him, it should be noted that the Iranians already rejected any talks with the Americans about their nuclear deal, so it’s inaccurate to imply a “cause-and-effect” relationship between them.
Because of this, it’s extremely unlikely that the US will retreat from its sanctions-driven Hybrid War destabilization strategy against Iran in any case, seeking instead to have the Islamic Republic unilaterally surrender its strategic capabilities in an undignified manner akin to that of a defeated nation, just like what it wants to do with North Korea (at least at this point) but through different means.
Moving beyond that, the next context in which Bolton’s influence over Trump would hamper the US’ deal-making flexibility is with the so-called “Deal of the Century”, the details of which might officially be released sometime this month after next week’s Israeli elections. Just like with North Korea and Iran, however, it’s unlikely that the US will pursue anything other than the unilateral acceptance of its regional vision, though it might attempt to make a pretense of “compromising” on some aspects in order for its “deal” to be more publicly acceptable to some.
Other than the US’ recognition of Israel’s Golan Heights annexation being part of the plan, it’s hard to predict what other aspects it’ll include, but the point here isn’t to speculate on those details but to analyze the larger dynamics of the forthcoming process. So long as Bolton remains the administration’s “Trump whisperer” and is able to strongly influence the president’s behavior as a result, it’ll probably end up being the case that the US will go forth with unilaterally recognizing whatever terms it includes in the “Deal of the Century” irrespective if others follow suit or not.
Bolton’s mantra can be summed up with the cliché that “might makes right”, so all that matters to him in that instance is that the US and its Israeli ally go ahead with whatever is proposed, just as they did with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the recent Golan Heights declaration.
Putting it all together, it appears as though Trump’s famous deal-making promises basically boil down to other countries (be they North Korea, Iran, or those in the “Mashriq”) doing whatever the US demands of it under the “face-saving” pretense that they “struck a deal” and there were supposedly some “prior negotiations” involved, when it all amounts to a unilateral surrender to America’s strategic interests.
While Trump might have had this in mind all along, it’s impossible at this point to separate his strategy from Bolton’s documented track record of such Libyan-like approaches and proposals, which might actually in hindsight be why he eventually chose him as his National Security Advisor, not wanting to do so beforehand out of concern that this would spook his “deep state” enemies and the public into opposing his choice right away. Therefore, while Trump is undoubtedly under Bolton’s influence, he might actually not have a problem with that at all.
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