PATRICK LAWRENCE: Trump & the Bolton-Pompeo Axis

Patrick Lawrence eyes the U.S. president’s difficulties with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton as he tries to resume peace talks with Pyongyang.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Moon Jae-in’s Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump last Thursday marked an important step forward for both leaders. The South Korean president appears to have drawn Trump away from the all-or-nothing “big deal” he proposed when he last met Kim Jong-un — an offer we now know was intended to precipitate the North Korean leader’s rejection. Trump won, too: The encounter with Moon has effectively put the Dealmaker back on his feet after the calamitous collapse of the second Trump–Kim summit in Hanoi two months ago. A top-down agreement on the North’s denuclearization is once again within reach.

Moon faces Trump; working lunching in Washington, April 11, 2019. (White House/ Shealah Craighead via Flickr)

Moon facing Trump in DC, April 11, 2019. (White House/ Shealah Craighead via Flickr)

The importance of the Moon–Trump summit, while eclipsed by news of Julian Assange’s arrest in London the same day, is not be underestimated. Even before receiving Moon, Trump announced for the first time that he is willing to summit with Kim for a third time. While still stressing the North’s complete denuclearization as the U.S. objective, Trump also said he is open to the incremental diplomacy he precluded with his everything-at-once offer in Hanoi.

“There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen,” Trump said before he and Moon withdrew to the Oval Office. “Things could happen. You can work out step-by-step pieces, but at this moment we are still talking about the big deal.”

New Stance

This new stance is a big deal in itself. Moon and Kim — with Chinese and Russian support — have advocated talks based on gradualist reciprocity from the first. “Action for action,” Moon calls it. This strategy is widely accepted at the other end of the Pacific as the only plausible path to a sustainable denuclearization agreement. The U.S. has been the only nation engaged on the Korean question to argue otherwise.  

In addition, Trump appeared to signal that Moon may get something he dearly wanted when he arrived in Washington: dispensation to proceed with inter–Korean economic projects — including transport links, an industrial park, and a joint-venture resort in the North — that are now blocked by a plethora of U.S. and UN–imposed sanctions. Moon views these as essential confidence-builders and the first steps toward integrating the North into a Northeast Asian economic hub that will also include South Korea, China, and the Russian Far East.

Photo op on the portico: April 11, 2019. (White House/Andrea Hanks via Flickr)

In Pyongyang, Kim responded to the events in Washington when he addressed the Supreme People’s Assembly last Friday. The speech was carefully balanced between optimism and caution, the latter reflecting Kim’s view that he was betrayed in Hanoi when Trump marshaled an offer he could not possibly embrace. “I am willing to accept if the United States proposes a third North Korea — United States summit,” Kim told North’s legislative body, “on condition that it has a right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.”

Kim had other things to add. “We don’t like — and we are not interested in — the United States’ way of dialogue, in which it tries to unilaterally push through its demands,” he said. “We don’t welcome — and we have no intention of repeating—the kind of summit meetings like the one held in Hanoi.” The North Korean leader went on to set a year-end deadline “for the United States to make a bold decision.”

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While Washington and Pyongyang had sharply conflicting versions of what transpired in Hanoi — each blaming the other for the summit’s failure — there is now little question that the U.S. side was at fault. A post–Hanoi Reuters exclusive reports that, prior to their famously canceled lunch, Trump handed Kim a sheet of paper listing, in English and Korean, extensive U.S. conditions that began with “a blunt call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States,” according to the piece filed by Leslie Broughton and David Brunnstrom.

The English-language version of the letter, the Reuters team reports, went on to demand “fully dismantling North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, chemical and biological warfare program and related dual-use capabilities; and ballistic missiles, launchers, and associated facilities.”

The Libya Model 

In simple terms, this was a kitchen-sink proposition — effectively a demand for unilateral disarmament — that was intended to prompt Kim to walk away. The Reuters reporters suggest that the fatal gambit was the work of John Bolton, Trump’s hyper-hawkish national security advisor. They quote North Korean officials as also implicating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another administration hawk, in what amounts to an act of diplomatic sabotage. The device used was Bolton’s “Libya model,” a laden reference if ever there was one. When Muammar Gaddafi gave up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs in 2003, he did so by sending Libya’s nuclear materials and equipment to the U.S. Eight years later, of course, he was assassinated in the wake of a NATO bombing campaign led by the U.S.

Left to right: Pompeo, Trump and Bolton. (Wikimedia Commons)

Trump between his minders: Bolton left, Pompeo right.  (Wikimedia Commons)

“The document appeared to represent Bolton’s long-held and hardline ‘Libya model’ of denuclearization that North Korea has rejected repeatedly,” Broughton and Brunnstrom report. “It probably would have been seen by Kim as insulting and provocative, analysts said.” One of those analysts was Jenny Town, a North Korea specialist at the Stimson Center in Washington. “‘This is what Bolton wanted from the beginning and it clearly wasn’t going to work,’” Reuters quotes Town as observing. “‘If the U.S. was really serious about negotiations, they would have learned already that this wasn’t an approach they could take.’”

Formidable Challenges

As this record of the Hanoi proceedings makes plain, Trump and Moon will assume formidable challenges to the extent they agree to work together toward a resolution of the Korea question on new terms. It is not clear why Trump — who went to Hanoi eager to cut his “big deal” with Kim — accepted the Bolton-inspired design and handed it on to the North Korean leader. But he has now set himself up for another in what appears to be a long line of conflicts with his foreign policy minders, Bolton and Pompeo chief among them.

The outlook in this connection is mixed at best. Trump was able to overrule new sanctions against North Korea that were announced several weeks after the Hanoi debacle. It is a matter of interpretation, but he effectively lost a battle with the Bolton–Pompeo axis when the administration designated the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization earlier this month. That move is understood widely to have pushed renewed negotiations with Tehran, for which Trump had been hoping, well beyond the point of no return.

For Moon, the challenges ahead are two. Most immediately, he must keep both Trump and Kim seated at the chess table between now and the end of the year. If no third summit is set by then, Kim has already signaled, he will consider this chapter in the long history of U.S.–North Korean negotiations closed — another story of failure. In such a case, the question facing Moon could hardly be more daunting: Can a South Korean leader determined to end nearly seven decades of enmity between the Koreas decisively wrest control of the diplomatic process from the U.S.?

That would amount to an unprecedented showdown between Seoul and Washington. Despite Moon’s admirable dedication, this is unlikely to materialize — not in the near term, in any case. Moon has formidable allies in Beijing and Moscow; Kim is plainly eager to break North Korea out of its isolation. But the U.S., perfectly satisfied to act as “spoiler” in Northeast Asia (as elsewhere), remains too powerful an obstacle despite the many signs that it is in the sunset phase of its global preeminence. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is Support his work via

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31 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Trump & the Bolton-Pompeo Axis

  1. William
    April 26, 2019 at 19:15

    Freaking ignorant Americans and dishonest MSM should know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Herr Bolton and Herr Pompeo are
    willingly, for their own reasons, undermining, and in fact betraying, U.S. policy in addition to betraying the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
    Verdamnt, Herr Bolton should be put in a strait jacket and hurried off to the nearest asylum for the criminally insane. Herr Ponpeo should be forced to appear before the American people in order to try to explain his treason. Immediately following, Herr Pompeo
    should be indicted by forced to stand trial before a federal court.

  2. April 26, 2019 at 17:09

    Mr. Lawrence, your post entitled “Trump & the Bolton-Pompeo Axis” is excellent. What you wrote about Bonkers Bolton’s sabotage of the 2nd summit between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump was absolutely true. No other person holding Bonkers’ post as National Security Adviser would’ve gotten away with what he did. He was told by Trump to stay away from the building wherein the 2nd summit between these 2 leaders. However, he deliberately disobeyed his boss’s orders and entered the building anyway.
    The fact that Bonkers entered the summit room and placed a sheet of paper containing impossible demands on the table in front of Kim proves he’s not fit for the position. Trump should have embarrassed him in front of Kim and his delegation by firing him on the spot and sending him back onto Air Force One. Why he didn’t do it only shows his fear of that lunatic. I’m very relieved he met with Moon Jae-In without Bonkers and/or Pompous Pompeo .. In this way, he and Moon could discuss another summit with Kim without any embarrassing interruptions.

  3. dean 1000
    April 18, 2019 at 11:18

    This is the 4th time North Korea has made good faith concessions. This time they closed nuclear facilities and the missile engine plant.

    The US continues its no deal until abject surrender policy that has not worked for 66 years. Try something new. ‘Action for Action’ sounds good to me.

    Trump should leave Bolton & Pompeo in D.C. and take former President Carter and Colonel Wilkerson along.

  4. April 18, 2019 at 10:37

    Every great power eventually enters ‘the sunset phase of its global preeminence’, as Patrick Lawrence so poetically puts it. A hundred years ago the Austrian general, Conrad von Hotzendorf, strongly encouraged pre-emptive strike against Serbia; history proved him unwise. The ‘détente’ between the US and North Korea, while welcome if sincere, has a ring of Munich 1938 about it, or the German-USSR non-aggression pact. Unfortunately, the pattern of history suggests a third world war.

  5. teri
    April 18, 2019 at 04:14

    I am truly baffled by people who think Trump is involuntarily under the control of the “Deep State”, that “they” showed him the assassination of JFK and made him walk some line. If the “Deep State” is so powerful that they can totally alter a person’s outlook and his entire stated foreign policy (not that Trump has too many deep thoughts about any policies whatsoever), then they are powerful enough to control who is elected in the first place. It makes much more sense that having listened to Trump talk on the campaign trail and vetting him, they decided he would do just as well as Clinton in furthering the goals of the MIC.

    In other words, they didn’t have to convince him of anything. He was already there. He has not hesitated for one second to hire people who are hardcore neocons, or to fire people he later decides he doesn’t like. He mocks the people he fires, sometimes while they are still in their positions. He chose Bolton and Pompeo. He chose DeVos and Rick Perry and Mick Mulvany and Barr and Gina Haspel and Nicki Haley. He chose to dump Kirsten Neilson because she wasn’t “tough enough” on immigrants. Etc. Nobody is forcing these people on him and if he decides they aren’t up to his snuff, so to speak, he fires them. If the Deep State were in control, he wouldn’t be hiring and firing at his own discretion. Yet he does. Clearly, he likes Pompeo and Bolton. He has willingly followed everything they have suggested. Look at the shit he is doing in Venezuela. It is quite obvious he enjoys being in the position to tell another country what to do and being able to ruin that country if they don’t. This is a guy who openly relishes the use of threats and military power to coerce others into doing his bidding.

    Jesus Christ, people, if Trump weren’t already on board, the so-called Deep State, which is apparently all powerful, would have made sure he didn’t get into office. If Trump didn’t want to be doing what he does, he would not be so obvious in his pleasure of the doing.

    • SPQR70AD
      April 26, 2019 at 08:16

      teri…I think the deep state/the jews wanted him over haggary clingon because he is a total servant of israel

  6. Andrew Thomas
    April 18, 2019 at 02:29

    If you are a person with even minimal mental competence, and you are the president of the USA, and you really want to put an end to the absurd state of war that has existed for 65 years since the ceasefire or whatever it is called, you do not put John Bolton and Mike Pompeo in charge of the details. Watching this farce would be entertaining if the only weapons available to any side were spears. The US has been doing this for years- pretending from time to time to negotiate, doing nothing it promises to do, and then blaming North Korea for its “intransigence”, i.e. its unwillingness to become Iraq or Libya. But this bunch has taken it to a level of burlesque.

  7. IvyMike
    April 17, 2019 at 19:45

    Strongest impression for me is that Trump wanted to repeat President Reagan’s walkout on the nuclear summit with Gorbachev. Hannity worships that moment in history, and that would not be lost on Trump.

  8. lizzie dw
    April 17, 2019 at 13:45

    I agree with other commenters; it appears that Mr. Trump is not running the show. I heard that Sheldon Adelsen, who reportedly gave $25 million to Trump, was behind the hiring of Little Johnny and the fat boy – and also the Jerusalem move and giving away the Golan Heights. Is this possible? Did Sheldon’s $25 million buy our Israeli related foreign policy? Oh well. Just to comment – if I was North Korean I would never ever ever get rid of one nuclear weapon. No.

    • druid
      April 26, 2019 at 12:03

      Totally agree with you. They mention Libya and the Koreans are expected not to make the connection?

  9. Guy St Hilaire
    April 17, 2019 at 12:11

    Bolton must be on hard drugs to have presented a Libya style negotiation with NK.
    I do believe that every effort should be made on the part of SK to deal directly with the UNSC if at all possible , to remove some of the sanctions on NK, so that SK could move forward in establishing a rail link bewteen SK and China .
    The world would be such a better place without the US warmongers.

  10. Craig Mouldey
    April 17, 2019 at 11:43

    If peace between the Koreas was the intent, it really shouldn’t be that difficult. The South Korean leader should be at the table for every meeting. It really is between the north and south. They could begin the next meeting with something like this: Let’s sign a peace treaty and finally officially end the war! And we will remove these sanctions, and you give up your launchers.
    But the U.S. has another agenda. It isn’t really about North Korea. In the 50’s they bombed the crap out of them. It would be much worse now. This is about Russia and in this case in particular, China. The U.S. has encircled both countries with military bases and hardware. How can there ever be peace in this world when there exists this beast determined to rule and plunder the entire planet?

  11. Tiu
    April 17, 2019 at 03:42

    Yes… but…
    What’s happening with North Korea might not be what’s presented in the “news” (highly recommend you read the linked article).

  12. Catherine Orloff
    April 16, 2019 at 22:34

    I am totally befuddled at how my country, the US, can seriously pressure other countries to give up their nuclear weapons when we ourselves are loaded with them and actually used them against civilians when we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The brazen audacity of the US position in this matter both amazes and disgusts me. Only after we have de-activated/destroyed our own nuclear weapons will we be in a credible position to ask other countries to do the same.

  13. Anonymot
    April 16, 2019 at 17:40

    Nice photo. I see fat Goering, intense, mean Goebbels and the other guy, but the moustache is wrong. Well, the makeup artist will be by soon with the uniforms and medals and moustaches for all.

    They attack a lot, but as certain Americans learned in the late Thirties, there’s a mass of profit in war. Interestingly, the same folks with the same are still in charge.

  14. Rick Patel
    April 16, 2019 at 14:32

    “Difficulties”? Trump hired those bums. He has been hiring the worst of the worst since day one.

    • April 16, 2019 at 17:17

      Amen, Rick.
      My post said the same, and with much more detail… but somehow it didn’t get posted. hmmmmmmmmmmmm…….

      • April 16, 2019 at 17:18

        Oh, what a surprise – there it is now, a couple below…………….

    • Maricata
      April 16, 2019 at 21:06

      They hired him

  15. John A
    April 16, 2019 at 14:06

    Basically, North and South Korea want to become one country again, but the US won’t allow it. They want to keep their bases in S Korea. Maybe it is time for the world community to back the two Koreas and help kick/force the US out.

  16. April 16, 2019 at 13:17

    Ok – I just can’t stand it all !!!!!

    Trump needs to be wary of all that Pompeo and Bolton might suggest. I mean, he must have known what those NeoCons stand for and what their histories are, especially Bolton. If Trump truly wants a less aggressive and less war-like foreign policy, he must not listen to those two warhawks.

    Which begs the question: Why did Trump pick Pompeo for Secretary of State and Bolton for National Security Advisor? Surely any sane person would know who and what they are… well, there you go, eh?

    So are we to believe that Trump truly wants a less aggressive and less war-like foreign policy? Or is he after all is said and done owned by the MIC and the Oligarchs? Or does he simply have such a huge ego that whoever sucks up enough, kisses up enough, gets those plum and critical political appointments?

    • KiwiAntz
      April 17, 2019 at 02:25

      Soon after his Presidential Election win, Trump visited the CIA Headquarters. After that meeting, Trump has backtracked on every one of his Election promises such as better relations with Russia & stopping the endless Foreign Wars that America is waging around the Globe? Trump has been bought & paid for & captured by the Deepstate Shadow Govt that calls the shots! Pompeo & Bolton have been placed in their positions by Deepstate actors, not the buffoonish Trump? I have no doubt that Trump has been warned that the last time a President went rogue & defied the will of the Deepstate was JFK & everyone knows what happened to him, especially Trump? The only good thing about Trump is that there is no hiding the fact of America’s true Imperial ambitions around the World now, its all out in plain sight & everyone can see what this Country is prepared to do to hang on to its dying Hegemonic Empire? Julian Assange has shown that America has committed & continues to engage in War crimes, murderous Regime change coups & Collateral murder in order to steal other Countries resources! Unlike the smooth talking Salesman Obama, who sold this Mafia racket as promoting Democracy, Trump’s, bull in a china shop approach has destroyed any notion that America is a benevolent Nation? With Trump, America’s greed, avarice & naked ambition is now no longer a secret? Diplomatic niceties have been destroyed with Trump showing utter contempt for his Allies, treating them like vassals rather than strategic partners. Walrus, porntached Bolton who looks like in just came out of a 1970’s porno movie & Fatman Pompeo who looks like he has overstayed his welcome at the buffet table, are the Deepstates bagman & Mafia salesmen shaking down Sovereign nations in order to steal & rob, its as simple as that!

      • Guy St Hilaire
        April 17, 2019 at 12:25

        So very well said .I could not agree more ,especially the fact that Trump has exposed the skulduggery / malfeasance of the US deep state /CIA to the world.I have been saying this for some time .Whether he did this knowingly ?It could be said that he decided , well if I can’t do what I want then I will expose it all ,but I doubt it very much.

  17. Raymond Comeau
    April 16, 2019 at 13:09

    Last paragraph, line one. Should be whether not weather.

  18. Sam F
    April 16, 2019 at 12:34

    The model of Trump having “lost a battle with the Bolton–Pompeo axis” presumes that Trump did not appoint them, but was forced to do so. That he could be forced to do so would presume that he lacks the courage to expose mechanisms in complete subversion of democracy. That he could be persuaded presumes that he lacked any base of advisers and consultants to the contrary. Either way one is left searching for excuses that that he might summon the courage or advice to stop bullying and take a humanitarian and democratic course.

    It appears that his administration combines “good cop” and “bad cop” actors as a tactic of negotiation and retaining contrary supporters, and he must be fully aware of that strategy. It does not appear to have any a humanitarian or democratic intent, although the bombast and threats may have avoided war and mollified the militarists.

    If Trump has any good intentions, he could still (and would have done far better to):
    1. Get out of pointless wars;
    2. Leave social democratic governments alone;
    3. Dump Israel/KSA/UAE and leave Russia alone;
    4. Re-purpose 80% of the MIC to building infrastructure in the US and developing nations; and
    5. Give the mass media to state universities and prosecute almost all of Congress for taking bribes, until we have amendments to our Constitution restricting funding of mass media and elections to limited individual donations or similar federal funding, for that is the only way to restore democracy in the US.

    I think we all know that he has no such intentions, so the cabinet is Trump.

    • Anon
      April 17, 2019 at 08:01

      Obviously, Trump is not in control – the Deep State and NeoCons are!

  19. Jeff Harrison
    April 16, 2019 at 11:35

    I think there’s more riding on this than you suggest, Patrick. I have long described American negotiating style as “accept our maximum demands and then we’ll consider what we may agree to that you want”. This approach doesn’t work in any level of negotiations and it was why the US doesn’t get many agreements and the ones we do get take forever and three days (see Libya, Iran, NAFTA for e.g.) to complete. Kim just told the United States to go piss up a rope because of it. The United States has been unable to get viable agreements and violates most of the ones it makes. Much of the rest of the world has learned to work around the US and they get better at it every day. There’s also MBSs comment when told of the NOPEC bill in Congress just now. Let them pass this law, he said, and say good bye to their economy. The rest of the world knows that the petrodollar is what makes the US rich.

    The US, weather it realizes it or not, needs to start making and keeping agreements in order to keep its street cred in the rest of the world. When it comes to Korea, China and Russia and, really, S. Korea as well, can simply blow off American sanctions against N. Korea if they choose to do so. This is the real reason for the decline in American preeminence.

    • Guy St Hilaire
      April 17, 2019 at 12:34

      You are correct with most of what you have posted but the fly in the ointment is that the sanctions against NK have been initiated by the UNSC and by all parties of the UNSC including Russia and China .These UNSC sanctions must be removed by the same authority that instituted them ,unfortunately.

  20. Hank Jones
    April 16, 2019 at 10:40

    Bolton and Pompeo are the turds in Trump’s party punch!

  21. Bill
    April 16, 2019 at 10:15

    When will Trump realize that Bolton is nothing but trouble?

  22. old geezer
    April 16, 2019 at 09:21

    in other words, lucy has the football set to pull and charly brown is going to try to kick it one more time

Comments are closed.