Secretary of State candidate John Bolton: Tear up the Iran deal. Secretary of State candidate Bob Corker: Don’t tear it up.
I’d never say that candidates for the same cabinet position should have the same opinion on everything, but they should probably have similar opinions on big-ticket items that are apt to lead to major military confrontations depending upon what choice is made, no? It’d be like Dubya considering two different people for State circa 2005, one who wanted 50,000 more troops in Iraq and one who wanted to begin withdrawing. You would think one of those candidates would be out of the running simply because they’re too far from Bush’s own views to carry out his vision for American foreign policy.
But then, the Bolton/Corker contradiction is really just a roundabout way of noting that Trump’s own vision can be hard to discern. Is he a hawk or a dove? Does he want to burn the Iran deal on day one or give it a chance to work? And if he opts for burning it, what will that mean for cooperation from Iran and Assad on fighting ISIS? The answer is … we don’t really know because, as usual, he’s said contradictory things. In the span of a few paragraphs during a speech to AIPAC earlier this year, he said, “My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” and then a bit later, “At the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable.” At the last presidential debate with Hillary, he called the Iran agreement “the stupidest deal of all time” and said that “Iran is going to get nuclear weapons” because of it. Last year, though, he told Chuck Todd that it’d be “very tough” to rip up the deal and that he’s more inclined to keep it and “police” it diligently. What does that add up to? Beats me.
Ross Douthat wonders what’ll happen to Trump’s cautious instincts abroad if he ends up with a full-throated hawk like Bolton at State instead of a more reluctant figure like Corker. Will Trump’s caution infect Bolton, or will Bolton’s aggressiveness infect Trump?
But since Trump himself is inexperienced, underinformed and deeply malleable, it’s also quite possible that if he appoints conventional full-spectrum hawks to key posts, full-spectrum hawkishness is what we’ll get — that by year two of a Trump administration we’ll be arming the Ukrainians and Syrian rebels, saber-rattling anew with the Russians, and adding another intervention or two to the Obama administration’s (six and counting) frozen conflicts.
Indeed, this is explicitly what a lot of people in the Republican Party are hoping for, in foreign policy and in many other arenas besides. To the extent that personnel is policy, they believe that once we’re well into the Trump era, his populist-nationalist synthesis will look like a campaign-trail prop rather than a new kind of right-wing revolution…
[W]e should expect more of what we saw throughout Trump’s presidential campaign — that between a populism unready for power and an establishment with the technical qualifications to govern but no mandate for doing so, the default state for the Trump administration tomorrow and two years hence will be chaos and ruthless civil war.
Right. Rather than a cohesive team who are all aligned in one approach, it seems we’re likely to get a mishmash of hawkish establishment conservatives, to please the party’s traditional base, and dovish nationalist figures who seem more in tune with Trump’s own instincts. What’s going to happen when a NATO-ite like Bolton huddles with a Putin-friendly advisor like Mike Flynn on Russia policy? Who the hell knows. Nothing is certain except for vicious, vicious turf wars and infighting.
Compare and contrast Bolton and Corker, then, both of whom are supposedly “in the mix” (to use Corker’s own phrase here) for State. Bolton talks about ripping up the Iran deal at 4:30 of the first clip; Corker talks about keeping it in place and enforcing the terms in partnership with the Europeans at 5:25 of the second. Which way?