It’s the really big question in Washington, which goes to show how pathetic things can get here: Did John Bolton resign, or was he fired? President Donald Trump and his now former national security adviser disagree about that, much as they disagreed about everything else. It was not exactly a marriage made in heaven.
To call Bolton “abrasive” is definitely an understatement. “Caustic” is more like it. Since he became the administration’s third national security adviser, he had rubbed nearly everybody in the White House the wrong way. That would include, more and more, the Trumpster, who claims to enjoy vigorous internal debate but really prefers sycophancy.
It’s tempting to call John Bolton a warmonger, although Bolton would insist he’s really a “peace through strength” kinda guy. On the other hand, Donald Trump fancies himself as a master deal-maker, who can work his magic to turn enemies into partners in ending dangerous hostilities. Never mind that he has bungled each and every initiative so far. The latest one -- opposed by Bolton, of course -- would have brought representatives of the Taliban to Camp David, for not only a successful Afghanistan deal, but one with the kind of whiz-bang showbiz touches that Trump prefers.


For those who shuddered at the idea of photo-ops showing terrorist Taliban extremists at Camp David, they were at odds with cheerleading Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ever the Trump toady, telling Fox News that the U.S. must deal with “lots of bad folks.”
The problem is that POTUS seems to prefer bad folks. He treats democratic allies like dirt while warming up to a whole roster of despots. Where do we start? He’s in “love” with Kim Jong Un and has a bromance with Vladimir Putin. Saudi Arabia’s leaders? Soul mates. Same feelings for Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The list goes on and on: Rodrigo Duterte, who champions extrajudicial killings of accused drug dealers? He and Trump have a “great relationship.”
The only absolute ruler who has a complicated relationship with The Donald is China’s Xi Jinping. That’s because the American president is trying to use intimidation to force a trade deal on President Xi sooner rather than later. Throughout history, the Chinese have chosen later. Much later. They have the largest population in the world, the second-largest economy and a history of extreme patience.
Patience is not a Donald Trump strong suit, so he’s tried to use tariffs to force his will on Beijing. The only ones who are wavering are American companies and farmers. They are in an uproar not only because of the fiscal disruptions -- which, by the way, don’t help when it comes to the fragile U.S. economy -- but also because of all the uncertainty thanks to Donald Trump’s constant vacillation. He’s from the “always keep them guessing” school of deal-making. Although cognitive dissonance is a valid negotiating tactic, there comes a time when two sides must trust each other in order to reach a final bargain -- and live up to it. That’s been a problem in private life, where Donald Trump would constantly stiff those with whom he did business, and it’s certainly a problem in his governance, or lack thereof. He simply can’t be pinned down during negotiations, even after he’s settled.
Again, flexibility is one thing -- it’s vital to compromise. but capriciousness is another matter entirely. Trump is notorious for reversing course based on his last conversation, or based on the last TV show he watched on Fox. It means that every policy decision that Congress must make, whether it’s spending or gun control, whatever, can always be disrupted at the last minute.
So John Bolton, whether he resigned or was fired, can thank his lucky stars he got out. Now he can go back to Fox News and right-wing think tank heaven and criticize to his heart’s content. Second-guessing is always better anyway. Certainly in Washington.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


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