Donald Trump, John Bolton, rogue regimes and the implications for Israel

Excerpts revealed the president’s personalization of foreign affairs and the way he intertwines US domestic politics with foreign affairs.

National security advisor John Bolton at press conference at King David (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
National security advisor John Bolton at press conference at King David
The full truth about US President Donald Trump’s relations with rogue and rebel regimes may not be understood until he leaves office or his close officials are willing to talk. However, excerpts publicized late Wednesday from former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book, if true, confirmed some of the worst suspicions about Trump’s foreign policy.
The excerpts revealed the president’s personalization of foreign affairs, the way he intertwines US domestic politics with foreign affairs and raised concerns about the sharing of security information with Trump.
Though not all of these concerns are tied directly to Israel, they can have relevance to the Jewish state:
When the “Ukraine scandal” broke, one of Trump’s first defenses was that he had the right to seek foreign intervention against Joe Biden, who he presumed would eventually be his presidential opponent.
On October 3, he said Ukraine, “should investigate the Bidens,” and that, “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Trump said that “I haven’t” asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to do so, “but it’s certainly something we should start thinking about.”
According to Bolton, Trump had already asked China back in June 2019 to help him in various ways to win reelection in the US.
How Israel balances the ongoing geopolitical competition between the US and China is a highly complex issue. Virtually all security officials agree that the US is by far the more important partner. At the same time, when Israel feels that it can gain advantages from building relations with China, and the US pushes against this opportunity, it is difficult to hear of Trump’s alleged double-talk with China.
Granted, Trump’s alleged June 2019 comments and his public October 2019 comments were made before the coronavirus crisis.
Trump has had previous trade wars with China, which were questioned by top US and Israeli officials. Yuval Steinitz, who has worked in several ministerial roles on the Iran issue has expressed concern that US-China conflicts could undermine sanctions on Iran and many would say his concerns have proved true.
Trump’s October comments not only were misaligned with his conflict approach toward China, they seemed to encourage foreign intervention in US elections.
It is not too hard to imagine a point where Trump might once again offer Beijing reduced pressure in the fight over the corona issue, if it can find some way to assist in the 2020 presidential election.
Speaking of interfering in US and other countries elections, Bolton’s revelations, if true, resolve once and for all that Trump appears willing to give Russia the green light for just about any illegal behavior in order to get on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s good side.
Bolton alleges that Trump tried to dismantle sanctions against Russia for poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
“Trump told [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo to call [Russian Foreign Miniser Sergey] Lavrov and say ‘some bureaucrat’ had published the sanctions – a call that may or may not have ever taken place,” Bolton wrote.
This matches with Trump’s willingness to believe Putin’s unbelievable denial of intervening in the 2016 US presidential election and his willingness to ignore Russia’s invasion and conquest of large portions of Ukraine.
Israel is working toward good relations with Russia. But it has also been concerned over Moscow’s potential interference in the country’s elections, according to a warning by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman. Moreover, Israel is constantly disturbed by Putin’s assistance of Iran and the Assad regime.
Trump had presented his public meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as solving and ending the nuclear crisis with the country.
Even while in office, Bolton had been skeptical of progress with North Korea.
If true, Bolton’s book would prove that Pompeo also believed that Trump’s ultra positive view of negotiations with North Korea were “so full of s##t” even as Pompeo was defending Trump on the issue in public.
Given that North Korea blew up a joint liaison office used for talks between itself and South Korea earlier this week, to say that Bolton was right about the prospects of Trump’s negotiations with Kim would be an understatement.
Maybe the only good news for Israel is that Bolton has not unleashed a surge of attacks on Trump’s Iran policy.
While reportedly Bolton left the Trump administration partially over the possibility that the US president might reduce Iran sanctions – something which never happened – none of the leaks to date suggest that Trump warmed up to any Iranian leaders behind the scenes.
This is a win for Israel.
Large portions of Israel’s foreign policy are based on cooperation with the US against Tehran and therefore it would have been deeply disturbing if a different agenda had been revealed by Bolton.
Nonetheless, the overall disclosures in combination with some of Trump’s public moves to comfort rogue and dictatorial regimes are disturbing. The president appears to have pushed US interests aside in some cases or been willing to throw his own top officials under the bus to accomplish the latter goals.
This is something that dates back to 2016. Already then, some US intelligence officials warned Israel about sharing sensitive secrets with Trump.
These concerns were borne out in 2017 when Trump leaked Israel’s cracking of ISIS to Russia (though he did not name Israel) and they have returned to the front lines various other times.
Bolton’s book, if true, doubles down on these concerns.