December 25, 2019
In his sharpest criticism yet of his old workplace—the White House; not Fox News—former National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested this week that the Trump Administration is bluffing about stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions—and soon might need to admit publicly that its policy has failed badly, according to an exclusive interview by Axios’ Jonathon Swan posted on December 22.
Indeed, according to Swan, “Bolton told me in an interview that he does not think the administration “really means it” when President Donald Trump and top officials vow to stop North Korea from having deliverable nuclear weapons—”or it would be pursuing a different course.”
Why now? Bolton, who “resigned” from the White House last September, is speaking out ahead of an end-of-year timetable. If Kim Jong-un follows through on his threatened Christmas provocation, Bolton says the White House should do something “that would be very unusual” for this administration—concede that they got it wrong on North Korea.
“The idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just, unfortunately, not true,” Bolton told Axios. For example, he suggested, the U.S. Navy could start to squeeze Kim Jong-un by intercepting oil that is illegally being transferred to North Korea at sea.
If Kim thumbs his nose at America, Bolton told Swan, he hopes the administration will say: “We’ve tried. The policy’s failed. We’re going to go back now and make it clear that in a variety of steps, together with our allies, when we say it’s unacceptable, we’re going to demonstrate we will not accept it.”
Bolton, who has advocated for a more aggressive North Korea strategy, also criticized Trump for saying earlier this year that Kim’s short-range missile tests don’t bother him.
“When the president says, ‘Well, I’m not worried about short-range missiles,’ he’s saying, ‘I’m not worried about the potential risk to American troops deployed in the region or our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan.'”
The bottom line, according to Bolton: “Time is on the side of the proliferator,” he said. “The more time there is, the more time there is to develop, test and refine both the nuclear component and the ballistic missile component of the program.”
Research contact: @axios