As national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton has been the chief translator of Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy views to the vast U.S. bureaucracy.
To his critics, Bolton is the hawkish whisperer in Trump’s ear, nudging a president unschooled in world affairs toward Bolton’s preferred strategies.
To his supporters, he’s an adviser who knows his place, offering counsel but careful never to force the president’s hand.
An assessment of Bolton’s time in office, as he approaches his first anniversary in the job, reveals both the breadth of his influence and, in a few notable instances — such as policy toward North Korea — its limits.
The contradictions of Bolton’s tenure were apparent in the wake of last week’s collapsed Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Bolton dutifully reiterated Trump’s assessment that the summit was a success. But he offered little support for that judgment or the president’s approach beyond saying in an interview with CNN on Sunday that Trump “remains optimistic.”
Asked whether the summit effort was worth it, Bolton took a pass.
“He obviously thinks it’s worth trying,” Bolton said of the president.
Asked about Kim’s insistence that he wasn’t involved in the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, Bolton declined to back Trump, who had said he took Kim “at his word.”
“My opinion doesn’t matter. . . .,” he said. “I am not the national security decision-maker. That’s [Trump’s] view.”
From all that is known of Bolton’s views and means of operating as an outspoken denizen of Washington’s foreign policy wars for decades — a high-level government bureaucrat, a political activist and a Fox News commentator — such self-effacement is startling.