The Trump-Bolton Divide and Election-Year Foreign Policy

The Trump-Bolton Divide and Election-Year Foreign Policy

For a president gearing up for a fierce re-election fight next year, President Trump has a lot to worry about. Democrats are now taking more of the US political spotlight. The latest opinion polls don't look good for him. There are signs that the strong US economy, Trump's top selling point, may begin to wobble.


And for US foreign policy, an area where US presidents have a lot of leeway, Trump knows he needs to make some deals, and fast.

This is the backdrop for Washington's big news of the week: Trump's firing of national security advisor John Bolton. Media debate this week has centered on whether Trump has smartly saved America from a warmonger or whether dismissing a knowledgeable foreign policy hand who was willing to challenge the president opens the way to a much more erratic policy driven by Trump alone.

But let's look instead at the central point of philosophical difference between the two men and what that tells us about what comes next for US foreign policy. Trump's choices to date suggest that he believes he can make a good deal with anyone, given the right mix of carrots and sticks. Bolton's history suggests he's convinced that when the other side believes its core interests are at stake, substantive deals aren't possible and force becomes necessary.

Cases in point:

In Afghanistan, the president wants to end an 18-year war, the longest in US history. Bolton reportedly argued against Trump's recent plan to talk with the Taliban.

Trump's view is that the war can't end unless Washington strikes a deal with the Taliban, which still controls a big percentage of Afghan territory. Bolton's is that the Taliban isn't trustworthy, and there's no deal to be had that would prevent a re-emergence of Afghanistan as a terrorist training ground.

On Iran, Trump wants to sit down with President Hassan Rouhani in New York later this month and has signaled a willingness to ease sanctions on Iran. Bolton, who authored an op-ed in The New York Times in 2015 under the headline, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran," reportedly opposes both these ideas.

Trump will say the purpose of pressure on Iran is to secure a better deal than the one Barack Obama signed in 2015. Bolton will counter that it's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, not President Rouhani, who will decide Iran's nuclear policy, and that any relief of pressure on Iran will provide its leaders time to restart the nuclear program.

On North Korea, Trump believes that talking with Kim Jong-un is smarter than pushing him toward the testing of missiles that might reach the US mainland. Bolton will argue that Kim will never willingly surrender his nuclear weapons, and that Kim is not to be trusted.

On Venezuela, Trump can insist that the US should secure a deal with President Nicolas Maduro's friends in Moscow that removes Maduro from power. Bolton can claim that Russia won't bargain in good faith and that only maximum pressure on Venezuela's economy (and maybe the credible threat of regime change) can force Venezuela's military to oust Maduro.

The bottom line: The next year may prove that, on all these important subjects, both men are correct. Trump is right that he can't hope to make peace without offering the other side something of substance. But if the enemy isn't serious about giving Trump what he wants most, as Bolton warns, a hollow deal might boost Trump politically but won't serve US interests.

This is the main reason that President Trump may be forced to stand before voters next November without a grand bargain to sell.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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