- - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

In May 2017, President Donald J. Trump surprised many foreign policy pundits by choosing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for his first state visit to the troublesome Middle East. Conventional wisdom would have assumed that a trip to Israel would come first, as opposed to the second place it occupied in the travel agenda. The all-knowing and parochial bureaucrats in the State Department must has been beside themselves. What they did not appreciate is that the president does not suffer from the narrow strictures of conventional wisdom.

Mr. Trump instinctively understands the importance of Saudi Arabia in not only reshaping the Middle East but in dealing with the emerging threat Iran poses to regional and world peace. Indeed, Mr. Trump is a practitioner of realpolitik. In that regard, his selection of former Ambassador John Bolton, who adheres to that philosophy, to replace the cerebral H.R. McMaster represents a profound fulcrum shift in the crafting and orchestration of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy agenda.

Mr. Bolton’s arrival could not be timelier. Here some context would be illustrative. Consider the diametrically opposed foreign policy views of Mr. Trump and his predecessor, Barrack Obama. President Obama drew “redlines” in Syria as a warning to Damascus to refrain from chemical warfare, a threat he failed to keep. Mr. Trump attacked the Syrian regime with 60 cruise missiles for using those chemical weapons, even while having dessert with the president of China.

Mr. Obama was caught off-guard by the rise of ISIS. Mr. Trump destroyed them mercilessly. Mr. Obama placed U.S. and world security at risk by agreeing to a horribly constructed Iranian nuclear deal. Mr. Trump is poised to abrogate it. Mr. Obama continued the legacy of effete diplomatic efforts to contain North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions. Mr. Trump is moving to end it. Mr. Trump’s practical view of the world stands in stark contrast to the disoriented approach by Mr. Obama.

Moreover, Mr. Trump understands that U.S. foreign policy implemented in recent years has failed, particularly in the feckless Obama Administration where the credo seemed to be verbis non acta, words not deeds.



Indeed, the distinction between these men is further apparent in the difference between the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) Document, the road map for achieving our vital national interests, and Mr. Obama’s. Under Mr. Obama, the NSS read like a community organizer’s handbook. His NSS was filled with lofty nostrums about leadership, keeping “pressure” on the war on terror (as opposed to destroying it), and of course, climate change.

However, Mr. Trump has taken a decidedly realpolitik view more appropriate for the challenges before us. His strategy is based on four pillars: (1) Protect the homeland, the American people, and the American way of life, (2) Promote American prosperity, (3) Preserve peace through strength, and (4) Advance American influence.

Nevertheless, it has been increasingly obvious in recent months, that the president’s national security and foreign policy team — Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis being the notable exception — was out of step with the commander in chief. That is why he dispatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and it is why Lt. Gen. McMaster is also departing. These gentlemen — both distinguished in their profession — devoted themselves to trying to steer the president toward a policy they thought best as opposed to implementing a policy Mr. Trump knows is best. Mr. Bolton will not make that error.

But it would be unwise — as the president surely understands — to think Mr. Bolton a “yes man.” Mr. Bolton’s clear-eyed view of the world will be additive to the president’s instincts to see things as they are, not as he would wish them to be, which is why Mr. Trump has tapped him for the job. The former U.N. ambassador knows firsthand the nature of today’s international actors — some who are quite malevolent — in the multi-polar world we live in.

Mr. Bolton will be a wise and patient counselor in helping the president realize the foreign policy objectives that are clearly articulated in his NSS. Moreover, Mr. Bolton will remember who was elected president and who was not, a reality that evaded some of those who have recently surrounded the president.

Indeed, Mr. Bolton’s arrival is a fulcrum shift. The president wanted a person who will give him sagacious advice, yet work indefatigably to implement the president’s policy, not pull against him. And there is much to do. The war on terror, the nuclear threat from both North Korea and Iran, the revolution in Syria and the military ambitions of China all pose profound challenges to the vital interests of the United States. None may be more exigent than a resurgent Russia in the hands of Vladimir Putin.

Here the weight of Mr. Bolton’s expertise is precisely what is needed to help the president navigate very turbulent waters. To be sure, we are about to witness a dynamic shift in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy that is long overdue and necessary.

• L. Scott Lingamfelter, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Gulf War veteran, also served in the Virginia General Assembly.

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