When John Bolton talks of war, on the other hand, it’s more explicable. “Question: How do you know that the North Korean regime is lying? Answer: Their lips are moving,” he said on Fox News shortly after news broke that Trump and Kim Jong Un had agreed to participate in direct talks on “denuclearization” by May. The North Koreans aren’t going to voluntarily abandon their goal of obtaining nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, he argued. “They want to buy time: three months, six months, 12 months—whatever it is they need to get across the finish line. What Trump did … is foreshorten that period” by organizing a meeting that can quickly expose North Korea insincerity about relinquishing its nuclear program anytime soon. (“I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world,” Trump himself recently predicted.) “Rather than having the low-level negotiations rising to the mid-level negotiations rising to the high-level negotiations, finally rising to a summit meeting—that’ll be two years from now, they’ll have deliverable nuclear weapons,” Bolton explained. “That we cannot allow.”
Ahead of the first summit in history between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, the Trump administration’s North Korea policy has now lost its head (McMaster) and its heart (Secretary of State Tillerson and the State Department’s top North Korea diplomat Joe Yun). With the selection of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and now Bolton as national-security adviser, the body of the policy is regenerating, more aggressive than ever. But what’s left at the moment are the president’s gut instincts. Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are due to meet in a couple months.