For all his propensity for inflammatory rhetoric in foreign policy, he has lately been less aggressive than his principal advisers. Since he has gotten rid of anyone on the national security staff or the cabinet who might counsel restraint, many were worried that there was no one able to hold him back from his worst instincts. Both John Bolton as National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State seem entirely comfortable with bellicosity on multiple fronts. The Acting Secretary of Defense will just salute any Trump order. The intelligence agencies are under siege for supposed disloyalty, facing a president notably hostile to intelligence findings contrary to his predilections.
Yet the president seems not entirely comfortable with an assertive foreign policy—if he is not the one doing the asserting.
The attempted coup in Venezuela, carefully coordinated with the Venezuelan opposition, has failed so far to dislodge President Maduro. So there have been statements from State that “all options are on the table.” But from Trump we get complaints that his advisers are trying to push him into a war there.
Donald Trump may like it better with such aggressive advisers, but he doesn’t want them leading the charge. It has to be him doing that.
John Bolton is famously an advocate for “regime change” in Iran, and has been pushing the narrative that Iran now poses a new threat to US forces and interests in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. But from Trump we get a statement that he doesn’t want war with Iran, and doesn’t necessarily want regime change.
After the failure of the second summit with Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, the national security establishment expressed grave concern as North Korea staged new missile launches and escalated its hostile rhetoric. But Trump avows that he is not disturbed, and that while his advisers are critical of Kim, he himself has confidence in the North Korean leader.
So has Trump had a sudden seizure of sanity? Dream on. For his first two years, he had a succession of foreign policy, defense and intelligence advisers who seemed to see their mission as saving him from his worst instincts. He has successively rid himself of each of them. Now he has advisers who seem to see their mission as leading the charge.
Donald Trump may like it better with such aggressive advisers, but he doesn’t want them leading the charge. It has to be him doing that. He worked hard to escape the restraints of his earlier advisers. Now he finds himself working to restrain his current crowd.
The first crowd wanted to strait-jacket him; he escaped. This current crowd want to lead him. He applies the bridle and reins them in.
As always, it’s all about Donald.